The Journey is its Own Event

Marblehead, Massachusetts Photo by Jean Elizabeth Glass

I just finished reading Journeys Are Happiness in Motion By Jack Road. He writes a lot about the act of traveling, how it is more than going from point A to point B. If it is not going from one place to another, what is it?

jour·ney /ˈjər·nē/ noun

something suggesting travel or passage from one place to another

an act or instance of traveling from one place to another

(Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary)

Travel starts with an idea. You see a photo maybe, of a landscape or a cityscape, or, perhaps, you listen to a bit of music or read a blog. Your mind begins to wander off from where ever you are to where you could be. You are not sitting at your desk listening to the rain outside. You are wandering along a long stretch of beach, digging your toes in the sand as you walk, feeling the sun across your face, squinting, and listening to the waves arrive rhythmically on the shore. You are some place else.

Have you traveled? Perhaps. Your mind has certainly left its environment in order to explore another one. The feeling of the sun and the sand are real, but only real in the way that memories evoke real feelings. Even if you have never been on a beach, you can conjure the feeling of being on a beach. You have read or heard enough about beaches to allow your mind to transport you to one. Traveling, it seems, is as much a matter of thought as it is one of location.

I can imagine a place that I have never actually seen, but that is not traveling. I have read about places and thought that I would like to visit them, but without going to them, I can’t really wrap my brain around them. While I can imagine a beach, I can’t accurately imagine a particular beach. I would love to visit the south of Spain. Andalucía has been calling me for years. I have listened to my friends talk about it. I know there is a world schooling hub there in La Herradura. Still, my desire to go there stems from the very fact that I have no first-hand knowledge of how it feels or looks or smells. In order to know a place, I need to experience it.

Traveling is more than just a mental exercise, but it starts there. It starts with an idea. From there, I think, it becomes a calling. You feel a need to go to a place that you have never been or back to one that you have been. After all, while you can recall the details of a place you have been, places are not stagnant. They change from day to day and each time you find yourself someplace it is not the same someplace that you have been before, and you are not the same person you were before.

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river, and he’s not the same man. -Heraclitus

Traveling is not only going from the place you are to the place you imagine, it is the process you go through to get to that new place. The mode you use to get there is, in one sense, irrelevant. You can walk, or bike, or drive, or fly. No matter which method you choose, you are arriving in a place that before your arrival only existed for you as a thought. This is a journey. It is a process of going from one point to another.

The journey is its own event. You have imagined moving through space and time, and that process is how you arrive at your destination. Once you arrive someplace, once the journey is over, you are no longer traveling. Even if you don’t intend to stay where have landed, you are in the place you imagined. Going back from whence you came is a completely different journey to a completely different place.

What then is travel? I think it’s the journey, not the destination. The act of going from point A to point B is traveling. Thinking of travel as a journey, rather than a destination, seems almost heretical. After all, isn’t the point of travel to go someplace and take in all the sights? Who could say that a trip to Paris is done once we arrive? Doesn’t it include, at least, seeing the Eiffel Tower and eating at a lovely café?

If traveling is all about the journey, what do we call being at the destination? What is that interlude when we are enjoying the seaside, the city, the ambiance of the location to which we have journeyed? I would suggest that this is a sojourn, a stay, an exploration. 

“There must be a beginning of any great matter, but the continuing unto the end until it be thoroughly finished yields the true glory.”  -Francis Drake

Once we are in a place, we have finished traveling and are ready to explore. Wandering the streets we find things we were looking forward to seeing and things that we never thought we’d discover. Certainly, to use our Paris example, we will see the Eiffel Tower and walk by dozens (if not hundreds) of tempting pastries. We may even get lost and find an odd little shop filled with antique miniatures that are at once charming and oddly unnerving. These are not part of our travels for we have already completed our journey.

Our journey, our traveling, was the plane or boat by which we got to Paris. That adventure can have its own set of stories. Perhaps we met someone with whom we passed the time and promised that we’d keep in touch. Maybe we missed our connecting flight and had to sleep in an airport. Or we might have gotten stopped in customs because our pants and charging cord conspired to look like some suspicious device. Those are all parts of traveling, but they are past now.

If the destination is not part of traveling then was our trip to the seaside, then maybe the one we took in our minds was as real as the ones we experience when we actually leave our current location and travel to a different one. I like to entertain that idea, but I don’t think that the places I go in my mind are as real as the ones I to which I travel. There is something about the physical act of traveling that changes us. When we arrive in a new location, we have become subtly different from who we were before we left.

The happiness we get from travel isn’t just the joy or anticipation of discovering someplace new, it’s us becoming new. Travel doesn’t renew us, it remakes us. Instead of merely getting us from point A to point B, it creates a moment in which we feel the difference between the two points and the difference in ourselves as we shift our perspective.

Journeys make us happy because they are opportunities for growth. They are spaces in which all the possibilities are available to us. Once we arrive, we once again grounded. The possibilities are tied to the place we are. We cannot see the sights of Rome if we are in Paris, but we can dream about them, and that is dreaming of travel. The happiness of our journeys is the ability to step into those dreams and, even if for a limited time, have all of our dreams be possible.

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