Travel

Travel is said to be broadening, but that’s unfortunately less true now than it used to be.

At one time, traveling was an arduous task, an experience which underlined the distance between your familiar environment and whatever new environment into which you were plunging. Depending on the mode of transport, this feature of travel has become much less prominent. Air travel in particular whisks us almost painlessly (save perhaps at the airport itself) from one place to another. We enter a box, sit for a few hours, and are in another place. When that other place is integrated into the Western monoculture there is little to distinguish it from any other place in the monoculture. A few differences in vegetation, perhaps, or possibly a local preference for a particular housing style. The stores are the same, or virtually so, and even the museums and art galleries share exhibits, so one may see the same displays in many cities around the monoculture.

It is in the interstitial places that travel’s broadening occurs, in the small towns and villages between the airports and the mono cultural centers. If we do not pass through these interstitial places, how well can we appreciate the differences between locations? We live in City, and each individual city becomes a mere neighborhood.

The point was underlined to me recently after driving from my home in Toronto to visit my daughter in California. All previous visits were by air, so the intervening spaces were never encountered save as scenery seen from 30,000 feet. Traveling by car placed us in the America of small towns and bustling metropoli, of mountains and deserts, of vast plains and deep valleys, of poverty and wealth. These were intellectually known and appreciated, but never before felt in the gut, the heart. A photograph reveals much, but is not the experience of standing in the midst.

And it is that experience, that “standing in the midst” which makes travel broadening, so that even the act of passing through in a car fails to provide the true broadening effect of travel. One must walk through, hear the sounds, smell the odors, taste the foods, and feel the grit and grime under one’s feet in order to fully appreciate the broadening that is travel. And for that reason, on my return journey I shall try to take things more slowly, to stop and experience the differences between places. The monoculture is slowly engulfing many of those differences, but cannot destroy all. I hope to appreciate what remains, what lasts.