Travelling is departure without arrival

I’m travelling. 


My feeling towards this can be expressed by way of a story: last night I was hanging out with my friend Jo and among other things I had to decide when I should arrive at the airport. Jo pointed out that there is a certain logic to arriving earlier – even earlier than you think is necessary, and not for practical or precautionary purposes. Rather, because as soon as you arrive at the airport you are travelling – your trip begins the moment you walk through the doors of the terminal. I can confirm this in my experience – that while the long and overcrowded bus ride seems to have nothing to do with the trip (although it reminds me of other uncomfortable early morning TTC trips where I squeeze onto a crowded bus with far too much luggage), arriving at the airport grants a sense not of having arrived, but of having departed. And trips are about departures, not arrivals – there is in truth no arrival when travelling; arrival occurs when one returns home. 


That said, I don’t particularly like travelling. Many things can go wrong – and this provokes anxiety. You have to carry all these things with you wherever you go (although I must say this time I’ve done a much better job of packing lightly than in the past), you often don’t have luxuries/neccesities like a cellular phone, you know relatively few people in the place where you are, everything is strange, and you have to deal with foreign border agents who will be upset when they realize I plan to sleep in their airport rather than spend hundreds of dollars for a few hours in a hotel. 


But this dislike, this is actually something I should overcome. And it’s not that I don’t like anything about travelling – I love the people you meet, the getting use to new forms of life, and exercise in counter-factual analysis which being in a new place permits – precisely because of the discomfort, a hermeneutic becomes possible. If I accomplish something on this trip, aside from the specific tasks of teaching and research I have planned (or in some cases, have still to plan), it should be to become a traveller – which means to become accepting of the kind of time, the kind of moment the traveller lives in. Which is, as much as I don’t like to focus on this, a time of transience, of between, of interstitiality – a time when being’s fold onto itself is explicitly thematized in a set of everyday experiences, and when how things are can always be recognized in the dialectic of necessity and contingency, universality and particularity. The practical implications of this are a blurring of rules for the traveller, a mixing of expectations because the traveller cannot be asked to perfectly already comprehend the way things are going on in the place where they are a traveller. The traveller is therefore the one who is not in the least autonomous, nor socially reliant in an established and well understood way. 


Of course, the traveller can always fall back into a fixed, inertial form of being – the moneyed traveller (who solves all his or her problems with cash), the cantiki traveller (who makes friendships only with other travellers and blurs his or her experience of the new local through a hedge of booze), or the family of tourists who are concerned with their own experience only, and move through the world as if it were their private museum. But these kinds of travel are lame – the one you want to be in is the wild traveller, the one who bends to the contours of the situation, the one who is not him or herself so much that s/he misses what is going on. 


Everything an adventure, every moment a test in flux. No waiting for the arrival – I have departed; the trip is begun. 


One thought on “Travelling is departure without arrival

  1. Another way to travel (and indeed to live) is to be one who bears witness.

    I think photography is an exceptionally good way to do that. While every photo is – in some sense – constructed by the photographer, photos also provide empirical evidence about what was happening at a certain place and time.

    Moral deliberation and political action are critical tasks, but they must flow from observation and at least a measure of understanding in order to be well-directed and effective.

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