London - It isn’t the destination, it's the journey that counts. Homilies such as this exist, at least as far as I understand it, to neutralise the crushing sense of soul implosion when something you've been looking forward to for aeons either fails to occur, or is just a bit crap when it finally does.
But sometimes journeys really are the best bits. I don't say that as someone who has experienced more than their fair share of disappointing holidays, but as the sort of limited person who has never really grown up and stopped being excited by things that most other responsible adults find tiresome. Who sees the actual travelling bit of, well, travelling as one of the major components of holiday enjoyment. Who is able to spring out of bed no matter what time it is, even to relish the decanting of one's grooming regime into a sandwich bag, all for the promise of going from this boring A to an infinitely more interesting B.
Today the company has little interest in trains, seeing its future in selling package holidays by air. Credit: REUTERS
Getting on a plane? Terrific. The most exciting thing ever. A long-winded train ride? Wondrous: a chance to bed down and pretend you're experiencing the Golden Age of the Railway (narrow seats and screaming children notwithstanding). In the car? Even better - I can't drive, so whoever's in charge is basically my chauffeur. I simply love being in transit: it's thrilling.
In my family, the back seat was a hallowed place come the summer holiday, where my sisters and I set up shop, dispensing gossip, jokes, advice and pick and mix, while our parents fiddled with the fader switch at the front so they didn't have to listen to Now 36 in its entirety again and again. (Actually, I'm exaggerating: they bloody loved Now 36, perhaps even more than my sisters and I did.) We sat there for days on end as our left-wing Volvo trundled through France, stopping off at places of interest and places of absolutely no interest alike.
For me, the journey was, and is, one of the most important parts of a holiday. It's something I still look forward to, a period of decompression between real life and the unbridled slobbing to come.
A few weeks ago, I took the train to Scotland, a rolling Pendolino that flies through Milton Keynes (thank goodness) before undulating up through Wigan, the Lake District and Carlisle. From my seat, I watched satellite towns merge into the Black Country, where the sun came up (we boarded in Euston at 5.30 in the morning) before pikes and crags took over. It felt like being in a foreign country (pedants and Northerners please refrain from stating the obvious). It's also the only time I've ever felt that Great Britain is any bigger than say, Denmark. (Disclaimer: I only found out that Britain is, in fact, bigger than Denmark quite recently.) We even travelled first class on the way home (it was part of a deal) and the complimentary “snack packs” made us feel like royalty.
I wouldn't say I felt an affinity with the men who stand in the cold with their jotters and anoraks, and drool over trains from the outside, but I'm definitely a bit of a geek when it comes to appreciating them from the inside.I get excited by the efficiency of the tiny plug sockets, and the feeling of being packed off in a space capsule when you lower the armrest.
When you're travelling, time stands still - or rather, it strides as you cross timezones. But that means that time becomes irrelevant somehow: that you're no longer tired despite leaving your house in the dead of night; that you can have three different breakfasts two hours apart; that otherwise-urgent claims recede; that you can just sit and be catapulted to wherever it is you're trying to get to. I like to think there's something fairly existential about all this, a fact which has no doubt struck you too, as you queue for the loo and rearrange the top button on your jeans as soon as the seatbelts sign has flashed off.
One important addendum to all this rhapsodising, before you get too excited about the journeys you'll undertake this year: travelling for travelling's sake is only truly pleasurable when you're still pumped with adrenalin and optimistic expectation for your destination. Coming home, journeys are quite, quite different. Coming home, you hate and despise everyone around you, as if it's their fault you've been kicked out of paradise. Coming home, difficulties are multiplied and made enormous, your comfort denied; hassles are like ever-increasing hydras.
And it isn't the fact of coming home that makes it so dreadful; it's the fact that, at this point, travelling is like being in limbo. Your holiday mindset is running on empty, your workaday drudge mentality hasn't quite kicked back in yet. The best thing to do in this scenario? To take advantage of the hostess trolley and let your thoughts fly free on a bouncy cloud of gin. - The Independent on Sunday