It’s worth leaving the house.
That’s one of the basic premises of travel, that it’s a far better thing to go somewhere yourself, than to read about someone else’s travels (or watch them on television or some other filmed media) from the comfort of hearth, home, routine.
I’ve totally bought into this premise, as you might expect — my life is structured around regular travel, and has been for some years now. And I can’t help but notice that a great deal of travel is…well…incredibly dull.
It makes for terrible stories. A good story, whether you see it in a movie or read it in a novel or a memoir , is just like real life, but with the boring parts removed. Travel is just like a movie with all the boring (and confusing and contradictory) parts left in.
Think about it: If you were watching a movie, you would not experience minute after cursed minute on an overnight flight, you would see maybe one shot of the main character staring at the fasten seat belt sign — and then the plane touches down. One or two revolutions of the baggage claim carousel, but not the fifty it takes to spit out your bag.
It is my theory that this is why so many Americans behave badly when they travel, quick to revert to petulant, demanding toddlers* — we’re not hip to the boring truth of travel, because we get very, very little vacation time in this country.
This is a fact oft-asserted and not oft-backed up, but it is actually true. Vacation time is traditionally awarded based on years of service, with longer-serving employees receiving more vacation time. Only 17% of private sector U.S. employees with five years on the job receive at least three weeks worth of paid vacation days a year. Bear in mind that the median amount of time that people spend in a job is now 4.4 years, so many employed Americans aren’t even going to get that much. Among employees who have been on the job for a year, eight in ten are getting less than two weeks of vacation time, most are getting less than nine days.
Given all this, the vast majority of the average traveler’s experience comes from vicariously living through someone else’s journeys, via travel narrative–whether it’s Paul Theroux, Anthony Bourdain, Eat Pray Love (book or movie), or even the Sunday section of the local newspaper. Fiction or nonfiction, for these purposes it doesn’t matter — there has never been a travel story published that gives a second by second account of a journey, and for good reason.
So little wonder that we get so impatient when we’re off on our long-awaited holiday — nothing creates rage like unmet expectations, and the idea that everyone’s having a better, or at least a more interestingly disastrous time, than Y-O-U.
Travel is boring, annoying, confusing, at least some of the time. You’ll like it more once you realize it’s supposed to be that way. So embrace the truth, and then, when you’re good and calm, go ahead and leave the house.
*Despite being well into my childbearing years, I’m not a parent and so am not by nature an apologist for children travelers, but I will say that I have never seen any bad behavior from a child on an airport or airplane that matches the tantrums I’ve seen thrown by the fully grown — uncontrollable fits of pique and rage that have even occasionally led to arrest.
Alison J. Stein
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