Henrietta Thompson: Let's have a little more life in our journeys
Saturday 09 March 2013
Life is a journey, they say, not a destination. And that is never truer than when travelling for business, when the journeying part is likely to take up about 75 per cent of your time away. In that case, life is an airport lounge, a queue, another queue, a £3 paper vase of caffeinated water, another queue, a "sorry madam, you can't bring that cup on here", some shopping, some reading, some plastic-wrapped plastic sandwiches, another queue, and if you're very lucky or well organised, a window seat.
Which is not to say I don't love all of the above. I'm passionate about travelling, and not just for the places I end up in. I actually do love (some) airports. I love long train rides too. I just feel like the service providers along this journey part of life that we're so often stuck in are too often lacking in imagination.
Captive audiences in airports, railway stations and on public transport will always spend money. We are bored, we are philosophical and we are constantly remembering what we forgot to pack. But even at Heathrow T5, an experience entirely constructed around its shiny shops, it is essentially just more of the same.
Why not introduce a concept store? Imagine, in the Paris Eurostar terminal, a temple for beautiful, limited-edition and carefully sourced products, fashion and food. Not an outpost of Colette or Merci, but a unique retail wonderland, which you can visit only once you've gone through the security check?
I also have a fantasy that one day you'll be able to buy duty-free online so it can be delivered straight to your house and you don't have to carry it. Because that's the problem with all those bottles, isn't it? Running for the gate like a thirsty wino somehow spoils the effort of packing your chic, tiny carry-on so efficiently.
And that's just shopping. For all that the world is travelling more than ever before, the opportunities for culture, entertainment and education in our transport hubs lie largely untapped.
Taxis. Now taxis have it right. Ever since seeing that programme when Ewan McGregor and his friend grew beards and went around the world on motorcycles, I've been pondering how I can do the same. I'm limited when it comes to beard-growing, and the motorbikes have now "been done", as have hot-air balloons, bicycles, walking, sailing, swimming, roller skating (probably) and eating. My mode of transport, I have decided, would be a taxi. (Budgets would be covered by the BBC who would be filming it.)
Taxis are a journey with added life, with a different type for every city, whether you're in a tuk tuk in Bangkok, a water taxi in Venice, or, that most frightening of all, a New York yellow cab. Taxi drivers don't try to sell you non-potable coffee, but they do tell you stories that, often, are completely unexpected. They show you the sights, misinform you shockingly, advise you on your relationships, tell you about their week, complain about the government.
Sometimes, as is often the case with the tuk tuk driver, it seems they might have taken your life into their hands. But it's a journey, and a journey with life.
Henrietta Thompson is editor at large at 'Wallpaper' magazine
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