Tom Hodgkinson: Why modern travel fills me with horror


Related Topics

Travelling fills me with dread. When a trip is looming – and loom they do these days, because I'm often invited to speak on the benefits of doing nothing at festivals and conferences abroad – I fret. I even panic, sometimes for days before the journey. I stomp around the house grumpily. I worry about clothing. Why did I say yes? Why can't I just stay at home? Where's my passport?

When the day comes, I remember how much I loathe flying. I seethe at the humiliation of airport security checks. I come over all Prince Charles and fume at Richard Rogers and his ugly, sterile architecture. It's the horrific white blandness of airports that gets me. The way they are completely free of any personality, surprise, or interest of any sort. They are supremely boring places. If there is a delay, I will sink into a mild depression, unable to decide whether to drink beer at the fake pub or coffee at the fake coffee house. I feel lonely.

A few years ago, having been overcome, briefly, by an attack of middle-class ecological responsibility, I tried to avoid flying altogether. I was commissioned to write about Vienna by a magazine, and with great piety announced that I'd like to take the train instead of the plane, as I was opposed to plane travel. That was just as bad: this way I had a sleepless night in a couchette rather than a short plane flight.

In general, once I've arrived at my destination, my bad mood evaporates and I have a great time for a couple of days. Yet, when Robert Louis Stevenson asserted that, "To travel hopefully is better than to arrive," he clearly had never been stranded for three hours in the hope-free environment of Stansted.

This year I have been seeking advice on how to deal with my hatred of travel. And it seems that what we are talking about here is a question of mental attitude. My brother is a seasoned traveller. For his job, he flies all over the place to interview pop groups. "I enjoy the process," he says. "It's nice to be alone and to do nothing in airports."

And a friend in Australia actually treasures his long flights back to Blighty twice a year. "It's the one time I can get away from the phone and email," he says. "No one bothers me. I just sleep and read and watch films. No responsibility."

One friend whose advice I really treasure is Dan Kieran, former deputy editor of The Idler, and author of The Idle Traveller. His fear of flying led to an exploration of what we might call slow travel. Rather than the frenzied, stress-making A-to-B utilitarian approach which has caused me so much pain, Dan takes boats and trains. He walks. He takes his time. Criticising the empty box-ticking that characterises tourism, he prefers to linger, ramble, loaf and loiter.

One very simple tip is to choose your reading matter with great care. Take a good book, of course, but take a book that has some relevance to the place you are travelling through. So when travelling to Paris, Dan might read The Day of the Jackal. On the train in Eastern Europe, he'll nod off over a John le Carré. On a train in the Czech Republic bound for Prague, Dan will peruse John Keane's biography of Vaclav Havel, and learn, for example, that Hitler planned to destroy the Czech language.

And in Austria, he leafed through the 1926 essay "To Travel or 'Be Travelled'" by the Viennese-born author Stefan Zweig, and was delighted to find the following choice epithet, where Zweig writes nostalgically of his early years before what he calls "the new speed" of the modern age had arrived. "Speed was not only thought to be unrefined, but indeed was considered unnecessary."

This is not to say that idle travel is always easy: after reading Jay Griffiths' brilliant book about indigenous people, Wild, Dan reflects that the pain travel can bring is part of the package: "We're supposed to suffer." So idle travel can be seen in the spirit of pilgrimage. It has a spiritual purpose, it can help us to know ourselves better.

At the end of the journey comes rest, and I would still hymn the pleasures of arrival. There is no sweeter moment than to have reached your destination and to sit down with a cold beer and nothing but a long nap to look forward to.

Tom Hodgkinson is editor of 'The Idler'

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£16575 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity is ava...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A police officer carries a casualty to safety  

Tunisia attack proves that we cannot stop terrorists carrying out operations against Britons in Muslim countries

Robert Verkaik
Alan Titchmarsh MP?  

Alan Titchmarsh MP? His independent manifesto gets my vote

Jane Merrick
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue