There’s a great irony in traveling. The goal of travel is to get away from the routines and conventions of life. When people travel, they often do it to get off the road they’re on and take a completely new path, one they’ve never been on before and which hopefully will lead them to somewhere new and exciting.
A big part of the appeal here is freedom — freedom from the everyday, and freedom from the normal responsibilities of life. When you travel, you don’t have to do laundry (unless you’re gone for a very long time) or worry about homework (unless you’re a Cornell student). Furthermore, you don’t have a schedule; if you decide midway through your day in a new city that you want to skip the art museums and spend the day wandering through back alleys, then you can do just that.
Yet the irony in traveling is that for the most part, in order to get to that new, exciting place you have to undergo a very controlled, limited and un-free experience. That experience is the physical necessity of getting to wherever you’re traveling to. Now, we all know the old adage about it not being the destination but rather the journey that counts, but frankly the way most travel works is that travelers agree to withstand a period of discomfort, confinement and lack of control in exchange for the freedom and excitement that comes from being in a new place — in other words, not much of a journey.
Think about the most common methods of transportation. Flying? You're belted into your seat and the plane is following a very specific flight path that is out of your control. Taking a train? You can move around the car, but the train itself is on tracks and therefore couldn’t deviate from its path even if someone wanted it to. Driving? You have control over where you’re going to a certain degree, but you still have to follow the roads and you’re still, at the end of the day, sitting in a tiny metal box. Long-distance travel, the way things are now, is a matter not of getting away from the restrictions of your regular life, but allowing yourself to be restricted further in exchange for the experience of temporarily being someplace new. It’s not about going, but rather about being taken somewhere.
Yet despite these restrictions, going somewhere, even the physical act of journeying, still feels free. Even when I’m trapped on an airplane seat for eight hours with nothing to do but the crossword in the in-flight magazine, I still get that visceral rush of adventure and freedom I associate with traveling. Part of it is the excitement of going somewhere new, but there’s more to it than that. I think that, fundamentally, when I travel from place to place I don’t want control.
Think of traveling to another city sort of like having a dream. In both cases, you’re temporarily taken away from the worries and cares of your everyday existence to a strange and new place. You surrender control over yourself in exchange for the freedom and wonder that comes from being in an unfamiliar place. It’s a theme you see in literature as well, especially fantasy literature; the protagonists of The Chronicles of Narnia or The Wizard of Oz don’t actively seek out the magical worlds they end up in, but rather are whisked away to them by chance.
This experience — of being taken away from everyday life and transported to somewhere completely new — is a fundamental human desire. The freedom felt in travel, though it comes from escaping one’s daily routine, is not truly about doing whatever one wants; rather, it’s about doing something different.
Can traveling ever be more than just a dream, though? Can true freedom ever really be achieved? The thing about dreams is that you always wake up from them and the thing about vacations is that you always come home. If you start traveling and just never stop, then travel becomes your way of life — but if that’s the case, are you escaping from anything or simply trading one set of routines for another?
Perhaps the key is to think of home not as a place or a set of routines, but rather in terms of the people who make you feel at home. So far, this column has been about traveling alone, something I’ve done only rarely. I travel with the people who are closest to me, and that way, I never leave my home while still seeing all of the different dreamscapes the world shows me. Freedom, then, is realizing how, if you’re with someone you care about, the whole world is your home and you never need to escape.
Aidan Bonner is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at email@example.com. The Weather Report appears alternate Mondays this semester.