The miracle and madness of travel in the modern age

This will likely be my last post for several weeks, not because I am abandoning this project, far from it.  Instead, I will be undertaking a hopefully epic journey that is only possible in the modern world, covering some 25,000 miles in less than a month.

This will likely be my last post for several weeks, not because I am abandoning this project, far from it.  I’m more convinced than ever that the world needs more high-quality bullshit that few read and no one asks for, and I will get back to writing as soon as I can.  In the meantime, I will be undertaking a hopefully epic journey that is only possible in the modern world.  Over the next three weeks, I will travel some 25,000 miles, set foot on three continents and at least six countries.  First, I will head to Chennai, India by way of Frankfurt, Germany for a corporate retreat and annual awards ceremony, a distance of almost 9,000 miles that will be covered in 20 or so hours.  This will be my second trip to India, having already been to Chennai in the spring of 2017.  This time I will get to explore outside the city at Temple Bay Malappuram, where you can be assured your humble author will find himself swimming deep in the Bay of Bengal with a beer and likely tearing up the beach in an ATV (for the record, my wife has already expressed concern what may come of that).  India itself is a magical place, teeming with people and energy, remarkably like America in many ways with restaurants, bars, and businesses, but radically different in others, a fact that can be seen the first time you notice a family of four riding a motorcycle on the highway.  Barely 72 hours after returning to New Jersey via the United Arab Emirates, I will depart again for France, this time with my lovely wife on what will be a much needed vacation. It will be my first time in the country, and there is some truth to the fact that I wouldn’t be going at all if Bruce Springsteen wasn’t playing in Paris, such is my obsession with The Boss, more than well documented on this site.  Three days in the City of Lights will be followed by a high speed rail trip to the French Alps and the lakeside city of Annecy complete with a James Bond style casino, where we will rent a car and cross over into Switzerland before driving back to Chantilly.

In the 21st century, it is incredibly easy to write this trip up in a paragraph and then embark upon it as if there was nothing special about this level of mobility, but throughout most of human history such an adventure would be impossible.  Regular readers will be well aware that I’m infatuated with Teddy Roosevelt recently and wrote about him just yesterday.  When he was a young man, it took five days simply to travel from New York to the Dakotas by train.  It took more than two weeks to cross the Atlantic to England.  A century before, it took John Quincy Adams two months to do the same.  Today, we can be on the other side of the world in less than 24 hours.  The speed of travel is not the only thing that has been revolutionized either.  Even if Roosevelt or John Quincy could have reached their destination in a shorter time period, the logistics and coordination involved were mind boggling, or you simply had to wing it.  Roosevelt went to the Dakotas, originally to shoot a buffalo and ultimately to become a rancher, by himself with no planned accommodations or any plan at all except to figure it out once he arrived.  He might well have died and almost did when someone called him four eyes at a bar, and others tried to rob him.  John Quincy went to Paris and then throughout Europe with a team of people, lugging massive amounts of belongings, and planning every step.

A globe trotting trip today. however, can be organized entirely online, from booking your trip to buying Springsteen tickets in another country on Stubhub.  The computers take care of all the details, and the electronic financial institutions convert all of the currency.  You can literally arrive in a foreign country with nothing except your passport, your credit card, and a phone, and not be at any loss. At the same time, this modern miracle of travel is not without its downside.  All of this costs money, and prices are going up around the world faster than peoples’ income.  Tickets to Europe easily approach $1,000, India even more than that, and we’re not talking first or even business class.  We’re a step above the cargo area of the plane.  The airlines, in particular, have increasingly pursued strategies that seem more punitive than efficient.  So-called “Basic Economy,” for example, which thankfully doesn’t exist on international flights yet, where you cannot reserve a seat or bring a carry on make little sense and cause unnecessary frustration.  They need to reserve your seat one way or another.  Charging you for it seems more of an insult than a business strategy, the same with the privilege of bringing a carry on.  One would think that in the modern world, an airline should be able to provide convenient seating choices and a comfortable seat, but I guess you need to take the good with the bad, “one step up and two steps back” as Bruce Springsteen once sang in a completely different context.

Regardless, there is no other way to describe travel in the modern world than a miracle.  We live with the inconvenience of the airlines, security, and all the rest because of the magic it opens up. The ability to explore like never before, see things even our parents might not have dreamed of, and certainly not our grand parents. Humans have always been unique among animals with an adventurous instinct. There is something in our brains that sees a distant mountain or shore, and compels us to go there just to see it and said we did, or in this day and age post a photo on social media. We experience a joy in discovery that cannot be replicated outside of making an actual discovery. Books, pictures, movies, video games, meta-universes, or whatever allow us to peek into another world, but ultimately only increase our desire to be there in truth rather than fiction. The great poet Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote, “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield,” capturing our desire to discover the world for ourselves and keep a piece of it with us, always. Alas, this desire and the miracle of modern travel that supports it is increasingly under attack.  Our betters have decided that seeing the world is too much for the planet to bear, and they are taking steps to limit your ability to travel, though they will never say it that way.  In other words, we can hope they don’t succeed, but it might be now or never to take that trip of your dreams.  Safe travels!

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