The Joy of Arduous Journeys

by Yaska Sahara

I sit on the IC 144 from Hannover Hbf to Almelo as I write the first draft of this post, a long train journey back from a German countryside getaway, a slightly more Corona-friendly travel option. I went to a friend’s holiday home and it made me think about the joy of holiday homes and visiting people you know, but that’s another post.

I’ve thought about writing this post a few times before but never been sure how to put it. I remember thinking about this on my flight to Japan back in 2018, the anticipation of the journey, the seeing of different shops at my stopover airports, gazing out the window, sneaking a few more hours in the day by napping on the plane, or better yet, waking up and arriving.

The thought left my mind as I was in Japan and wrapped up with the rigour of my Japanese classes and my new environment. I was on buses and trains a lot but always looking at new things, seeing what signs I could read, what the locals wore and eavesdropping to see how much Japanese I understood. So, of course, these kinds of journeys are fun, not arduous.

I thought about it again when I told someone about my journey from Kigali Airport to Tokyo Narita. A lot of waiting, a lot of transfers. They remarked at how much of a pain it sounded. I thought about it and I understood why they thought so, but I just couldn’t bring myself to empathise. I really do understand, it’s not fun to spend hours merely transferring your posterior to different chairs in waiting rooms onto other modes of transport. I get that the view and experience sometimes just isn’t all that interesting. We live in a world where we’re so impervious to simple wonders, being very used to the concept of getting in a sky tube or moving room on rail and ending up in another part of the world. So if all we see is the sky or fields, it can get cumbersome. But what I love about the long, somewhat arduous, journeys is their element of escape.

You are always in a place. If you have a layover in Kuala Lumpur, you are on Malaysian soil. If you’re on a train from Germany to the Netherlands, you are either in Germany or the Netherlands, in the country fields or in a city suburb perhaps. But you’re also not really there, you would never say you’ve been to Kuala Lumpur without first clarifying it was a layover. No, you are in a special world, your own little in-between dimension between your point of departure and arrival. This wonder means that the inconveniences become less inconvenient. Once you train yourself to get less phased by them, you start to learn you can control and shape your own little in-between land far more than you may have expected.

There are many ways to make the most of your special world. I like to emphasise that pressures to be productive are often quite unfair. If you didn’t learn a new skill in the pandemic, that’s fine. Surviving this pandemic is enough of a skill. In the same vein, you don’t always need to use those hours travelling as an opportunity to finish all your work. My doing a blog post right now is a case of this. However, I also love to just sit and look out of the window. I’ve seen countless roads, trees and hills. But I haven’t seen that odd graffiti of the penguins of Madagascar before, or noticed the subtleties of the architecture of the area. Similarly, I’m still amazed by how flat the land is in the Netherlands after living there for two years. I even think this on train journeys of a few minutes.

It is no secret that many people don’t know how to rest and take some time to think, even if they think they do. I do not believe that this is uniquely a characteristic of the digital age as many like to say. I see why they say it and I think it certainly worsens matters. But I also have no doubt that people have avoided being alone with their thoughts for years and in many creative manners. Therefore, many of us feel the need to do something. We are all guilty of it. I think that’s why the special dimension can be great or horrible. I’ve come to love it. I sometimes try listening to the sounds of the vehicle itself, or whispers and just enjoying some relative silence.

On the other hand, I also love listening to music and looking out of the window, the music being a background to my mind’s lonesome journey. There are many ways to be in this zone. I’m currently thinking about how extraordinary it is that I’m a British-Indian whose family also has ties to East Africa is travelling from Germany to the Netherlands, where I live, listening to Chinese Hip-hop, on a train which was made with resources from goodness knows where, with a small suitcase that has seen at least ten countries… It is just so incredible. If someone says not to think about things too much because if you do, everything is weird, I always find myself strongly disagreeing. I love that so many things we take for granted are strange or at the very least, very layered. Your mind can take you to so many places. It can do this any day but its especially easy and extra special when you’re in the in-between travel dimension. My mind starts wandering and wondering further and frankly it is beautiful. Even if it sometimes goes to bad places, I somehow gain slight pleasure from savouring that too.

This morning, I woke up early a little stressed about whether I had all my documents and keys, my brain saying ‘But what if…’ and a million ridiculous shenanigans. Even though I’m pretty organised and good at travel, I was still nervous. Sucks, but it happens. But waking up early and seeing some things before I left turned out to be worth it. I felt a little carsick this morning but still took in the last of the country views as I breathed through the now distant nausea. Now that I’m on my second of four trains I feel good despite my slight headache and shoulder pain from sleeping awkwardly. I’ve finished a great audiobook, the second book in the Gentleman Bastards series, finished a TV show I loved, Bojack Horseman, and also wrote the draft of this blog. I’m loving this in-between time to myself.

I’m not constantly zen when travelling but learning to embrace journeys that can be a pain really helped better my full travel experience. I hope my insight proves interesting to my fellow travellers to have a nicer next journey.

Note to readers:

This post really flowed through my fingers. I tried writing blog posts weekly for a while, and I enjoyed it. It helped give some more discipline in writing, however, I found it was hard to maintain with study commitments and hence I took a break for a while. Forcing weekly blog posts proved difficult because I found great quality variations. They weren’t bad but they weren’t the passion pieces that I so greatly enjoyed writing and that people so greatly enjoyed reading. Examples of passionate pieces are my love letters to London and Ahmedabad, cities I know and love. So I hope I can channel more passion into my posts here-on out.

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8 comments

Veerle August 16, 2020 - 10:30 am

This is such a beautiful way of thinking, it’s really cool to think about things that many think are nuisances in a way that explains their wonder and how incredible it is we get to experience them! This really brought me brack to my travels through Asia and i can only agree with you that travelling itself can be as wonderful as the destination!

Vishal Gupta August 16, 2020 - 4:57 pm

Your writing shows a great deal of gratitude towards the moment you are living with.. love your kind of observation & appreciation..

Yaska Sahara August 25, 2020 - 12:21 pm

Thank you so much!

Joshna Hirani August 16, 2020 - 8:41 pm

Love reading your reflections and observations which in turn prompt me to reflect too. Thank you for sharing.:)

Yasmin August 17, 2020 - 11:47 pm

What a wonderfully thought-provoking piece of writing.

Aarti August 25, 2020 - 5:41 am

Love this post, Yaska. The first feeling I got was that you are incredibly lucky to have travelled so much at such a young age. Secondly, I’d like to add on the part of listening to music while travelling. For me, I listen to the same songs over and over again in various phases. So when I move from a place, that song gets attached to that place. Then wherever I am, I listen to that song, I think of that place! It’s magical.

Towards the end of my twenties, I have learnt how to find zen in chaos. In my undergrad, I needed a quiet room if I were to read. I hated distractions. Last year, in London, I used to be able to hold a book while being squeezed from all directions on the Central Line in peak hours. I would read on the escalators, walking back home (although I wouldn’t recommend this) and also read in parks. I find it intriguing how we evolve from our platonic ideals as our surroundings change.. COVID 19 is the biggest example of that.

Yaska Sahara August 25, 2020 - 12:22 pm

I will try the songs for different places! sounds really nice! and yes I totally agree about finding zen in chaos it can be so hard but also so worth it! let’s see how COVID 19 further changes that for us.

Yaska Sahara August 25, 2020 - 12:21 pm

indeed! travelling and the destination! got to appreciate it all!

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