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Modern Travel

“Modern traveling is not traveling at all; it is merely being sent to a place, and very little different from becoming a parcel.” – John Ruskin

I smiled to myself when I thought of this quote, by a man who died in 1900, as I folded myself into a coach seat in a plane full of business travelers and tourists alike. The more things change the more they stay the same. John Ruskin was likely shipping himself by train or steamer in his latter years, by stagecoach or tall ship in his younger years. And we delight in the same observation: travel can be uncomfortable and tedious. But it can also be adventurous.

When you travel for work on a weekend you tend to let your guard down a bit and dress a little more casually, while keeping in mind the logistics of packing light. It wasn’t lost on me (or Ruskin well before me) that packing a bag and yourself is very much the same as packing a box for shipment. Weight and size matter a lot in both situations, and you must be creative and make sacrifices.

This business of traveling can be more comfortable, more luxurious, and a lot less stressful if you just throw enough money at it. We all prioritize what we spend money on a bit differently, and some would use theirs to upgrade to first class or take a private flight. I wish them well, even as I dismiss the very idea of ever spending that kind of money for something as basic as travel. If money is a story we all agree to tell ourselves, my story doesn’t include frivolous spending on shipping myself to places.

Still, I heard from a friend who recently took his company’s private jet from Boston to Toronto for a brief meeting and then back again. In the time most of us would take to get to the airport and suffer through the indignities the airlines and your fellow passengers put you through he was there and back with casual, strategic conversation the entire way. Maybe there’s a place for this kind of modern travel after all.

I think the answer, for the rest of us, is to stop treating ourselves like parcels and slow down the process of getting from point A to point B. Take a sleeper train across the country, meander across the most interesting terrain in an RV or van, sail from here to there in the company of fascinating people. Any of these is less efficient but far more enjoyable than most modern travel. For it’s fair to ask; we aren’t FedEx packages, are we?

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