Why a returning flight is the least relaxing journey in the world

Alastair follows-up his article about going home with an article about returning flights…

Travel and travelling are two different things. One is a concept steeped in romantic ideas of the ‘somewhere else’ and the other is the act of actually getting there. In my experience, the latter is a needle thin pin prick that bursts the former and reduces it down to real world expectations.

I wouldn’t say this is cynical. It’s largely true of everything in life because the dream in your head is precisely that: your head, your dreams. Every idea about love or distant places always involves you as the main character with supporting roles that are never more than 2D projections. The infinite complexity of fellow can never be fully imagined.

It’s only when you’re stuck in an entire plane of them that you, as someone once said, realise romance is dead.

When you’re sitting at night among the clouds in close quarters with people you’re confronted with the sophistry of your dreams and forced to accept the human condition. Morality, ambition, loss and disappointment are starker than the usual 3am bouts of thinking when you’re persuading yourself that something is worse or better than it actually is.

No matter what you’re going back to there’s someone inherently nerve-wracking about the whole journey. You know that you’re returning to a routine: it’s the end of not so much a holiday but a trip home, your family, your friends and to all those little places where the walls just exude a nostalgic haze that you can sink into. Flying back is just business as usual and all you can do is stare at the proverbial egg timer until you’re back. Lingering behind all of this is the fear that you’ve forgotten yourself, that you won’t be able to relax and thrive in the way you did before you left.

These thoughts, of course, all congeal together to make the return flight a tedious slow motion haze of recognisable cliché. No, I don’t want a menu. No, I don’t want anything to eat. No, I don’t want a lottery ticket, duty-free items, charity donation forms or anything else from the tat rags they pedal at 30,000 feet. There’s also a special place in hell for anyone that keeps repeatedly bumping your shoulder as they march past you down the aisle.

I suppose the more you dislike the journey back it makes you appreciate what you’re leaving behind. And that’s the point. If you’ve done this cycle more than once then there are clearly factors at which makes you put ‘the other place’ back into memory stasis. Like Neverland, it sort of drifts away from the front of your mind when you reach your destination but never you never forget; it just sort of becomes perched at the back of your memory, waiting.

When you do eventually arrive back you’d be forgiven for taking out a totem and spinning it on a table. What’s the dream and what’s real?

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