23 Jun 2015 | Archive

The Paradox of Travel

DeChirico Departure (2)In the next few blogs I am re-presenting my thoughts on the logistic contradictions and emotional upheavals stimulated by travel. These ideas were part of a ‘Psychology of Travel’  seminar series I gave to various business people, organisational developers and university students. Some of lesson two was even used with teams of forensic accountants and personal investment bankers in a bank in Milan (but not necessarily an Italian bank…) on the very eve of the recession. They had just seen millions of their clients’ Euros vanish and I introduced them to calmness through a coaching style, but more of that later.

This is all because I was recently asked why I was now using Travel as the metaphor when hitherto I had been known as the person that talks about Football. Regular followers know that I believe that any set of metaphors, so long as they are universally understood, are a tremendous way to nudge understanding, ‘buy-in’ and all the good stuff that goes with ‘special interest’. Communciation has to be intelligent but not shrouded in a complex academic style and my aim as a coach / trainer / teacher is always to help the other person improve their understanding and thence their performance. As the person nearly said; Use clever words simply.

And so…

Travel, according to the OED is defined as ‘going from one place to another, especially over a long distance.’  I’ve opted to add ‘either directly or via other places’ because the directness or wavyness of the route is a big pointer in determining whether the voyager is doing it only for purposes of being at the (final) destination or whether the act of travelling is of value in itself.


Journey metaphors are liberally applied in life. We all do it and it’s everywhere. It can refer to a chunk of time such as our journeys through childhood or adolescence, it can be a segment of experience such as a journey to gaining a qualification or coming to terms with an emotion such as grief or heartbreak. And it can apply jointly to emotion with experience;

‘Losing “is all part of the journey of being a winner”, said Brendan Rodgers… After his team suffered…against Aston Villa …the journey ahead of Rodgers appears similarly exhausting’ 

So, while I write nominally about travel, other journey types rear their heads and the multibiguity is deliberate and to be embraced. What is important is the sense that travel/ journey has the potential to help people to grow and better themselves. Experiences on the move and in new places seem to magnify in significance, burn deeper in the memory and retain greater colour. Being away helps us to reflect on our life back home and gives us the capacity to compare and to see ourselves with a degree of objectivity that we simply cannot get by staying put.

Travel also brings on rushes of adrenalin, heightened awareness and a sharper mind. Somehow being on the move can shunt our brains into a more acute and functional mode and we become better primed to learn and experience new things. The traveller develops a kind of 360 degree vision and our more animal instincts begin to awaken.


Unless it’s a commute or a chore of a work trip, travel is usually something people look forward to. It’s not Time Travel exactly, but it has the nature of the future as it is a collection of unknowns that lurk ahead of us in spaces and places that are even more beyond our control than our comparatively safe daily lives. Travel can be exciting, fearsome or a shifting, churning  mash up of both.

And here the Paradox begins; Travel is something we crave but yet it can push us away too.

It is often portrayed as an end in itself, as a goal and as an ambition. ‘I want to travel’ people say. The counterpoint however is that travelling, or being ‘about to to travel’ exposes hundreds of fears. Fears of risk, separation, melancholia and let’s face it, the fear of death. Just about every mode of transport has its own related ‘sickness’ and there is something deeply unnatural in moving speedily about the planet. Travel probably appears on every bucket list and most of us can name that special place we want to visit. It’s intriguing to think that the human desire to explore and delve has never abated and that our curiosity, even in an age when we have instant sight and sound access to so many locations propels us to want to be there in the flesh. There’s a pathological need to trigger touch taste and smell plus the metaphysical impulse, that feline sixth sense that is generally quashed and shunned by logic and scientific reasoning.

Going back to human beginnings, as our ancestors walked away from Africa they did so slowly ( http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/evolution/human-migration3.htm) and in the pursuit of food and new, safe land. It was travel, but not holiday-like. They went in search of water, food and later generations sought out farmable land. It was all territory and war and basic hygiene factors to just survive. Travelling would have been a gross inconvenience and until it was necessary probably happened very little.

I imagine that people would surely have visited other places, greener grass and all that, but I presume that if they didn’t have to move the whole tribe, they didn’t. A day long excursion ‘over the hill’  would have been likely, but if you’re hunting and eating, sleeping and reproducing you probably didn’t have much leisure time and until your base was coveted by an enemy, you’d have probably been happy to stay where you are.

So although travel excites and stimulates, the worries and concerns can oblige the traveller to steep herself in deep organisation, to obsess over ticket management, set an array of alarms and become a control freak that shouts and bosses her companions. Nerves take over and tempers fray. The fun of anticipation seeps away and the trip shifts from an adventure to an endurance test.

What created the paradox is also what created the modern concept of leisure travel; Speed. The speed of travel has surely provided the impulse and ability for us to vacate our homes for short and long breaks. The umbilical stretches like a rubber band and we go away knowing we’re going to be pulled back. The ticket is always a return one.

We leave home knowing a return is a guaranteed part of the package and that we are not migrating, but observing.