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The Gold Is In The Journey

Updated: Jan 24

I once asked a group of people which word they hated the most. It was a mini exercise, I suppose, in writer's market research. One person said, for them, that word was 'journey.'

I understand why this word irks people. It appears to be one of those amorphous, new-gen words that describe concepts people pretend to understand, but can't really specifically describe, and which some people consider is used by the young and entitled a little too liberally - a word that suffers the same affliction as words like 'woke' or 'spiritual.'

But for me the word journey, as much as I understand why people hate its 'wokeness', has a special utility because a) what else can we use more accurately as a metaphor for life? and b) I am a true lover of the journey, in both a literal and metaphorical sense.

When I used to travel a lot, I always enjoyed the actual act of going from place to place; the joy of the wandering, the things that happen in getting there. I think that is why I still enjoy walking; because it's a mini version of travelling, ambling around, enjoying the movement, and not really caring about a particular purpose or destination.

Some people say that this is what distinguishes a true traveller from a holidaymaker. The distinction lies in whether you relish the bits in-between: the overnight train ride, the two-day bus journey, the people you meet, the random snacks you get sold roadside, the ways in which you have to rise above things every day (noise, smells, annoying people), and also the way in which you learn about time in a new way; especially, how beautifully slowly it can pass when you are not rushing to get to the destination.

Travel in my 20s was waiting rooms in train stations sharing stories, shared bunks with horrors lurking down the side of the bed and toilets overflowing with piss from days spent in the same quarters.

But it was also a lesson in how people actually live, what they really talk about, the local card games and drinking games, and how we can get our point across in a language that's not native.

I noticed that good humour is universally understood and people are loved when they are pure and intend to connect and not degrade. I learned that language may sometimes divide us, but emotions are pretty basic and simple charm can build bridges, even where there is elitism.

The journey rather than the destination has the gold. But it's often hidden in plain sight.

For example, even now when I walk around the same bit of block, in my familiar bit of my familiar city, I frequently see something completely unique and fascinating with a real (or imagined) intriguing story behind it; a piece of street theatre, a shop being refurbished, a group of fashionistas, a plaque that tells me something important happened here once, a gravestone of someone famous, a new piece of street art.

Through necessity, when I was younger, and my money only extended to a shoestring budget, I had to travel in the most basic of ways, the slowest of ways.

Money buys speed, access and luxury, but if you only have time to 'waste', you get different sorts of rewards. If you are still young enough to afford to waste time, wasting time travelling slowly is one of the most valuable, life-enhancing things you can do.

Through travelling, I grew up and into myself.

I learned how I was part of a whole, and yet a separate and unique individual. I learned I can survive anywhere and that strangers can be kinder than friends. That, somehow, things work out even when you are lost without a map in the middle of Beijing, or up the creek on the Amazon river in a storm, or that you will figure it out (somehow!) when you paid for your taxi journey to the airport in counterfeit money and now the police won't let you get on your flight.

These are not earned badges or things crossed off - sure I did plenty of those too. These were the things in-between. The disasters, the unforeseen, the challenging, the frightening in some cases.

But these were also the life-enhancing, the lesson-learning, the character-building bits too. How much poorer would I have been now if I would have caught a direct flight and gotten the VIP tour?

Like any other journey, there are many ways of travelling through life. You can go the scenic route or the quickest route, you can sit in the passenger seat or take the wheels yourself, you can argue about which route to take, you can get lost, you can have a plan, you can break down, and you can have bits in the journey where you just have to throw up your hands and say, 'We'll get there in the end!'

But however we do it, whatever happens in that journey, this is actually this stuff of life - this very bit - not the bit at the end. When we realise this, we see the journey for what it is, the main course, not the appetiser. And we need to appreciate this, or risk disappointment and a life skimming the surface.

Because, inevitably, when you are bound for a destination and get 'there', the satisfaction or jubilation of arrival lasts only a few minutes, a few hours if you're lucky, and then it is dispersed again. It quickly becomes something only to recount in stories about things you once achieved.

And even worse, these days, is that this 'now', this moment lived in real-time celebrating at the destination, is becoming shorter and shorter. It only lasts as long as a picture is taken and sent on Watsapp, for as long as a TikTok is made and gets that initial surge of likes, it's the time you can justifiably enjoy a self-congratulatory pat on the back without being vulgar, it's as long as a list of thank-yous, and then ... we move on ... again.

In these circumstances, when the sense of victory which comes with getting to the destination becomes shorter and less satisfying, and when even doing things for leisure has become an arena in which we have started to strive to achieve rather than experience enjoyment, it seems the only place left for true joy to exist is in this unmined territory - the journey.

I don't think I will ever not enjoy the journey - even when it's a mini one, even a seemingly pointless one, because frequently my journeys, both actual and metaphorical, are ones that other people do find pointless.

Why are you going there? What's the point of doing that? There is no point. The doing is the point. The moment is the point. What a shame for them to not recognise the deeper significance.

The journey has the gold. Stop looking for it at the end. There is nothing at the end. Only the end of something and the beginning of something else, and some other place to go.

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