Once again, I find myself blog-writing as I speed home on the train to Paris, at the end of a trip home to England. I seem to be making something of a habit of this. Oh, and in case you were wondering, yes, I did mean to use “home” twice there.
It’s not surprising that I often end up writing in transit. Solo travel is a special kind of time to yourself, when there’s no obligation or pressure to do anything specific or productive.* The travelling itself is already an activity, you’re limited to what you can do from the confines of a train or plane, there’s often no internet access, you can’t be anywhere else, and it’s entirely out of your hands to speed things up. You just have to… be.
I love to make the most of that rare license by doing… absolutely nothing at all. How often, in the busy balancing act of grown-up life, do we get the opportunity to spend several (waking) hours in total repose, without any guilt or consequences? I enjoy writing (evidently) or reading on the move – but I’ve also spent whole Eurostar journeys just looking out the window and thinking, or daydreaming (not the same thing), to the soundtrack of a carefully-curated playlist.
Consequently, I’ve had some of my best and most inventive ideas whilst travelling. I also often find myself doing some inadvertent soul-searching; on more than one occasion, I’ve arrived at my destination with an entirely different perspective on something that had been playing on my mind, to the one I’d had when I’d departed. There’s something about that temporary suspension of routine, of reality, as you move from where you were to where you’re going, that clears the mind and allows – encourages – the untangling of thoughts and feelings.
Solo travel isn’t all about tranquility for me, though. I find it incredibly exciting, in a way that has nothing to do with my destination. For one, I always feel very independent when travelling alone; perhaps less so than when I was younger and newer to the whole thing, but there’s definitely still a faint glow of contented pride when I embark on a new adventure toute seule.
I love the sense of purpose that comes with it, too. Of course all journeys are made with a degree of intention – but, as with a lot of things, I find that I’m much more aware of that feeling when I’m in my own company. That’s something else I like about solo travel: the acute awareness, of myself and my surroundings. Standing on the platform, keenly watching the bend in the tracks around which the train will appear, any… minute… now; striding across the squeaky airport floor, rucksack on back, suitcase trundling along behind me; staring out the cloudy plastic window at trees and fields and sheep and hedges, as they zoom past or disappear far below. And then that moment when the train pulls out of the station or the plane lifts off from the tarmac… and I’m off. On my way. Wherever my way might be taking me. The feeling is almost impossible to articulate, but it’s as though all my senses are heightened, every detail amplified. There’s a curious sort of power in it. A kind of high.
But for all that non-destination-related excitement I derive from travelling alone, I’m also lucky enough that, for the last three-and-a-bit years, my destination has always been a source of excitement for me too, whichever direction I’m going in. Outbound travel means being reunited with family and friends, exploring somewhere new, or revisiting a favourite holiday spot. And coming home means returning to my beloved Paris – which, even after all this time, is still a genuinely thrilling prospect. I suspect it always will be.
*Except perhaps if you’re business travelling, or a student, in which case there’s the perpetual pressure to be studying.