The best part of travel

Posted by Darrel Bristow-Bovey on 21 May 2018

Cuba road trip. Image: stock

Crazy adventure? Foreign foods and culture? Leaving normal? No, for our columnist, it’s about the comfort zones

Everyone has a different idea about the best part of travel. Some will talk about seeing new cultures and meeting new people and having new stories to tell. Some will talk about the memories that will enrich their inner lives as they spend their twilight years reminiscing in their easy chairs. I am not calling any of these people liars, but I’m telling you that I do not believe that any of these things are the best part of travel.

The best part of travel doesn’t happen every time but when it does, it feels like being 10 years old again when you’re feeling a bit sick and your mother says you can stay home, and she tucks you in and brings you strawberry Nesquik and Archie comics. You feel safe and as though everything in the world is finally all right. Don’t sneer when I say that the best part of travel is when – under just the right circumstances – you find the right movie on television to watch.

Let’s say, for instance, you’re on a road trip with your partner. You’re driving around Cuba in a small hired car and the distances are further than you imagined, and let’s say, hypothetically, that there’s no network coverage to download Google Maps and you have to rely on the big old fold-out maps they give you in Cuban hotels, but which bear only the very loosest of resemblance to the actual topography and road system of Cuba. (No two of them are the same. It’s as though they asked a classroom of 12-year-olds to draw a map of Cuba from memory, and then sent out all the various results to be distributed to tourists.)

So let’s say you’ve been driving for eight hours and you’ve found a crumbling motel in the cactus fields of Camagüey, and you’re hungry because for the last week every place you’ve stopped for food has only had rice and black beans, and you don’t like black beans.

Let’s say that you know before you even try that there’ll be no hot water, that the bed springs will long since have sprung, and that several other people will have slept on these sheets since the last time they were washed.

And let’s also say that your partner, ordinarily a friendly and tolerant person, has had it up to here with this cockamamie trip and is wondering how you ever persuaded her it would be fun and spontaneous to just hit the open road and see where we ended up.

On such an occasion, it doesn’t feel fun to be a traveller. It’s hard to stay curious and enthusiastic about where you are and the experiences you’re having.

On such an occasion you just want to be 10 again and tucked up in bed with your mom telling you that she’ll bring your supper on a tray.

But say you notice there’s an old TV in the corner. You don’t expect it to work, and even if it does, you know it will just be political speeches or some documentary in Spanish about sugar cane.

But say you try anyway, just because it’s better than staring at the ceiling and crying, and there, somehow in English, miraculously, mysteriously, is Sean Connery in Dr. No. Sean is walking along the beach and Ursula Andress is emerging from the sea singing ‘Underneath the Mango Tree’, and everything is simple and sunshiny and innocent and your partner says: ‘Hey!They have room service! They have spaghetti bolognese.’

Travel is wonderful, and it’s good to be adventurous and open to new things, but sometimes the best part of travel is being in a closed room with the curtains drawn,
eating spaghetti bolognese and watching just the right movie on television.

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