Once I’m on the plane a fatalistic calm descends. I go all zen and I feel ready to face whatever comes, even the airline breakfast or having to help out heroically at the emergency exit or dying mid-air. That feeling of a tragic inevitability bravely faced only lasts until we land, when a new set of travel anxieties gather like storm clouds. Experienced catastrophists like me can rustle up a batch of them out of almost nothing, unlike the serene Will who never thinks anything is going to go wrong, which I put down to a failure of imagination and he puts down to being rational.
I suppose it’s to do with “being out of your comfort zone”, which could be the new-age equivalent of “travel broadens the mind”. You’re a stranger in a strange land, even if millions of other strangers before you have detailed every tiny aspect on Tripadvisor. My father was a past master of needless worry as a traveller, a skill he handed down to his children. He didn’t go away often but when he did, he spent most of the time convinced he was about to be robbed or taken for a ride by some foreign hustler or arrested. He felt constantly at the mercy of the unknown and couldn’t wait to get home.
Still, I suspect travel makes most people more anxious than they care to admit or recall, even though it’s supposed to be fun and carefree. Examples of routine stresses: catching various flights or trains on time (I say this as someone who has missed flights and found that bursting into tears at the service desk doesn’t help); driving on the wrong side of the road in some place renowned for crazy drivers, like Sicily, where they seem to think there’s an unofficial but open-all-hours overtaking lane; discovering that even Google maps can’t help you find your way back to your hotel in Amsterdam; discovering you’ve brought the wrong shoes. Is it just me who spends a lot of the time in a jetlagged fug of nervous exhaustion, in between all the exciting and wonderful bits? Then again, it is worse for me because I have to worry on Will’s behalf as well.
But can’t complain. Here we are on this cool autumn morning, the brilliance of London and all its delights behind us, staying put in a gorgeous farm cottage in England’s Lake District and readying ourselves for a bracing walk. A light breeze rustles the leaves of the spreading oak in the garden outside and blackbirds jet on and off its branches. Below us lie emerald green fields and ancient stone walls and a broad lake shadowed by towering fells, its waters blue steel under a leaden sky. It’s breathtakingly lovely. There is no place quite like this where I come from. Then again, I’m told there’s no place quite like home.