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Travel Cultures Language

When Does a Journey Begin?

by Joyce McGreevy on April 12, 2016

Stone steps in Malta become a symbol of travel anticipation, curiosity, and other clues to why we travel. Image © Joyce McGreevy

Does a journey begin as we move toward our destination, or when we first imagine being there?
© Joyce McGreevy

Our Answers Hold Clues
to Why We Travel

Your office resembles an archaeological dig. In your inbox, emails line up like stalled planes on a runway. Meanwhile, status meetings about The Project keep you scrambling to fit in actual work.

But you’re smiling. Why? Because soon, you’ll be traveling for pleasure.

As a result, your brain has upgraded to Frequent Flyer, briefly but repeatedly transporting you to your destination—although you’ve never been there.

It’s travel anticipation. As scientists have reported, looking forward to a vacation can boost one’s happiness for up to eight weeks.

For entrepreneur and Ted Talk speaker Jen Rubio, travel anticipation is a barrier to the journey. The construct of a place in our heads may keep us from experiencing a place in the moment.

When does a journey begin?

An aerial approach to Maui inspires travel anticipation, a part of why we travel. Image © Joyce McGreevy

Does a journey begin en route?
© Joyce McGreevy

A journey begins with a nature walk in Maui, a popular source of travel anticipation. Image © Joyce McGreevy

Or when we welcome each other?
[Both images: Maui] © Joyce McGreevy

Flying Forward into the Past

For some of us, it begins with the irrational joy of waking in pre-dawn darkness—we who normally need bulldozers, caffeine, and marching-band music to pry us from bed. Ah, but today we’re traveling!

Now it’s off to the airport. As a pilot’s daughter, I’m an anomaly: I still love to fly.

The former TWA flight center at JFK was a hub of travel anticipation, its terminal an artistic answer to the question of why we travel.

The TWA flight center at JFK was a sculptural tribute to flight. The life
journey of the architect ended a year before the terminal opened in 1962.

How I loved Trans World Airlines’ old terminal at JFK. Even the architect’s name, Eero Saarinen, evoked the elegance of flight. Time was, that terminal felt like an extension of home, so familiar were its contours, colors, even certain smudges and scuffmarks.

The clock at the former TWA terminal at New York's JFK is a poignant reminder of travel anticipation and when a journey begins or ends.

In a pre-digital age, this clock at the TWA terminal marked a journey’s beginning or end.

Years after Dad died, the mere sight of a flight crew was comforting. He cherished flight, was an early advocate for female pilots, made friendships across cultures, and respected passengers. Hundreds of thousands slumbered in safety as he carried them across continents and oceans.

Aero (Not So) Dynamic

For others, airports are to journeys what meetings are to productivity—a drag.

“I just want to be there,” says a man in the seat ahead of me as we wait (and wait) for our plane to be de-iced. It’s late at night and we’re still on the tarmac.

Around him, passengers grimace in agreement. Conversations begin, and just like that the air of impatience lifts.

Even that brief camaraderie is a beginning of sorts. For all the tropes about passengers clamping on headphones and studiously ignoring each other, moments of dialogue, courtesy, or acknowledgment remind us that, when we travel, our sense of community travels with us.

The Art of Presence

Some travelers possess rare patience. Like the parents I encounter in a slow-moving security line. Their unwavering calm, as they soothe a fussing infant and keep a three-year-old boy engaged, is a thing of beauty.

At Union Station in Los Angeles, CA, travel anticipation meets patience as passengers wait for a train journey to begin. Image © Joyce McGreevy

Traveling is also about waiting.
© Joyce McGreevy

In this impersonal setting, they find details of interest and craft them into endearing commentaries.

“Why yes,” says Young Dad nodding at the Prohibited Materials sign, “That shape does look like a dinosaur.”

Young Mom displays a text message. “Grandma says she’s too excited to see us!”

Mild concern passes over the toddler’s face. Smoothing the air with his hands, he says, “Tell Grandma to just be ooo-kaaay.”

By the time we reach the conveyor belts, 35 minutes later, I’m feeling surprisingly okay, too.

“We get to take off our shoes?” says the little boy. “Yay!”

Oh, I see: A journey begins in perspective.

The Light that Illuminates the Road

Appreciating any given moment of a journey is a theme of artist Randall Von Bloomberg. One spring day, I discover his art in a hallway that connects Terminals 7 and 8 at LAX.

I’m noticing the scroll-like curve of the wall, unaware of what awaits. But even before I reach the point where the paintings begin, the exhibition title catches my attention.


According to Von Bloomberg, “Tathata is a Sanskrit word that expresses the profound awareness and appreciation of reality within each single moment of life. Tathata is often revealed in the seemingly mundane, such as observing the sun illuminating an asphalt road, or noticing the blowing wind along a grassy parkway.”

Randall Von Bloomberg's "Freeway Off-Ramp" (oil on canvas) suggests that a journey begins at any given moment, with or without travel anticipation. Image © Randall Von Bloomberg

Randall Von Bloomberg’s “Freeway Off-Ramp” (oil on canvas)
renders a moment of stillness in a setting made for speed.
© Randall Von Bloomberg

For him, an airport terminal “is a perfect place for this exhibition because it is such an in-between space.” His paintings invite travelers to experience the interconnectivity of time, humanity, and nature.

What Journey?

David Bowie once said, “The truth is, there is no journey. We are arriving and departing all at the same time.” Yet those innumerable moments hold clues to why we travel.

A moment when you are asked directions in a country not your own—and you know the way. When you dream in another language. When you forget to take a photo, because you are so absorbed in seeing.

A moment when you depart from travel anticipation, and arrive wherever you are.

A suitcase in a guest room in Louisville, KY evokes the moment when a journey begins or ends. Image © Joyce McGreevy

Home? Or home-from-home?
© Joyce McGreevy

Experience Randall Von Bloomberg’s artwork, including his online nature walk, produced with musician Patrick Schulz.

Listen to Jen Rubio’s thought-provoking Ted Talk, “The Anticipation of Travel,” here.

Historic photos of the TWA flight center at JFK are from the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Balthazar Korab Archive at the Library of Congress. 

Comment on this post below, or inspire insight with your own OIC Moment here.


2 thoughts on “When Does a Journey Begin?

  1. My Tathata moment came on my first trip to Europe in college…riding on a train and noticing the difference in late afternoon light…sounds a little pretentious, but it really hit me and changed how I looked at the world (or realized how much I had been taking for granted in terms of perception…looking forward to checking out Randall Von Bloomberg’s work…Thanks Joyce McGreevy your article brought me back to some great places and has me planning…hmmmm so it begins…

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