I was chatting to one of my grandsons, aged 12. He had just started at a new secondary school, which – in contrast to the two previous schools he had attended – is roughly five minutes’ walk from his house.
After asking about his new friends, new teachers and what he is learning, I commented, “And isn’t it nice that it is so close! For once, you don’t have a long trip to get there.”
“Well, yes,” he answered immediately and then stopped. ”But I did really like the long walk to the bus for my last school – both going out and coming back. It was a nice time to think. I miss it sometimes.”
That was a surprise. To actually value the time it takes to travel from one place to another.
And then I thought, yes, he is on to something.
Travel time is that wonderful time when you have no obligations except to continue on your way. It is ‘me’ time in the best sense of the word.
At its worst, of course, it is terrible. There is the regular commute – that dreaded routine of into the car and down to the station or catching the bus and then the train. At rush hour – too many people, often no chance to sit down.
In fact, many of us do (or did) whatever we could to avoid the emptiness of that time by filling it with something useful. Audiotapes in the car, books and newspapers on the train. Anything to help us to get through to the next stage of our lives.
No one can miss that.
Yet at its best, travel time is a bit of space to think your thoughts, smile quietly about some memory or simply empty your mind. Time when you don’t have to present yourself to others as you want to be seen. Time when you don’t have to respond to others in any way. Time simply to be yourself.
Travel time also gives you a short break between what you do here and what you do there. From being the child at breakfast to being the pupil at school. From being the mother in the house to being the busy nurse at the hospital. And so forth.
These are not small changes in your persona. The travel time gives you the chance to adjust yourself, to prepare for the oncoming role.
But we all have plenty of alone time
Ah, you say, but surely we all have plenty of time to ourselves. We don’t have to be on our way somewhere in order to enjoy being on our own.
Well, yes and no. For many of us, our home is full of other people – whether siblings or partners or extended family or all sorts of other people who come and go. These people tend to intrude on us in one way or another, sometimes good, sometimes less so.
It is very hard to forget they are there.
If you go out of the room, you are likely to be pressed to do something. As a child, to get on with your homework or piano practice or even come chat when you are not necessarily in the mood. As an adult, to make the lunch or fix something or, again, to chat when you are not necessarily in the mood.
Or it may well be something pleasurable: “Come see this interesting programme on the TV”, ‘Come taste this pudding I am making for dinner”.
Nonetheless, it intrudes on those quiet inner moments.
True alone time
And even when we find ourselves completely alone, we are pulled in many different directions. For those with an inbuilt sense of duty, there is the correspondence to be answered or the bills to be paid or even the plants to be watered.
For those who are easily swayed by the things they enjoy, there is that programme taped from last night’s TV, that book you are enjoying or even a simple lie-down on that very comfortable looking bed.
Always diversions in another direction.
This is even more so if you work from home, as I did for many years long before it became fashionable, because I was self-employed. When people discussed how they got to work, I always said I went to work by the stairs.
And go to work I did. Sat down at my desk and got on with things until I was too tired to continue. No time to stare at the walk and think.
In principle, I could have done what I wanted with my time, but I inherently felt that work came first.
Back to travel time
Which brings me back to travel time. For those of us who like to reflect, it can be the perfect time to do so. Whether walking a distance, driving or sitting on a bus or train, we are – in our minds – on our own, away, far away.
Sometimes, that is a nice place to be.
A version of this article was initially published by SixtyandMe.com
A sweet piece - thanks to your grandson and, of course, to you.
I loved this article Ann and can completely relate. Since the pandemic and now that commuting doesn’t happen 5 days a week I really look forward to my commute of about an hour and a half. A nice walk either end and an sumptuous hour with my book (and thoughts or some music). I’ve really recalibrated and look forward to the no man’s land that is the journey from here to there.