Zen travel advice

Always tell yourself the goal is not important, making the most of the journey is what matters. Life is a process, not a set of steps towards defined achievements.

I genuinely believe this, and related to travel even if I’m taking a short hopper or a nasty middle-of-the-night charter flight on a package holiday I still get excited about getting on a plane for the thrill of flying.

Unfortunately I have a very short fuse when it comes to utterly pointless and ineffectual security, arbitrary queues and self important officials, so I can’t exactly be zen-like when it comes to flying. It may seem a waste of energy to rail against these things, but consider this example of ill thought out procedure;

I had flown from London to Boston. On the way out I offered to give in my lighter (I smoked at the time), but the man said – no, you can keep one for personal use. Jolly good. Didn’t expect the same the other end but..

Checking in on the return leg from Boston, they asked the regular questions plus a few more. When asked about items in hand luggage I answer truthfully;

‘Yes, I have a lighter but I’m fully aware of the restrictions so will chuck it in the bin before I go through security.’

‘Sorry sir, you’ll have to surrender that lighter now’


‘You’ll have to surrender that as I am now aware of it’

‘But I’ve already said I’ll get rid of it, are you saying your security wouldn’t find it if I didn’t?’

‘If you take that attitude sir, I won’t allow you on the flight’.

I’m checking in, outside security, and even if they take my lighter there are at least 5 outlets before security where I could get another one before passing through security. Between me and my flight are a phalanx of typically surly US customs & immigrations types who will check that I don’t have a lighter – that’s their job. Where is the issue?

Obviously I did surrender it, but for <insert deity / swearword of choice>‘s sake. Surrender a lighter (which I was able to take on a flight TO the States) before I’ve even gone through security, purely because I admitted I had  lighter before I went through security.

On this evidence, US airport security is based on the same principle as the US military’s take on gays – don’t ask don’t tell. To prove this at the time, I bought another lighter, and breezed through security with no problems whatsoever. Not a sensible act, I admit. You could take this experience in a number of ways, but it possibly demonstrates that

a) the level of terrorist threat is massively over-exaggerated for political reasons to expand power bases

b) the people who design these procedures are idiots

c) the terrorists who can’t work around these procedures are idiots

d) Boston airport security is a bit rubbish.

It’s probably a bit of all of the above. So how this in any way about Zen travel advice?

This is just travelling in the US. If you can travel the further reaches of the world and accept all the meaningless bureaucratic red tape along the way without getting wound up, you have the requisite level of calm and detachment to be a Zen master already.

I don’t.

However travel in Nepal can be so chaotic that if I had my normal attitude I’d probably have a stroke. Strangely enough, the worse it becomes the calmer I get. If you realise that not only are you not in control, but basically nobody is, you have no-one to be angry at and it all just drains away.

Nepalese travel is a cathartic relinquishment of the illusion of control, and will either teach you the art of Zen travel, or drive you clinically insane.


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