Nothing compares to that initial rush—walking through the departure doors as you begin your journey.
Knees shaking, hands raking through your bag to collect your passport and boarding pass and dump out your water before security and did you forget your wallet again?
Four flights and three countries later, you hate the giant white-washed building that was once a construction of ambition, hope, and revival. You want to be outside, in the fresh air—you want to be anywhere but this stale, suffocating prison.
I can relate to feelings of distain towards airports. I used to compare the large, aesthetically unappealing environment to hospitals—no one is there because they want to be. We’re all just waiting to get somewhere better.
While this remains true, airports have transformed before my eyes. I bask in the initial excitement of arriving in a new place and departing an old. Nothing compares to the small moments that transpire inside those walls: holding a familiar body for a final farewell, sacrificing your possessions to a rotating belt, the tingling sensation of foreign features, memories lapping up as families rush past, numbers and names floating over you in intercom waves, watching the name of your hometown flash upon a computer screen. Such feelings are flawlessly—and only—sparked by airports.
People travel for various reasons that are shuffled into two finite categories: business or pleasure. Whatever your in-depth, multidimensional reason, airports are a gateway to get where you need to go.
People travel to conferences and meetings, to weddings and funerals, for holidays and getaways. Missionaries pack supplies for impoverished nations. City dwellers burst out of confines, running away to relax. University students plan a gap year that turns into three. High-rise hotels, volunteer quarters, backpacker hostels, all-inclusive resorts. Travel offers everyone what they need to escape. So, maybe in another, more optimistic sense, airports do resemble hospitals: by offering the potential to heal.
To travel is to wait. Travel teaches patience, the enjoyment of the journey, the ability to stop and breathe in those moments when you’re fatigued and your flight is delayed and your backpack does not make a very good pillow. Travel forces you into undesirable situations where you get stuck in the middle seat between two obese men who take up the entire row and smell like a dead cat that’s been cooking in the Texas sun for three days.
The initial step of every new journey is exhilarating. Being unsure when to board, how to act, where to look. Refusing to leave your bags for a second, even though you really have to pee and can’t fit it all into your stall. Travel forces you out of your comfort zone. You learn to trust strangers. Airplanes create a bizarre environment where you never see the people (pilots) you place your life in the palms of.
All of the pain, troubles, turmoil, and waiting fades into the sky as the wheels tuck away and the aircraft rises. My nose presses against the oval glass; eyes track the rivers that run like snakes. Yellow patchwork quilts comprise the prairies below, mountains fade into molehills along with all the problems and stress I carried on board. Even though my baggage still weights the same, I feel lighter, lifting into the clouds with a new adventure awaiting on touchdown, and the never-ending question whispering in my ear: Where to from here?