Airports sometimes get a bit of a bad reputation. Long queues, overzealous security, arguments with flight employees and the endless tedium, stress and desperation that comes with thousands of people all trying to get somewhere. But I absolutely love them, and here’s why.
Airports are curious places, bizarre and eccentric collections of every facet of human society. A world removed from the rest of society, almost like a slightly alternate reality where you can view the entire human race in a strange microcosm, and this is my ode to the oft maligned and misunderstood airport.
There is a lot to hate about airports, and although I don’t share their point of view I do understand many peoples dislike of them. They are after all enclosed tinder boxes of frustration and anger as countless travellers pass through, desperate to get to their destinations but bored with endless delays, angered by lost or misplaced luggage. The queues seem endless and everyone wishes they could mentally kill that idiot holding the security line up by waiting till they get to the front to remove all their belts, bags and metal accoutrements. I mean how hard is it to prepare yourself in the hour it has taken you to get to the front? As for security, it is pot luck whether you get a disinterested drone or a tin pot Hitler with a god complex, and who the hell can fit a bag into that carry on frame they display?
All many people want to do is get through airports as quickly and as painlessly as possible.
But having spent more than my fair share of hours in perpetual refugee status, putting up with other peoples crying children, trying to get a semblance of a nutritious meal amongst the vastly overpriced and obligatory junk food outlets and bedding down next to a complete stranger trying to curl up on the hard benches designed specifically so people can’t get comfortable, I have grown to love airports over the years.
Part of this love is the anticipation of adventure.
Whenever I am at an airport I know I am about to embark on another adventure. The anticipation is palpable, not only from my own barely contained joy and excitement at the fact that I am once again bound for another chapter in my ongoing backpacker journey, but from the thousands of other people passing through on their own journeys too. Wherever it is in the world I am heading to, south east Asia, Africa, the Middle East, South America, somewhere familiar or somewhere completely new it doesn’t matter. It is somewhere, somewhere other than where I am. I am fulfilling that insatiable desire to travel.
The fact of the matter is I am going somewhere! By virtue of the fact I am at an airport means I am not standing still. I am doing exactly what I love to do and I am travelling!
The airport is the facilitator of that. It is the means by which I get to fulfill my travel dreams, both practically and metaphorically. This has always been the case.
Of course in my almost fifteen years of travelling the world I have used pretty much every type of transport imaginable, boat, cargo ship, tuk tuk, jeep, broken down buses, horses, camels, helicopters and more, but mostly I have flown. Every gap year, snap year, weekend break and long term adventure I have had in all that time has started at the airport.
It is hard after all that time not to associate what are essentially large terminals for winged buses with those positive feelings of excitement and anticipation, and what is not to love about that?
In many ways no matter where I have travelled or how many places I have been to, the airport has been a huge stable factor in my adult life. I have done so many things in my relatively short lifespan, military training, two separate academic degrees, two careers, now three if you count writing. I have travelled to almost every continent, countless countries, states and provinces. It has been an endless smorgasbord of variety and I love it all.
But like most people I too desire that innate human need for familiarity. For something comfortable. For me – probably due to the fact I have been through so many countless airports over the years – they fill that role perfectly.
Airports are my constant. My port.
The simple fact of it is I feel at home in an airport. Any airport. As daft as it sounds, the familiar sights of Tie Rack and dodgy souvenirs, of overpriced bars and travel money exchange booths, all emit a feeling of comfortable acquaintance, of old friends tipping a hat to you as you pass through on the way to somewhere new.
Don’t get me wrong, I am as perplexed at the business of airport retail as the next person. I have absolutely no idea who would buy expensive jewellery at an airport of all places, and surely people who are already at an airport have no need to buy further luggage, especially luxury leather ones or fancy hard clamshell cases that claim to be completely break proof, waterproof and so large and secure they could probably keep you alive in space if you ever found yourself being ejected out of an airlock inside one. Hey, it’s a bold claim but who could prove you wrong? But at the end of the day despite the perplexity of airport retail, it is familiar and comfortable, and I like that.
Anyway, at least trying to figure out the endless mystery of just who the hell would actually buy all those ultra luxury items just before boarding a plane will pass a bit of time! Because that is the one thing most travellers in airports have, (unless of course you arrived late and are rushing for your connection). Time.
And that is another thing I like. Life now is to frenetic, too time orientated, and I like the fact that whether you are just waiting to board your plane or on a long layover, airports often force you to take a step back and just wait.
I use the time I have in airports to do the things many people complain they don’t have time to do. I read a good book, or I write an article for this site or even work on one of my new books. I rest and close my eyes and just think. Nothing else, just think. Of nothing in particular of course, that is partly the point. Completely unfettered from the stress and worries of work, of people, of life and time even.
I can just stop, clear my mind and think. And that is a rare and privileged thing now.
That time allows me to simply sit back with a cup of tea or coffee and enjoy the microcosm of society that the airport happens to be in.
I love people watching, imagining who they are and where they are going. Watching the reunions, the goodbyes, the stresses and the various pressures that travel brings, especially among those poor tormented souls known as parents. (Which is also an excellent time to count my blessings as an often solo traveller!) I think it is almost obligatory for a writer to be a people watcher too. Many characters in my novels have been inspired or at least influenced by the characters I have seen at airports.
Hell, an airport scene even made it into my novel The Sphinx Legacy!
My point is, airports are actually pretty decent places. They aren’t the cesspits of stress and human flotsam that many so called reality TV shows would have you believe. It’s all about how you perceive them when you are there, and I absolutely love them! So the next time you are stuck at the departure gate after yet another delay, you can take a look around and learn to appreciate the strange, bizarre and exciting world of the airport.
Did you enjoy this article? Do you love airports or loathe them? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.