Anyone who knows me also knows I adore travel and when I heard that OVERLAND by Richard Kaufmann could take me on my travels without leaving my home I was intrigued. I’m thrilled to have an extract, translated by Rachel Ward, from OVERLAND to share with you today.
Published in March 2022, OVERLAND is available for purchase here.
Richard Kaufmann once travelled to Morocco, unintentionally with no money, simply because he had set off without any kind of plan. It changed him, and the way he travelled in future. Here, he shares his stories and vision for how we can all holiday in comfort, without wrecking the environment. And we don’t have to take especially long, or go particularly far. We find the most beautiful destinations when we travel overland. Normally we never see them, because we fly right over them.
OVERLAND is a mix of witty travel stories about trips around Europe, to Morocco and Iran just by train or coach and contains thought-provoking essays about slow traveling.
An Extract from OVERLAND
When Time Goes by Like It Does on a Train
Travelling by train means giving up control. We sit down and it carries us away. If sheep wander onto the track, the train comes to a halt and a crew member announces something like: “There is currently a delay of several minutes to our journey, due to technical difficulties.”
Soothing processes such as this give us the certainty that – thanks to dozens of people working behind the scenes – we only have to keep breathing and we’ll get there. There’s a romance to train travel that no other means of transport can beat. Films such as Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest and Wes Anderson’s Darjeeling Limited portray a sophisticated railway lifestyle, where people dress for dinner in the restaurant car as if they’re on their way to the opera. Romances blossom in generous private cabins and the staff are as discreet and refined as if this were a 4-star hotel.
This image is a very long way from reality – that goes without saying. Yet the same romanticism creates an enduring myth that persists (despite the realities) to this day.
People dream of journeys lasting several days: on the Trans-Siberian Railway, for example. Crossing continents by train may seem as nostalgic as the idealised rail journeys of the movies. Why the hell would anyone spend that long on a train when there are quicker alternatives? A flight from Frankfurt am Main to London takes just two hours. By train, it’s eleven, on a good day. Almost six times as long. Not to mention how many times more expensive it is to book a train ticket.
The arguments for rail travel get ever thinner. Particularly when it comes to holidays, framed as a fortnight that children and parents alike can look forward to. Two hours of screaming kids are bad enough, so imagine the horror of eleven hours and numerous changes. You have to be crazy or plagued by ethical scruples. But there’s no need for you to be either as brave or as honourable as this makes it sound.
Time on a train can – without exaggeration – be the best part of a journey. If you enter into it, you can experience hours of relaxation in a travelling living room, listening to music, watching your favourite series or films, eating peanuts and going on excursions to the dining car for a hot meal and a cool beer. Even changes can be an opportunity for a little bit of exercise or a miniature city break. These are the very things we want in a holiday: peace, time for ourselves. It’s even possible with children! You just have to be prepared. For a good train journey with kids, you need drawing materials, books and digital games. Or better still, board games. While little Phillip is trying to build a hotel on Chausseestraße (or The Angel Islington), fields of oilseed rape whizz past the windows. Look down from a huge bridge at the deep, forested valley below and you’ll soon forget to be cross about losing that rental income.
The time we thought we never had is there for us on the train. Why? Because for once there’s no alternative. There may be many reasons why we feel so harassed in our everyday lives. But our sheer range of options is a major one. In the 2010s, people talked about FOMO, fear of missing out. It is paralysing, plunges us into turmoil and the fear of spending time on the second-best, anxiety that we could be somewhere else, have something better. As a result, we often do nothing. Doing nothing is the only way of being sure we aren’t doing the wrong thing. OK, so you could argue that up there in the aeroplane I’m just as hemmed in without distractions. Up there, I can think about life too, eat cheese on toast with a can of beer and edit videos on my mobile phone.
And that’s true. But if people enjoy this period of reflection, consumption and production, why chose this of all places to cut back? I think that we should free ourselves of the idea that the holiday doesn’t start till we reach our destination, and that the happiness we find there ends with our departure. It makes us forget all the frustrations and times of waiting, the waste that we experience while we are there. Worse still, we steal our own pleasure in what might be the two calmest phases of our whole journey.
If we don’t have screaming children with us, that is. The journey out can be so much more than a chance for contemplation, it can be a period of ultimate peace. Our mental image of our destination towers ahead of us, full of expectations that haven’t yet been cashed in.
The slower the better, because the closer we come to our destination, the closer we come to reality. And that is never as wonderful as the world of our imagination.
Our destination may spoil us with surprises, we may meet people who send us off in new directions. Yet every place is destined to disappoint.
We have to accept that our ideas, our romanticism, are part of us. And we have to treat them accordingly. That is why we very often speak about holiday memories, or about trips we never want to miss out on. And we should value our expectations in the same way: they are the feeling of anticipation, of looking forward, from the moment we book. The feelings of happiness that help us get through weeks and months in the office. It’s a little like love. The quicker we get to the destination, the worse it was.
- So what do we do with this insight? How can we tend the pleasure in advance? How can we immeasurably heighten the pleasure of anticipation?
Let’s make the travel time a hall of mirrors for our reflections. We just have to direct our impatience down the right lines. Let’s use all our senses as we approach a place: to do so, we look out of the window on the journey and watch the landscape changing.
As we travel south, the trees gradually change and you can see the light growing warmer. Heading north, we notice differences in architecture or dramatic rock formations. These changes don’t force themselves on our attention. We have to be alert to perceive them. The more we internalise this, the more our emotions are synchronised with the place where our passion for travel is taking us.
Watching a film set in our destination, or listening to music, can help us feel even more emotionally connected. We can take a book and learn a few words of another language, or read about the history of another place.
We can make plans for where we’ll go when we get there: what we want to see, what we’re longing to try. Then we’re tired out and doze a little, with one eye shut while the other keeps staring greedily out of the window.
Then we can stretch our legs a little. Return to our seats with a bottle of wine and enjoy a glass while watching the lake and the reflected rays of the sun curving as we pass by. “Un bicchiere di vino…” – How do you say please again? “Per favore.”
The trees lengthen, the light warms and the seat has already bonded in some way with the shape of our body, so that in the end we’re a little sorry to leave the train. Our eyes thrill at the sight of the glass-domed station roof as we arrive. Suddenly we have to fight our way through crowds of people again.
Now we no longer have a book sitting next to a wine glass in a temporary living room that can give us a safe glimpse into the culture and language of this country. We’re forced to function again. Which way is the hotel? Where is the underground station? Do we need a taxi? Where can we get some cash? Then we leave the station through heavy wooden doors and an ensemble of buildings spreads out in front of us.
We’re catapulted into the heart of the city. Mopeds whizz past us and there are people everywhere, hurrying in every direction. Suddenly there are just so many options. We’re pleased that all this is tangible at long last.
Our expectations are replaced by reality. And it is boundlessly beautiful. Yet all the same we miss the interplay of images in our minds, just a little. For a millisecond, we grieve for the sense of anticipation and the relief from having to take decisions. Arriving after a journey means the end of the unique freedom to make progress without active involvement on our part.
Oh dear. That has made my desire to get travelling again even more acute. I want to experience the slow approach to travel right now!
About Richard Kaufmann
Photo (C) Sophie Valentin
Richard Kaufmann is a writer and free journalist. His topics include Sustainability, Future and Travelling. He was a cofounder of the German printed magazine transform in Berlin and editor in chief till 2019. After that, he published his first book LANDREISEN on RAZ EL HANOUT, which was released as an English Edition in 2022 as OVERLAND. More publications in German language can be found at in agora42, GEO Saison, der Freitag or ze.tt (ZEIT Online). He got a BA in International Communication Management from University of Applied Sciences in Holland in Amsterdam. Today he lives in Leipzig, Germany.
For further information please see Instagram.