Travelling Hopefully – and Productively

Robert Louis Stevenson did more than write Treasure Island.

He’s also responsible for a saying that we’ll all be familiar with:

Little do ye know your own blessedness; for to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.

Or in its more colloquial form, ‘It’s better to travel hopefully than to arrive.’

But in my view there’s something even better than travelling hopefully – and that’s travelling hopefully and productively.

At the risk of my wife reading this – especially when she may just have ‘Ed Xmas presents’ on her shopping list – I must confess that I love travelling long distances on my own. (“No problem at all, darling. Look, here’s a one-way flight to Argentina…”)

Long journeys are not just a chance to work productively, they’re a chance to think productively as well.

I first realised this on a train from Newcastle to London. I was in my final year at university: going for the first of many job interviews. For once there wasn’t a drunken football fan trying to shower me with a can of Tennent’s. The coach – in the days before quiet coaches were invented – was quiet. No-one sat opposite me.

…And as the train trundled into King’s Cross, I realised that not only had I done a lot of work on the journey, I’d done a lot of thinking as well. I was much clearer about what I wanted to do when I graduated: I knew the direction I wanted my life to take.

Ever since then I’ve seen every journey as an opportunity. And yes, I know that’s the sort of cliché you see on motivational posters. It just happens to be true in my case.

This quote is taken from The Art of Travel, by Alain de Botton. It’s a slightly longer quote than I like to use in the blog, but it exactly sums up what travel does for me – and why.

Journeys are the midwives of thought. Few places are more conducive to internal conversations than a moving plane, ship or train. Large thoughts [require] large views, new thoughts new places. The mind may be reluctant to think properly when thinking is all it is supposed to do.

It is not necessarily at home that we encounter our true selves. The furniture insists we cannot change because it does not; the domestic setting keeps us tethered to the person we are in ordinary life.

What the author is saying – far more eloquently than I can – is what I say at this time every year. You need to spend a day – on your own – planning for next year. It needs to be a day when your dreams run free: when you free yourself from the practical and dream about the possible.

de Botton is right. You can’t do this at home or in the office. The furniture doesn’t change: you see what you always see and somehow it makes you think what you’ve always thought.

So last weekend I took a little journey and I did a little thinking. I popped over to Oz for the weekend. Yes, you read it correctly. Sydney, Australia.


It was my sister’s 40th birthday. “Wouldn’t it be great…” her husband had said to me. Yes, I thought, it would be great. And aside from seeing the look on Fiona’s face when she opened her door, two other things were great:

  • Having the freedom – in terms of both time and money – to ‘pop over to Oz’ for the weekend was an affirmation that I made the right decision when I started TAB York six years ago. It was absolute confirmation that running your own business can lead not just to material rewards, but also to something far more precious: the freedom to spend time with the people you love.
  • And I spent a lot of time thinking. Big thoughts do require big spaces – and there are no bigger spaces than the ones you see from 35,000 feet.

I touched down in Leeds yesterday morning. I was tired and I was jet-lagged: but I was delighted to have seen Fi. And I came back with some very big plans for next year: I can’t wait to share them with you…


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