Bart Och - Travel Journalist

“There is nothing you can do, I am afraid,” I was denied boarding for the second time this year. Travelling has become particularly complex and stressful ever since the pandemic outbreak. Long gone are the days when my only concern was to make sure I got all the liquids stored in a re-sealable plastic bag and that my backpack looks as if it fits in one of those cumbersome luggage gauges.

I decided to spend some time in Amsterdam. I booked my flight, and, having learnt from my previous mistakes, I made sure to read and follow all entry requirements to the Netherlands. I was armed with a booklet-thick lot of documents including various health declarations and covid and boarding pass. I even took a coronavirus test before departure as required and arrived at the airport two hours before my scheduled flight. Having successfully gone through the ticket and TSA check, I wasn’t expecting to be told just when I was about to get on the plane that I can’t because my antigen test wasn’t performed by an approved company. There wasn’t any room for discussion. I seem to have lost the only thing I have worked so hard to get. I was deprived of my freedom of movement so easily and effortlessly, on a whim, without a second thought. Yes, I take full responsibility for my mistake, but travelling has become a nuisance. I was no longer free. I was stuck. I was agitated, dispirited, and confused.

What matters most to you? I couldn’t answer the question off the top of my head, but I knew happiness was a bit generic and a result of other things that I pursue instead. I thought deeply about it and realised that, to me, freedom is the most important thing in life. What is anything without freedom? What is love without freedom? What is success? What is the use of being young and healthy if you aren’t free?

But to be truly free isn’t about freedom, but liberty. We made freedom our goal to guide our hands to make the righteous thing, but we can’t enjoy true freedom but be truly free by liberation. Liberty is what a free man has in his free society, not freedom. We are servants of our reason and feelings but free in liberty as the law and order want.

I don’t want to settle, and I don’t want to lose my geographical freedom. But the pursuit of freedom can be quite deceptive, as I recently learnt the hard way. Freedom isn’t something I can ever have complete control over at all times. Freedom isn’t just about being free to do what I want whenever I want to. It isn’t so much about being free to feel how I see fit about scenarios that often don’t and won’t go accordingly to my plans and ideas. However, I am free to choose how I respond to challenging and problematic situations. I am free to accept that life isn’t perfect and that happiness without obstacles is meaningless, and so is freedom. Because freedom isn’t worth having if it doesn’t entail the freedom to make mistakes, to hurt, to struggle, to fail, to fall short, and to fall apart – freedom to be fragile, vulnerable, imperfect. Freedom to be human.

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