My passion for the passenger seat stems from memories of being tiny, buckled in and cosy in the back of a warm car driven through the night by my father. A car then, as now, was more than just a way of getting from one place to another. My brother and I had our parents captive for a few precious hours in a safe space, a small moving house where my mother would teach us nonsensical rhymes and my father introduced us to the seminal works of Steely Dan. And when they’d finally tired us out we would be lulled to sleep by the engine’s calming purr.
Nowadays, I don’t sleep through car journeys – it’s far too exciting getting taken for a ride. I enjoy the concept of driving and I understand why sitting behind the wheel on a wide-open road instils a feeling of control and of freedom. But how many of us get a chance to drive on epic empty roads just for the fun of it? Motorways and rush hour traffic give me no pleasure at all as a driver. I want to sit back and watch the city fade away, to see the scenery subtly change, to step away from my phone and into a calm space in my head.
Hannah Doyle, mother to six-year-old twins, wants her children to love long journeys as much as I did. “We’ve always just left them to it in the car,” she says. “I never load them up with toys or give them iPads. They chat and play I Spy and Who am I and I give them points for spotting different things – you get five points for sheep and 200 for a dinosaur.”
While I like to spread out in cars – I have been known to bring a duvet and pillows to make a small padded fort in the back – I like sitting in the front the best. The deepest conversations I’ve had with friends have taken place on long road trips, and sometimes I end up wishing the journey would never end and break the rapport we’ve created, talking side-by-side for hours as the world slides by.
In these busy times, cars can be a social glue, a place to really catch up on the drive home from work or on the way to a mate’s wedding, and I find that the small, intimate space often leads to the sharing of secrets and inner worries. Perhaps it’s the fact that you can stare ahead at the road as you speak. You’re relaxed, comfortable and in a good place.
But not all of us passenger types want to sleep or have a heart to heart. Film composer Jake Bright gets some serious work done. “When I meet with clients they will often send a driver to pick me up from home or the airport,” he tells me.
“It sounds a little diva-ish but it gives me time to get all my notes prepared and get into the right headspace for work. Plus, it saves me the hassle of trying to navigate a new city while running late.”
The sniff of adventure
And even adventurers like outdoors writer Fiona Russell sometimes like to be taken on a journey. “I love being a passenger when we’re heading off to walk Munros in Scotland,” she explains.
“It’s wonderful to be able to take your eyes completely off the road and enjoy the beautiful scenery. A favourite is the drive over Rannoch Moor and through Glencoe, with the mighty mountains riding dramatically from the road on either side. Utterly fabulous as a passenger.”
How does it feel to be a professional driver and relinquish the wheel? Jacob Little, who reviews cars on his blog Car Scribbler, loves to take a step back now and again. “When I’m driving, I’m concentrating,” he says.
“I’m connected to the car. When I’m a passenger those feelings are gone. I can finally think about the outside world and enjoy my surroundings, and as much as I love to drive, I enjoy that new experience.”
The role of passenger isn’t a passive ride. It offers sanctuary, a social connection, a wider view of the world and the sniff of adventure. Just don’t forget to watch out for dinosaurs for the big points.