The Art of Travel
In today’s travel literature market it is not often that we have an opportunity to read a book that is devoid of telling us where and how to go, but rather the philosophical aspects of travel. Alain de Botton’s collection of charming reflections entitled The Art of Travel opens up a window to a variety of hidden thoughts that we often ponder but seem to ignore.
How often is the anticipation of a voyage more gratifying than its actual fulfillment, when we can muse, as does the author, when he states, “there were times when I felt there might be no finer journeys than those provoked in the imagination by staying home slowly turning the Bible-paper pages of the British Airways Worldwide Timetable.”
In our age of persuasive marketing, glossy photos of far off idyllic places often seduce us to travel to destinations that unfortunately do not seem to resemble our preconceptions. De Botton’s poetic essays explore various ingredients of the travel experience, such as, airports, holiday romance, uncomfortable hotels and distasteful scenery. These induce us to question why we travel and what benefits we derive from the adventure.
Particularly in today’s travel climate with the threat of terrorism, travelling does not seem to have the same sparkle as it once enjoyed. There certainly is no fun attached to standing in line at an airport for three hours waiting to be questioned, searched and eventually admitted to a stale smelling airplane containing seats that are so narrow that even a child would have difficulty in finding comfort.
However, even with all of its shortcomings, De Botton reminds us that travel is a learning experience and by effectively employing our senses we will be handsomely rewarded. We are reminded that we travel not only to lose ourselves but also to discover ourselves. To observe and to appreciate surroundings that ordinarily may not be meaningful.
De Botton accomplishes this feat by skilfully blending his own images with the aesthetic endeavours and travel experiences of some of the most renowned authors and painters such as, William Wordsworth, Gustave Flaubert, Edward Hopper, Vincent van Gogh, John Ruskin, Charles Baudelaire, and Alexander von Humboldt. It is the teachings of these individuals that show us how to appreciate nature, to fall in love again, and to recognize the beauty and poetry of simple scenes as a motel, service station, or an airport.
As the author philosophizes, “it is perhaps because, in spite of their architectural compromises and discomforts, in spite of their garish colours and harsh lighting, we implicitly feel that these isolated places offer us a material setting for an alternative to the selfish ease, the habits and confinement of the ordinary, rooted world.”
Many of the truisms expounded upon in The Art of the Travel are far from novel, however, it is the manner in which they are expressed that I found enlightening. Very often I found myself rereading passages and uttering “right on,” as they reaffirmed many of my own perceptions of travel.