The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton

It is not necessarily at home that we’re the best versions of ourselves.

This was the line that prompted me to pick up this book. A simple line that, to me, encapsulates how people behave differently when they travel. Maybe travel brings that out in most people – a better version of themselves.

Had come across the author earlier through a few of his videos on Youtube. And while some of them were interesting from a philosophical standpoint, I never had a chance to deeply explore his works.

As the title suggest, the book examines a few interesting aspects of travel. But this is not a simplistic How-To book. If you’re looking for a travel guide that tells you how to find the cheapest deals, how to prepare your itinerary, how to pack properly, and what souvenirs to buy, you’d be better off picking up a Lonely Planet guide. Sadly, for most of us, these activities are the highest priorities while travelling. The higher, more abstract purpose of travelling takes a back seat. Fortunately, this book explores those abstract parts of travel.

The book is divided into chapters that cover each part of a typical journey – the anticipation of the journey, the motive for travel, exploring the landscape and the beauty once you reach there, and of course, the return journey. What makes the book unique is the inclusion of a “guide” in each chapter. In each chapter, the author has taken the help of an individual who held strong views (for or against) travel. He explores the subject of the chapter along the guides, diving deep into their works and their own approach to travelling. This device makes the book much more unique and interesting.

Travel is much more than clocking flyer miles on your credit card. It is also greater than the number of countries that you travel or the number of photographs that you have taken in exotic locales. For example, for most tourists, a vacation involves covering the maximum number of destinations in the shortest time possible. This approach may get you the title of a globetrotter, but you’re unlikely to come back any richer in knowledge about the culture of the place that you’ve just visited. Alain de Botton explains that in order to truly understand a destination, one needs to take it slowly. The author talks about this through one of his guides, John Ruskin, whose family used to travel Europe in the following manner, “They journeyed slowly in a carriage, never covering more than twenty-five miles a day and stopping every few miles to admire the scenery – a way of travelling that Ruskin was to practise throughout his life.” The author explains that this is a way to understand the real beauty that is present in your destination.

Or for instance, if you do not take the time to think and talk with yourselves during your travel, you’ve lost a significant chance at self-improvement. “Journeys are the midwives of thought”, as the author says in one of the early chapters. The author also explains how photography is a passive way to capture the beauty of the places that you have been to. A more active and fulfilling way is to draw or write (word-paint as Ruskin put it) about the scene. It does not have to be a Monet, but what the process teaches you (about the skill of observation) is far more important than the output.

The Art of Travel will definitely change how I approach travelling in my life. This book is a must read for those who hate staying indoors and love heading out to new locations. You’ll definitely be a richer traveller by the end of your journey.

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