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.

Photographs at birthday parties today are quite a different affair from what they were a couple of decades ago. And one major driver for this change is the advent of digital photography, and the shrinking of a full-fledged camera into a 5 inch device with a quality sufficient for day-to-day usage.

Earlier, during birthday parties, there was only one camera. This was usually in the hand of a professional photographer who was hired for the party. Else, the father or any other member of the household was entrusted with the camera and the responsbility of taking pictures of the occassion. People smiled together and looked in the same direction in each picture, all because there was a single camera.

Fast forward to the present day when everyone and their driver has a smartphone. This means that the lines between being a guest and a photographer in parties have blurred. Everyone wants to capture a moment or two from the event and thus almost every one has their smartphone in hand, ready to snap a picture at a moment’s notice. Hey, let’s take pictures using this phone, it has “more” megapixels. No but mine is an iPhone, it has more “clearity”.

The end result of this? In the quest of being the next Steve Curry, each photo will have at least three or four people in the background holding up their own smartphones to capture the action from the other side. To add to that, the flash lights from the other cameras brighten up your own photo like floodlights at the Wankhede.

Recently, I saw a birthday celebration in a restaurant where there were four people taking photographs from their respective smartphone cameras, from four different directions. The person blowing out the candle clearly was struggling to give equal attention to all the four “photographers”.

But the funniest aspect of this is whenever a group photo is to be taken. Since everyone wants to capture that particular memory on their own phones, each of the couple who is part of the group photo hands over their camera to someone else. The outcome? In almost every photo, you see only about half of the people smiling. Each couple smiles only during that instant when a photo is being taken on their smartphone. Also people look in vaguely different directions, each one staring and smiling towards their own smartphone. Rather than what should be a perfect snap of a happy memory, what comes out looks more like a police line up.

So what is the solution? Or is there even one? Definitely, you cannot ask people to deposit their smartphones until the party is over. Nor can you force them to keep it in their pockets. As a host, maybe you can promise them to send across the pictures as soon as possible and thus ask them to refrain from using their individual cameras. “I’ll whatsapp you the pictures.” Or maybe you can ask a single person to take group pictures, if required, from multiple cameras one after the other. Or maybe you can just stop inviting such people to your birthday parties 🙂

The advent of digital cameras and cameras in smartphones has changed the way people photograph for ever. One one side it has made photography accessible to a vast percentage of the population, but on the other gone are the days when photographers are valued the way they once were. Who needs to call the photographer when they have their smartphones in their hands. After all, people’s smartphones now have “more” megapixels than some of the DSLRs these days. Right?