Bare feet caressing summer grass in a neighborhood park. That same park in winter, sloppy with rain and mud. The chance arrival of a bright but cheesy travel brochure. Confronted with these images, skeptics become believers in the desperate days of midwinter. A “lengthy and ruinously expensive journey” is the result, and no one would blame Alain de Botton, the author of The Art of Travel, for going to Barbados.
But for de Botton, there is more to travel than escape. He says:
“We are inundated with advice on where to travel, but we hear little of why and how we should go …”
De Botton’s essay contemplates travel as a search for “human flourishing” and “a sense of belonging” or kinship. Untethering from the ordinary can, he says, release us from “habits of mind” so we can “encounter our true selves.”
I agree – we can be a mystery to ourselves, with so much hidden inside the routine busyness of our everyday activities, waiting to be released. Traveling well is done with inward intent.
As Lucy Honeychurch discovers in the novel A Room With a View, travel takes us out of our usual context and, if we are open to it, give us the chance to really think differently about our place in the larger world. Then there is the way we see as we tour around.
A bit of Ruskin pops up in Room With a View and here he is again in de Botton’s essay. John Ruskin “deplored the blindness and haste of modern tourists” because he believed that a man’s “glory is not at all in going, but in being.” He felt people should move at a pace that allowed them to respond to beauty. He taught drawing because he believed it “could teach us to see – to notice rather than to look.”
Makes me think of a quote from Georgia O’Keeffe – “Nobody ever sees a flower really. It is so small it takes time. We haven’t the time, and to see takes time.” And that was written before smart phones!
Ah yes, I want to travel thoughtfully, to wrap myself in a place rather than rushing through on the way to somewhere else.