the art of travel, alain de botton

the art of travel

My bus reading in the last week or so has been The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.

Alain is a philosopher who has written a number of interestingly titled books including The Architecture of Happiness, Status Anxiety, How Proust can change your Life, Essays in Love and a few more.

When I bought this book I’d forgotten that I’d actually read How Proust can change your Life a few years ago… I have hardly any recollection of the book actually (which probably says more about me than de Botton), but having read this book, I’ll be digging it out of the bookshelf again and having another read.

I imagine that a number of people would be scared off by the fact that this purports to be a ‘philosophy book’… certainly, my undergraduate university experience of philosophy text books wouldn’t lead me to choose this as a bus read. Bus reads need to be books that are engaging, reasonably easy to digest, and easy to dip in to – given that a characteristic of bus reading is short (20mins or so) grabs of reading once or twice a weekday.

Actually, it turns out that this book is pretty easy going. De Botton uses storytelling, both of his own experiences and that of other historical figures such as including Wordsworth, Baudelaire and Van Gogh and travels to destinations as diverse as Barbados, the Sinai Desert, and the Lakes District of England, to illustrate a range of thought provoking themes around travel.

I found this particularly interesting as travel is currently infused both through my work and personal life at the moment, so it was fascinating to reflect on various aspects of the travelling from this relatively obscure perspective. De Botton is interested in why we are attracted to travel, why it sometimes disappoints us, how we can take more from our travelling experiences and how our experience of travelling contributes to our overall well being.

I found myself dog earing the book right throughout, picking out points that I found particularly interesting, or pertinent, worth thinking about some more.

I’m really interested, for example, with the idea of travel anticipation and how different people experience it. Me, I love anticipating travel almost as much as travelling, and I think I’ve got the process down to the point that I can immerse myself in anticipation without destroying the actual experience with unrealistic expectations. Others I know hate anticipating travel and just want to *be there*. De Botton tells his story of anticipating and then being disappointed with the actual experience (because his anticipation was based solely on a few photos in a travel brochure).

He also talks about service stations and airports and that strange melancholy attraction that they have for so many people (myself included!).

Lots and lots of interesting reflections that anyone who travels for pleasure will surely have thought of in passing. This is a great read, interspersed with some interesting photographs and artwork (strangely, in black and white, which I suspect may have been deliberate and not budgetary), and some great snatches of poetry.

I’ll be talking some more soon (as soon as I get a chance to think/write) about other thoughts that this book has triggered mashed up with some thoughts on Flickr and performing identity.

Definitely worth a read :)

Next up, I’m finally reading Tim Winton’s latest (i think, its certainly not new) collection of short stories The Turning. I’ve already read the first couple and I’m kicking myself for not reading this early… ! Love.

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3 thoughts on “the art of travel, alain de botton

  1. “Anticipation of travel” raises an interesting contrast between my wife and I. She gets really excited about travel from the moment we start talking about it, but at this point falls into the de Botton story because she is often disappointed that the journey hasn’t lived up to expectations. In contrast, I tend to only think about travel to the extent necessary to actually make it happen, and then from minute one let whatever happens take me where it will. So far, I like my way better …

    PS – prefer this design – is this the one you “lost”, or are you still experimenting?

  2. hey Ric,

    isn’t it interesting how people approach travelling so differently. Its taken me a few years to get my head around this and there’s been some interesting travel experiences as a result! I think I’m starting to get the hang of the way my friends and family tick in this regard now – hopefully with good results! Or at least more understanding.

    This is a new design/template. I didn’t get a chance to recover the old one (which wasn’t that special anyway)… so I’m glad you prefer this one :)

    I’m still not 100% happy with it (its pretty much out of the box), so hope to do a little tweaking over the next few weeks. Stay tuned!

  3. hello hello,

    i have a quick question, hoping you could answer….

    in this book, does de botton mention a philospher that chooses not to travel to places he really wants to. rather he decides to stay at home surrounded by books and items of/from the places he would want to visit… believing that in many ways this is perhaps an easier to still experience these places.

    anyways, was wondering if you knew the name of the philosopher???

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