The Art of Travel | Alain de Botton

Summary of: The Art of Travel
By: Alain de Botton


In ‘The Art of Travel’, Alain de Botton takes readers on a journey through the different aspects of travel, examining the disappointments and joys it can bring. Through engaging anecdotes and thought-provoking questions, he challenges the reader to rethink their preconceived notions of travel and rediscover its inherent beauty. The book touches upon themes such as the importance of observing our surroundings with a keen eye, the role of art and appreciation of nature, and the impact of exoticism on our perception of the world. Discover how the stories of cultural icons like Charles Baudelaire, William Wordsworth, and John Ruskin can change your perspective on your next adventure.

Travel Expectations vs Reality

Human quest for happiness includes travel but the reality seldom meets the fantasy. J.K Huysman’s novel A Rebours in 1884 highlights the protagonist who, after getting inspired by Charles Dickens’ books, gets disappointed in his travel plan to London. Similar experiences are faced by people in the modern world. Though it may not be an escape to problems, travelling can be filled with wonders only by adjusting our approach.

The Wonder of Air Travel

Air travel not only grants a change of location, but it also provides a fresh perspective on life and the world. French poet Charles Baudelaire admired large ships, but modern air transportation is even more impressive. During takeoff, one is reminded of the potential for change in their own life as they witness the world below shrink into insignificance. Clouds, often overlooked as mere weather patterns, become an ethereal and stunning sight when viewed up close. This experience, historically rare, would have fascinated artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Nicolas Poussin, leaving Baudelaire envious.

Escaping Mundanity through Exoticism

The concept of exoticism promises an escape from boredom by discovering unfamiliar cultures. This idea has been present since the 19th century when the term “exotic” was commonly used to describe countries in the Middle East, known then as the Orient. The enthusiasm for all things “oriental” even shaped Continental spaces, as seen in the massive Luxor Obelisk in France. Few authors were as disenchanted with bourgeois society as Gustave Flaubert, who viewed the Orient as an escape from mundanity, as reflected in his novel Les Mémoires d’un Fou. Flaubert’s journey to Egypt allowed him to fulfill his fantasies about exotic cultures and exotic women.

The Lost Excitement of Modern Travel

The author experiences aimless fatigue during his visit to Madrid due to the lack of exploration in modern travel. Unlike modern travelers, explorers of the past, like Alexander von Humboldt, had a clear purpose and were constantly busy recording facts and conducting experiments. The world has already been explored, and this has resulted in a loss of excitement. However, by asking unique questions, travelers can rekindle their curiosity and find new reasons to be excited about their travels.

Nature’s Healing Power

British Romantic poet, William Wordsworth, believed that city life had a detrimental effect on inner well-being, which is why he advocated for the healing power of nature. The author, while visiting England’s Lake District, realized the benefits of nature and how it can improve both body and mind. Wordsworth also introduced the concept of “spots in time,” which are happy recollections of times past that can dispel present sadness. Modern-day travelers can benefit from this technique by taking in beautiful views and recalling them whenever the stresses of city life become too overwhelming.

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