For Alain de Botton, travel is more than just sweating it out in the rainforest or stumbling out of yet another tourist bus. Subjecting the concept of travel to philosophical analysis, he views the act of wandering – the need to be elsewhere – as an inherent human desire.
Published in 2002, Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel has transformed the way people look at travel. Though it received mixed reviews, the book set itself apart from most of the other works in the genre, gaining a strong following for its philosophical view of life on the road.
Veering away from the traditional adjective-laden travelogues, de Botton, a philosopher and a humanist, studies man’s ever-present longing to explore the world around him, interlacing his own journey to the Carribean with art, literature and philosophy. The writer asserts that travel is one of the means which man finds happiness. If our lives are dominated by a search for happiness, then perhaps few activities reveal as much about the dynamics of this quest—in all its ardour and paradoxes—than our travels. They express, however inarticulately, an understanding of what life might be about, outside of the constraints of work and of the struggle for survival. Yet rarely are they considered to present philosophical problems—that is, issues requiring thought beyond the practical. We are inundated with advice on where to travel to, but we hear little of why and how we should go, even though the art of travel seems naturally to sustain a number of questions neither so simple nor so trivial, and whose study might in modest ways contribute to an understanding of what the Greek philosophers beautifully termed eudaimonia, or ‘human flourishing’. However, De Botton points out that people often become disappointed with a trip is because the experience did not meet their expectations. A case in point is the physical and emotional strain that often comes with a voyage is not something they had expected or imagined. Thus, as people finally find the courage to make their fantasy a reality, they soon realize that getting out of their comfort zone is…uncomfortable. The everyday routine that they once found boring and stifling now seems inviting.
The book not only asks why we travel but also how we can experience it more fully, on the road and upon returning home. Through the lives of artists and writers such as Vincent Van Gogh and Gustav Flaubert, the reader learns how to experience another layer to travel. Interspersed within the biographies, Alain de Botton discusses his own encounters with new destinations—from the space between dreaming about the trip, its challenges to even finding beauty in the formation of the clouds and other everyday occurrences.
De Botton’s “The Art of Travel” is the perfect handbook for both the nomadic at heart and armchair traveler.
Though travel has significantly become more accessible, many still fear the experience or find themselves dissatisfied with the trip. Thus, de Botton’s book gives insight into enjoying the finer details of your surroundings and the stories that lay behind the sites. However, the ‘philosophical manual’ is not only useful for a voyage, but also as a guide to appreciating the world around you.
Check out de Botton in the (cyber) flesh and listen to him speak about his views on travel through this video.
To learn more about Alain de Botton, check out his website .