The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton


I purchased The Art of Travel on the way out of town during a spring break beach trip. The options at the Baylor Bookstore (the prep school, not the university), were limited to the sorts of things high schoolers either should read (such as Night by Elie Wiesel) or must read (insert Shakespeare title you have already read twice here) neither of which seemed like suitable choices for beach reading. And while I can’t really see most high schoolers being all that intrigued with this book, for me it is a must read, and a book I will put back in my stack to be re-read soon.
De Botton applies a fairly simple but ingenious concept to the book. For each area of travel he explores (anticipation, the exotic, the sublime, etc.) he relates a place to a famous historical figure (usually an artist or writer), who either essentially made the place “necessary to visit” through their work, or whose general life experience applies to de Botton’s travels now.
Without spoiling too much of the premise, de Botton does a wonderful job of applying his experience of his visit to a region such as Provence to his knowledge and experience of Van Gogh’s work. Through the various chapters, one learns: 1) how de Botton feels about the place and the person with whom he associates it; 2) whether one should want to go there and why; and 3) most importantly, how to stop running through life and enjoy each place for what it has to offer.
Being unfamiliar with the author (I bought the book based on its title, given my pending trip), I’ve actually found a kindred spirit who writes the way I should write. The style is a first person exploration of the many emotions de Botton has as he travels, and it is like a travel journal writ large into a philosophy of how one should approach the next day off one has available. The language is so rich that I am certain there is more of it to taste the next time I read it, and this kind of “dessert” writing inspires me in different ways to enlarge my horizons both while traveling and while I sit at home.
That said, as with many such desserts, it should be savored in small amounts. Enjoy the whole book, but one chapter read slowly in a sitting will be plenty to consider for at least two days. Give it time to simmer in your mind. Don’t miss the various notes and flavors. After all, it’s not some Eurail Pass you bought during the summer holidays; it’s philosophy.

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