Divided into five sections (Departure, Motives, Landscape, Art and Return), this study into the how and why of travel combines the study of diverse travelers such as Baudelaire, Hopper, Flaubert, Wordsworth and Van Gough and sets what each can teach us against the backdrop of De Botton’s travel destinations (sufficiently eclectic to include both Barbados and the English Lake District).
Whimsically selective – far from being a comprehensive guide, this is a work of select interests – the book is in part cynical and in part hopelessly romantic. Lovers of travel will find their passions articulated, the cause of their excitement explained. If the author reaches the somewhat pessimistic view that our destination is of little importance because we are taking ourselves too (with accompanying worries, neuroses, quirks and irritating character traits), he comforts by revealing that we can live in a travel mindset even while carrying out mundane tasks at home: “the pleasure we derive from a journey may be dependent more on the mindset we travel with than on the destination we travel to” (original emphasis).
While always having loved airports, enjoying their atmosphere even while delayed and sleep-deprived, I enjoyed the ‘ah-ha’ moments in which De Botton’s brilliance revealed what I knew about myself but couldn’t coherently express. Full of cleverly ‘tweetable’ quotes and bon mots, the eccentric nature of The Art of Travel has attracted a controversial mixture of critical reviews but remains a book to which I often turn back for lessons not only in travel, but in the general human experience.
Quintessential Quotes from The Art of Travel
“A momentous but until then overlooked fact was making itself apparent: I had inadvertently brought myself with me to the island”
“There was poetry in this forsaken service station perched on the ridge of the motorway, far from all habitation. Its appeal made me think of certain other equally and unexpectedly poetic travelling places – airport terminals, harbours, train stations and motels”.
“How pleasant to hold in mind through the crevasses of our moods, at three in the afternoon, when lassitude and despair threaten, that there is always a plane taking off for somewhere, for Baudelaire’s ‘anywhere! anywhere!’: Trieste, Zurich, Paris”.
“There is psychological pleasure in this takeoff, too, for the swiftness of the plane’s ascent is an exemplary symbol of transformation. The display of power can inspire us to imagine analogous, decisive shifts in our own lives, to imagine that we, too, might one day surge above much that now looms over us”.
“Journeys are the midwives of thought. Few places are more conducive to internal conversations than moving planes, ships or trains”.