By Divya Venkataraman
Travel enjoys a status in contemporary Western society almost singular in its untouchability. So many of us travel, want to travel, and make decisions about money, work and relationships based on our ability to travel in the future. To travel, or a desire to travel, is broadly viewed as a valid, fulfilling, adventurous use of one’s life.
Travel is also offered as a cure to life’s dilemmas: personal stasis, boredom in a relationship, a lack of direction about one’s future or career. The implication is that travel is a solution, in and of itself. The issue with this, of course, is that the traveller must always be present during the travelling. We’ve all heard the old cliché, “you can’t run away from your problems”. But there’s something about the destabilising force of travelling, the deliberate and self-inflicted thrust into a realm where sensations are more vibrant, more memorable, more. Comfort is often forsaken: you’re cold on a windy boat ride, ill after those delicious roadside tacos, cramped in a tiny bus. None of these are serious, of course, but in our lucky, modern, Western existences, where survival is not generally a matter of contention, part of travel’s allure is in its very discomfort.
Then, there is the possibility, the attraction of the unknown, which surrounds the traveller, the foreign land filled with new faces and new terrain which is, to the traveller’s mind, uncharted. Of course, there are so many uncharted places close to home, but there are always reasons not to go, more important things to do.
I have experienced this desire to be immersed in the unknown so entirely, to be in a place where reinvention is so close, where more than what usually seems possible is possible. Whether armed with guidebooks or trying your luck with no accommodation plans, the idea that life could, somehow, be changed forever in a single moment is too tempting.
The truth is, your life is probably not going to be changed. You probably won’t meet the love of your life, or find yourself, or discover your passion. Alain de Botton understands this, and he tells us in his Art of Travel that such an embrace of the unknown, of possibility, can be achieved right here at home.
Now— and I digress here for a moment— I picked up Art of Travel because it was lying around my parents’ house, the assigned reading for my younger brother’s Advanced English HSC class. I had dismissed de Botton in the past— his writing tends towards the trite— but having come back from almost eight months overseas, I thought I’d see what all the fuss was about.
He goes on and on about how a maid had to shuttle him out of his hotel room in order for him to explore Madrid (the horror!), explains how Bermuda was marred by an argument over dessert and muses that Wordsworth may have been exaggerating about the exquisite quality of squirrels’ fur over in the Lake District. But, essentially, he comes to the point that there is a sense of wonder and deep acceptance with which we generally approach travel.
It would do a great deal of good to think of our own homes with that same marvel.