The Complicated Art of Travel

Or how Alain de Botton is smarter than Patty from Florida

A lot of blogs focus on where you should travel and I of course will also talk about the countries I have visited. You could use this as a guideline, but in the end I will never tell you which country you HAVE to visit. We all experience things in very different ways. It’s like choosing a movie, nobody wants THAT kind of responsibility. God, I rather go into politics.

The Wrinkles and the Why

So, whatever, let’s move on. The first big trip I ever took was to India and I still remember that everybody kept asking me: “but”…. (this is when their eyes started to squint in confusion),”but”… (now their forehead started to wrinkle while their whole face expressed utter despair), “Why India?”

And I honestly couldn’t answer the question. I often can’t answer a ‘why question’ in general actually, apparently, it’s not my strong suit. I guess I just go with my gut feeling. So I always answered: “you got to start somewhere”, followed up by an awkward and evenly confused chuckle. BUT I did truly mean it. Because I wasn’t just looking forward to explore India, I was also looking forward to the experience. Maybe you don’t have that gut feeling. No problem, just throw a dart at a map and be like Patty. Patty has got it all figured out.


The Art of Travel

So maybe I am giving Patty a bit too much credit here. Throwing a dart at a map and going there might be a tad reckless. It will probably end up in the ocean anyway, just saying, but maybe you like sharks. Normally you will have a certain hunch though, this peculiar feeling about a country, this urge to go and explore it. Give into that feeling, and go for it. And if you don’t like the country, trust me, it won’t be a waste of time and money. We should proceed to somebody who actually knows what he is talking about:

We are inundated with advice on where to travel, we hear little of why and how we should go – 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.”

– Alain de Botton in ‘the Art of Travel’

Eat that Patty.

Everything is Relative

Ok, reaching Eudaimonia may be a bit dramatic and we could replace it with ‘finding fulfillment’. Moreover, de Botton pinpoints in his book that travel doesn’t always end up as the dream journey that we pictured in our head. For me, it’s a relief to read a book that finally admits to this. Social media and Photoshop are tricking us into thinking that every single trip undertaken by a random backpacker is the journey of a lifetime. It’s not. Life is life, no matter where you are. I’ll give an example. Here are 3 situations that we all possibly could be in at this particular moment:

  • You’re sitting behind a desk, thinking that one hour must have already passed, but somehow only seven minutes have ticked away and you want to shit all over Einstein’s relativity theory.
  • You’re trying to feed your cute, little angel who for some reason decided to only devour bright pink coloured substances because he likes strawberries, but he also likes vomiting, specifically on your new white sweater (to be fair, you shouldn’t be wearing a white sweater while doing this).
  • A Malaysian bus drops you off in the middle of a highway without sidewalks but with a shitload of traffic, and a giant truck almost drags your backpack that is, OW YEAH, attached to your back, along.

These are three total different circumstances that have one thing in common. Every individual in it is thinking: “This sucks monkey balls.”

No matter what you are trying to accomplish, for some people your life will seem like a dream, for others, it’s an absolute no-go. For you, it’s just life, including all its ups and downs, even when you’re off “living the dream” and backpacking around the world. So it’s important to always find some kind of accomplishment in whatever you are doing. Because at the same time:

  • You see that you’ve gotten so good at your job that it became boring. This makes you comprehend that you have grown so much and that it’s time for a new challenge.
  • That little angel gives you a smile and a hug. Who cares about white sweaters anyway?
  • You don’t give a fuck, smile brightly at the Malay drivers and realize again what you are capable of.
This is maybe why people got confused about me going to India.

My Point

That’s a promising heading, isn’t it?

Well, the way I found out about the book, immediately proves my point. I was looking for the appropriate approach for this blog and I had an angle twirling around in my head, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Then I met a Kiwi in Bali that recommended ‘the Art of Travel’ to me and here we are. Because ‘the Art of Travel’ isn’t just about travelling, but also about learning and listening. So in this blog I am going to focus on the art of travel. And this doesn’t mean that you have to be like me and sell all your stuff and run to the other side of the world. This counts for city trips, or road trips in your own country, or a visit to the zoo of Antwerp for that matter.

But before you start comparing me to Alain de Botton, do take into account that he is apparently one of the current most influential philosophers, which you notice in both his manner of writing and way of travelling. The latter, because he was able to make enough of money out of philosophing, or whatever it is that philosophers do, to let him travel like the diva he is. So my blog goes along the lines of ‘the Art of Travel’, except that it’s dumberder and less luxurious.

My View On the Art of Travel

For me travelling is all about attitude. It forces me to have a certain perspective and see things in ways that are otherwise dulled by the slow sequence of a 9 to 5 life. I discovered things about myself (both negative and positive) that I otherwise might have never seen. My mind and my range of activities got broadened to an extent I could never foresee. For example, I wouldn’t have thought that yoga and meditation would be anything for me and now I’m running around foreign countries searching for yoga practices and starting conversations with the sentence “I’m not a hippie or anything, but meditation…”. What I want to say is that at a certain point I got a bit lost in life (like so many people within my generation) and I knew what travel could do for me. So I decided to indulge myself into it. And in the process, I am always, always passionately curious.

Casino at Bokor Mountain
Me trying to sort out my thoughts and realizing how disturbed I am.

Curiosity Doesn’t Kill the Cat

It revives it and gives it new goals in life. Ok, it doesn’t do that with a cat. The cat is a metaphor.

Omg, you’re the cat, okay? Bear me with me here.

Because you shouldn’t just travel to have fun. You should travel with a greater purpose. To explore and to experience. To taste the food, read the books, hike the hikes and breathe the air. Take your time. It’s not about how many stamps you have in your passport. Stay for a longer time at a certain place, to see how people really live. Then slowly move on. Meet fellow travellers. Listen (they might recommend a good book). Don’t wait until it’s your time to brag about your adventures. Truly listen and you will be surprised about how much you will learn. Don’t focus on just wanderlust. Discuss relationships, culture, literature, history, politics, business and current events. Discover their view of the world. Ask questions. Open your mind. Figure out if they are happy.

Don’t dive head first into the country, let the country come to you. Walk around the city without a plan and discover that a part is not walkable. Talk to locals, see what they are like, let them get annoyed by your inability to speak their language. Order a random dish at a market and find out it’s way too spicy for you. Make mistakes, make a fool out of yourself. Let other backpackers smugly sneer at you like, because you are so unprepared. The rewards and life lessons you will get out of it are worth it. Because there is this other thing that de Botton wrote:

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 it ardour and paradoxes – than our travels.

Yeah, suck it Patty.

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