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The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton

by Venky


Often times when we plan what we hope will be a fun filled, exciting and fulfilling travel, we tend to portray images of such bliss in our minds. The layered images are invariably optimistic, lending a hallowed credence to the ensuing journey. However there is an extraordinarily explicit dichotomy between what we perceive to be and what actually is. By intentionally or accidentally excising the inconveniences that are but an inevitable concomitant of travel from our mind’s itinerary, we raise our standards of hope, degree of belief and bar of expectation so high that when reality meets us face to face, we have no choice but to come crashing down from the imposing self-constructed pedestal.

In this fascinating book, Alain de Botton attempts to allay our disillusionment that is the outcome of an expectation gap. He does this with verve and vivacity, blending practical thinking with perspicacity. In a method that is singularly unique, de Botton describes to us his experiences of visiting a few select locations not only from his perspective but also from the eyes of an unseen guide who has trod the sands of those locations a multitude of years ago. For example while traversing the natural beauty of Lake District, de Botton, has, for company William Wordsworth, the glorious nature poet who wandered the length and breadth of Lake District, getting himself willingly lost in the enticing kaleidoscope that he saw Mother Nature enveloping him with. The result of this kind of an approach is a breathtaking means with which one can view one’s surroundings without being bogged down by the attendant distractions such as the shrill of traffic, lashing rain or just an unrelenting and teeming mass of humanity that seems to go about their daily lives unconcerned with anything other than with which their existence is concerned.

An otherwise insignificant and mundane structure such as a petrol station assumes spectacular significance as de Botton urges the reader to embrace the edifice for what actually it is rather than clouding its existence as a mere utilitarian stop over. The most profound lesson that one can draw from a reading of “Art of Travel” is the quintessential fact that a travel experience is embellished as much by the traveler himself as it is enhanced by the places that she visits. Thus while a barren desert or a desolate ruin might make one’s heart leap with joy and blood course through the veins with excitement, a palatial architecture of great grandeur or a stunningly seraphic beach fringed with swaying palms that overlook an azure sea, instead of aggravating the viewing aesthetic of a traveler, may count for a tepid and insipid sight. While Gustave Flaubert found the simple sight of a dromedary in the Middle East, a sight so spectacular so as to remain with him for the rest of his life, the sights, sounds and splendours of his own homeland drove him to the point of utter revulsion and repugnance.

The Art of Travel has to be one of the most insightful works of Alain de Botton. The book not only inspires the reader to travel to lands far and distant, but it also exhorts her to appreciate and assimilate the beauty of each place and every inanimate being within, for what it actually is. The Art of Travel is a work of magisterial simplicity and imperious lucidity. The next time you pack your bags heading for an exotic locale or a bustling suburb, please ensure that you have The Art of Travel with you, or even better finish reading it before your journey begins!

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