Tuesday, November 08, 2011|| The art of travel

"What's with the sudden interest in travel, Bats?" he asked me during one of our lunches. I looked and smiled at him, while the question repeated in my head. Yes, Bats. What's with the sudden interest in travel?

My answer sounded so cliche, "For me, the word 'travel' is heavily associated with particular adjectives: freedom, independent. Also, traveling is the way to escape from daily self, moving from routines to more of excitements."

This I didn't say out loud: That the idea of traveling sounds so cool, I sometimes feel that I push myself to the idea a little too hard. I badly want to experience the excitement of traveling, while from most of my experiences, I often felt the opposite: disappointments.

"Don't you remember how awful your conference trip to Porto last year?" he asked again, successfully being a mind reader. Oh, how can I not remember. The jet lag, nervousness, and the constant worry of getting lost. Getting lost will help you find yourself. Right. Sometimes it didn't help you find anything but merely in Porto there aren't many lights during night time.

How could I feel disappointed when I travel, while others seem to enjoy it so much? And despite the bad experiences, I keep dreaming of going somewhere new. I wonder why.  

I found Alain de Botton's "The Art of Travel" on my latest visit to second-hand book store in Shirokanedai. Through the book, de Botton explains the pleasures of anticipation in traveling, from Barbados to London.

"We should be familiar with the notion that the reality of travel is not what we anticipate, that reality must potentially be disappointing. It may be truer and more rewarding to suggest that it is primarily different."

De Botton himself experiences disappointments when he travels. He explains why.

(1) When we travel we don't necessarily transform into new being. It is likely that we bring along our emotional baggage to the new destinations.
"I was to discover unexpected continuity between the melancholic self I have been at home and the person I was to be on the island; a continuity quite at odds with the radical discontinuity in the landscape and climate, where the very air seemed to be made of a different and sweeter substance."
(2) Even when we travel―especially when we travel―we are consumed with worry about the future and details, we forget to enjoy the present journey.
"I worry about the issues whether lunches would be included in the price of the room. Two hours later, seated at a corner table in the hotel restaurant with a papaya (lunch an local taxes included), I had left my body, now made another migration, quitting the island altogether to visit a troubling project scheduled for the following year."
(3) We are often more aware of ourselves and our feelings when we travel.
"I stood on the corner of the Calle de Carretas and the Puerta de Sol. It was a sunny day, and crowds of tourists were stopping to take photographs and listen to guides. And I wondered, with mounting anxiety, What am I supposed to do here? What am I supposed to think?"
De Botton combines his experiences with works and travel experiences of some other authors and artists: William Wordsworth, Gustave Falubert, Edward Hopper, Vincent van Gogh, Alexander von Humboldt, and Charles Baudelaire.

He cites Baudelaire, "Life is like a hospital in which every patient is obsessed with changing beds: this one wants to suffer in front of radiator, and that one thinks he'd get better if he was by the window. It always seem to me that I'll be well where I am not and this question of moving is one that I'm forever entertaining with my soul."

Despite all the potential disappointments, if we insist to keep on traveling, how to be a little happier when we travel? What is the right traveling mind-set? The questions that I have been asking to myself lately.

De Botton's answers are unarguable, "Receptivity might be its chief characteristics. Receptive, we approach new places with humility. We carry with us no rigid ideas about what is or is not interesting. Once I began to consider everything as potential interests, objects released latent layers of value."

I used to think that traveling, flying to other countries or places, will instantly bring another layer of happiness to life. How can it not? Taking off for somewhere else, a place with more interesting weather, customs, and landscapes... Well, I was wrong.

Perhaps de Botton's words could be the first step of my future happier journeys. To understand that traveling is not merely about the routine escape.

3:02 AM |