romanticizing travel


Traveling – not always yelling off of mountain tops…

“I had inadvertently brought myself with me to the island.” (By Alain de Botton in his book The Art of Travel.)

The Art of Travel is a sleepy kind of book, well-paced and thoughtful. The above quote really struck me, since the author was talking at the time of a trip to Barbados, in search of an escape from a miserable English winter, and how his idealization of the place was far from reality. Seeing glistening seas and waving palm trees in a picture usually fails to represent reality as far as vacationing is concerned.

More specifically, he talked about an argument he had with his partner, and how that conflict rendered the glory of the surroundings worthless. His point – no matter where you go, you will bring yourself with you, including all of your vices and emotional baggage, all problems and grievances, all tendencies to worry and think of other things, and all discontentment.

Travel is often glamorized by people who don’t live as a traveler. It has a romantic connotation and reputation, no doubt exacerbated by the glowing travel reports brought back by world roamers, and the paintings, pictures, and videos of lands far away. Not that those ideas or images are untrue. They are; but they are also only a small part of the whole. Artists, photographers, and writers don’t include mundane stories or images in their collections. It wouldn’t sell. No one wants to see more suburbs, more roads, more long lines at bus stations; but all those things are as inherent in travel as coconut milk and adventure.

I fell prey to this over-romanticizing too. I built it up in my mind as the most exciting way to live. To be a traveler meant always having adventures, always being on the move and being happy, looking just like those smiling jetsetters in pictures with hair a-blowing and luggage behind them. Never mind that pulling luggage anywhere automatically increases stress by about a thousand. Honestly, those pictures are a lie. A LIE. (I demand restitution.)

I digress. The point is, a lot of people, myself included, seem to see travel as an escape from an otherwise dissatisfying or unfulfilling life. Some people use it to escape problems with family or work. The trouble is, that while you can be physically removed from the source of the problem, eventually it will come back to haunt you. If you have emotional problems resulting from those situations, being somewhere else won’t make them magically disappear. You’ll still be depressed if you already were, you’ll still be angry or bitter or afraid or whatever. Running doesn’t solve anything. It’s the coward’s way.

Now, here’s what travel can do. It does provide a change, and for those stuck in a lackluster environment who are just plain bored, changing pace and getting out into the wider world can kick-start a better life. You might discover your calling overseas and change your whole future. Traveling broadens perspective; I know many people who were profoundly moved when they saw poverty in third-world countries. It helps you learn to appreciate other people, even those you left behind. I know for me, when I travel and move about, I tend to get the creative spark more often. I write better after seeing something new and exciting.

So be careful of expecting too much of travel and new places, and remember, you always bring yourself with you.


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