Book Review: The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton


I didn’t have any idea about this book when I clicked the Buy now with 1-Click button at Amazon.com. It just caught my eye prior to my trip to Seattle and Vancouver. It was my first-alone-for-a-week trip, which made me excited and anxious at the same time. I couldn’t leave for Seattle/Vancouver without knowing what it’s like to be alone in a foreign city and and a foreign country. I had to read something.

The Art of Travel is de Botton’s thoughts and observations on travel. Born to a wealthy family, he must have had plenty of chances of travels to many places. And his philosophy background was another attraction. His philosophical observations are easily found everywhere in our daily lives if you would pay attention. The book has several viewpoints based on a decent mix of his findings from reading and his experiences. Of those, I would like to share three in this posting. (And I want to make a note that the bold subtitles are my words, not from the book.)

In the plane to Seattle

Travel starts when you leave home, not at the destination.

Great photos on the Web of your destination fill you up with excitement. However, as soon as you leave home, driving or waiting for your plane and flight is tiresome. Often times, the destination doesn’t look similar to the great photos. Hopes were high but you could be disappointed. De Botton also points out that your mind or mood could ruin the whole trip. Even a beautiful ocean view or great food could not entertain you if you are not serene for whatever reason. I totally agreed with his observation. The flights from Houston to Denver to Seattle ate up the whole day. It was raining and cold in Seattle where Houston was still hot. On the way to the hotel, I stopped by at a gas station and bumped into a half-homeless guy who came out of nowhere, asking for money and scared me extremely. Hurriedly locking up my rent car, a question occurred to me, ‘What am I doing now in this city?’ I wanted to go back to Houston where everything was familiar and I felt safe. My mind wasn’t quite prepared for the trip even though I thought I was ready after booking flight, hotels and a rent car and printing out the directions to my destinations. The whole trip depends on your mind, and be ready to enjoy every aspect of it including tiredness and unexpected incidents.

Sea-to-Sky Highway to Whistler

Travel to art

De Botton once went on a trip to the birthplaces of famous art pieces by Vincent Van Gogh. A great way to capture the beauty of nature or an object is drawing. Photography is another but less so than drawing. You would thoroughly observe what you want to draw and notice things you wouldn’t have noticed. And Van Gogh captured small bits of the beauty of nature in his drawing such as the direction of grass in the wind and the different reflections of sun light on a building per hour. That makes him a great artist. Through his great artistic eyes, one can enjoy the scenery in the art piece as if he/she was there with the artist.

A short stop at a local cafe by the sea

Nothing is unfound.

Civilizations had gone on quests to explore unrevealed places: in 1492, the Americas were found by Columbus; someone reached to the deepest the Amazon jungle; men even landed on the moon. It must have been greatly exciting and amusing to find new places and facts. Civilizations have discovered numerous facts by traveling around the world. Where there are not much left to be found, we would travel around the world to add our thoughts and observations to the existing civilizations and cultures. And whoever comes after us would add their thoughts and observations.

I loved the book and nodded my head. Most of all, it was a great companion throughout my travel.

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