The Art of Travel – Alain de Botton

For now it’s the last one of the three books I bought this year, so I think I’m doing pretty good with my book buying ban, three books bought and all read, so they didn’t make my TBR grow.

De Botton in this book takes a look at different aspects of travelling, he sets out from his own experiences and then mixes them with thoughts of other writers, artists and thinkers on travelling. The book never set out to be all encompassing, it is utterly subjective, driven by what de Botton found interesting and inspiring, which for me was a big part of its charm, this freedom to write only about things one is interested in, without ambition to cover the subject in its entirety or without the obligation to stick to a logical plot that has to run its course. There is still structure in his book, but it feels more organic. The book is divided into nine chapters, that in a way take us for a trip, we start with On Anticipation, considering how rarely our expectations are met when we travel, how no matter what we always bring ourselves with us, so the expected escape that travel was supposed to offer is never complete. Then we move on to those special travelling places, like airports, service station next to motorways, all those in-between places. From there we get to our destination to take a look at what does ‘the exotic’ means, how our curiosity is now often harnesses by the guides we use, how they influence the way we interact with new places and appreciate them. We get to think about the dichotomy of the country vs the city and how often it is given not only travelling and aesthetic angle, but also a moral one. Later de Botton takes us to a dessert, a glacier and a waterfall to feel the sublime,the pleasure of feeling small in the face of the power of nature. In the last chapters we slowly come back home, to also learn to appreciate what is nearby.

For me the most important thing I got from this book is the importance of really being in the place, of taking a close look and seeing things. We often want to possess the beauty we see and camera gives us an illusion of making it possible, but I agree with de Botton the camera often actually prevents us from looking at things, we snap a picture and don’t take a second look, because we know we have a picture (which 9 out of 10 cases will never be seen again). Teaming up with Ruskin he stresses the importance of conscious looking, this is why Ruskin advocated drawing, not as means to create art, but as means of forcing us to stop and look at things and understand why we consider them beautiful. This book definitely made me realize again, how important it is to consciously be in a place and how much effort it takes, it is something that comes naturally to children, but as we grow up and get the habit of thinking about fifteen things at once we lose the focus that allows us to really feel the beauty.

It was a very nice start to my #20booksofsummer this year.

You will notice this review is published quite late into the challenge, this is because of the backlog of reviews I had from before. Also my next few posts will be scheduled, because I am on vacation, trying to apply what I learned from de Botton. I hope you are enjoyed your June!

Quotes from The Art of Travel

This is book #1 of my 20 Books of Summer hosted by Cathy at 746books.
See my list as it grows here.

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska @ vkphotospace

20-books 2017

11 thoughts on “The Art of Travel – Alain de Botton

  1. A lovely post – but – gosh – bows in AWE at your retraint on buying and the subsequent good effect on the TBR. Really well done. I agree completely with what de Botton says about cameras. That comment by Ruskin is very interesting, too

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! After six months it is a bit easier now, but between month 2 and 4 I really had withdrawal symptoms 😉 now it is more natural to avoid bookstores.
      I found it very interesting how actually seeing something has to be a conscious effort, in my rushed life I often forget the difference between looking and seeing. It all boils down to being more in the present than thinking about past or future i guess.


      1. That’s definitely true! I wanted not to check my phone during my vacation but this just proved to be impossible. And yet I know for years I lived without a mobile and was perfectly happy. After two weeks of practicing I think I can now focus on the present for 10 min in one go, not without effort but it is possible. But any longer and my mind wanders to the past or to what’s ahead.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I have loved listening to de Botton in interviews before, but haven’t gotten around to reading one of this books yet. He’s so charming and interesting. This sounds wonderful. It’s so hard to really look and resist picking up that phone to take a picture. I hope you have a wonderful vacation!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve read three of his books. He attacks huge topics all the time but treads lightly, and his prose has a popular appeal. I always feel that if I knew the man I’d learn so much more than what he offers in his books 🙂


  4. Pingback: Books for the Lockdown – Wise and Calming –

  5. Pingback: The Art of Travel – Alain de Botton – Quotes –

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