Why we travel

Traveling: one of the most ubiquitous activities in our lives. We book a flight to Thailand with a few clicks on a website, or jump on a train heading for Eastern Europe that leaves three times a day. Quite naturally, we know where we want to go and how to get there. Yet we rarely ask ourselves why we want to go to a particular place – or why we should go at all. This seems a fitting question for a time when our Facebook timelines (mine included) are filled with photos of beaches, mountains, and smiling faces: what is it that motivates us to travel?

The sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room. – Blaise Pascal

During last week’s camping trip, I read The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton. In his book, he tries to formulate reasons for traveling and how we might become more fulfilled by doing so. De Botton, founder of The School of Life, is one of those few philosophers who is able to inform us about complex ideas and concepts in an accessible and inspiring way. To get a taste of his views on traveling, here’s an enjoyable video based on his book:

For me, the most revealing aspect was the need to ask the right questions about a place we visit. This process starts with curiosity and wonder, using simple questions about the composition of a landscape or the appearance of the people we encounter. For example, the bridge in the photo below seems rather ordinary at first sight and unfit for any deeper analysis than “that’s a bridge”. However, by asking a simple question like “why does it have two levels?” you trigger a whole new flow of (possibly) interesting information about the context in which this particular bridge was constructed. In this case, it was Leonardo da Vinci who designed it, adding an extra level to counter the spread of the plague in 16th century Milan by separating the rubbish from the regular traffic of people and carts.

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Happy holidays!

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