The Art of Travel

The Art of Travel

Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel is a wonderfully wise and reassuring book.

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Whether you fear being disappointed when you travel, you’re looking for a reason to travel, or, in fact, you’re looking for an excuse to stay home, this little collection of essays should provide the solace you need.

By sharing his own experiences on the road — yearning to stay in bed rather than exploring Madrid, arguing with his partner over sharing desserts in Barbados, seeing Provence through the eyes of Van Gogh — and by exploring the positions various writers, artists and thinkers have taken on travel over the centuries, de Botton presents to us clever insights about the urge to be somewhere else, to see something else.

This is an erudite philosopher’s perspective, to be sure, but de Botton is always accessible, and in fact, a superb writer, even putting philosophy aside. While wandering Amsterdam, for instance:

“Above me on the second floor, I could see an apartment with three large windows and no curtains. The walls were painted white and decorated with a single large painting covered with small blue and red dots. There was an oak desk against a wall, a large bookshelf and an armchair. I wanted the life that this space implied. I wanted a bicycle. I wanted to put my key through the red front door every evening. I wanted to stand by the curtainless window at dusk looking out at an identical apartment opposite and snack my way through an erwentsoep met roggerbrook en spek before retiring to read in bed in a white room with white sheets.”

Haven’t we all had this urge when seeing foreign homes? Why? De Botton explains: “We may value foreign element not only because they are new, but because they seem to accord more faithfully with our identity and commitments than anything our homeland could provide. My enthusiasms in Amsterdam were connected to my dissatisfactions with my own country…”

We particularly enjoyed his piece on “Eye-Opening Art”, which examines how “works of art may in small ways start to influence where we would like to travel to”. De Botton looks at how Van Gogh has influenced the expectations of travellers to Provence, through, for instance, his interpretation of the cypresses there: “A few years after Van Gogh’s stay in Provence, Oscar Wilde remarked that there had been no fog in London before Whistler painted it. There had surely been fewer cypresses in Provence before Van Goh painted them.”.

We also enjoyed de Botton’s exploration of what we learn, and why, when we travel — and how it can seem simply overwhelming to be presented with historical building after historical building. For support he turns to Nietzsche, who argues that “the point of looking at an old building might be nothing more, but then again nothing less, than recognising that ‘architectural styles are more flexible than they seem, as are the uses for which buildings are made’… We might return from our journeys with a collection of small, unfeted but life-enhancing thoughts.”

Then again, de Botton cites Pascal: “The sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.”

Whether your travels have been extensive, or whether you’re just heading to Thailand for a two-week beach holiday, The Art of Travel will put your trip into grand historical context. De Botton will reassure when you find yourself still worrying about things at home, when you want to skip another temple so you can sleep late, or when you do go and feel like you’ll scream if you hear another fact about the temple’s construction. This is practical philosophy for travellers.

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108 results found

Burma (Myanmar)

Burmese Days
Burmese Days

By George Orwell

Finding George Orwell
Finding George Orwell

By Emma Larkin

Miss Burma
Miss Burma

By Charmaine Craig

The Glass Palace
The Glass Palace

By Amitav Ghosh

The Trouser People
The Trouser People

By Andrew Marshall

Cambodia

Dogs at the Perimeter
Dogs at the Perimeter

By Madeleine Thien

Holiday in Cambodia
Holiday in Cambodia

By Laura Jean McKay

Hun Sen’s Cambodia
Hun Sen’s Cambodia

By Sebastian Strangio

Hunters in the Dark
Hunters in the Dark

By Lawrence Osborne

King Norodom's Head
King Norodom's Head

By Steven W. Boswell

River of Time
River of Time

By Jon Swain

The Gate
The Gate

By Francoise Bizot

Indonesia

A House in Bali
A House in Bali

By Colin McPhee

Beauty is a Wound
Beauty is a Wound

By Eka Kurniawan

Black Water
Black Water

By Louise Doughty

Home
Home

By Leila S. Chudori

In the Time of Madness
In the Time of Madness

By Richard Lloyd Parry

Indonesia Etc.
Indonesia Etc.

By Elizabeth Pisani

On the Java Ridge
On the Java Ridge

By Jock Serong

Ring of Fire
Ring of Fire

By Lawrence Blair

The Malay Archipelago
The Malay Archipelago

By Alfred Russel Wallace

The Rainbow Troops
The Rainbow Troops

By Andrea Hirata

The Year of Living Dangerously
The Year of Living Dangerously

By Christopher J. Koch

This Earth of Mankind
This Earth of Mankind

By Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Under the Volcano
Under the Volcano

By Cameron Forbes

Laos

Malaysia

Singapore

Crazy Rich Asians
Crazy Rich Asians

By Kevin Kwan

From Third World to First
From Third World to First

By Lee Kuan Yew

If I Could Tell You
If I Could Tell You

By Jing-Jing Lee

In Transit: An Anthology
In Transit: An Anthology

By Zhang Ruihe and Yu-Mei Balasingamchow

Sarong Party Girls
Sarong Party Girls

By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan

Singapore Noir
Singapore Noir

By Cheryl Lu-Tien Tan

State of Emergency
State of Emergency

By Jeremy Tiang

Sugarbread
Sugarbread

By Balli Kaur Jaswal

The Tower
The Tower

By Isa Kamari (translated by Alfian Sa'at)

Thailand

A Tiger in Eden
A Tiger in Eden

By Chris Flynn

Bangkok Found
Bangkok Found

By Alex Kerr

Hothouse Flower
Hothouse Flower

By Lucinda Riley

Jasmine Nights
Jasmine Nights

By S.P. Somtow

Mai Pen Rai Means Never Mind
Mai Pen Rai Means Never Mind

By Carol Hollinger

Many Lives
Many Lives

By M.R Kukrit Pramoj

Sightseeing
Sightseeing

By Rattawut Lapcharoensap

Thai Street Food
Thai Street Food

By David Thompson

The Beach
The Beach

By Alex Garland

The Drinking Food of Thailand
The Drinking Food of Thailand

By Andy Ricker with JJ Goode

The Narrow Road to the Deep North
The Narrow Road to the Deep North

By Richard Flanagan

The Sad Part Was
The Sad Part Was

By Prabda Yoon

The Windup Girl
The Windup Girl

By Paolo Bacigalupi

Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture
Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture

By Philip Cornwel-Smith

Vietnam

Bright Shining Lie
Bright Shining Lie

By Neil Sheehan

Destination Saigon
Destination Saigon

By Walter Mason

Dragon Apparent
Dragon Apparent

By Norman Lewis

Fishing for Tigers
Fishing for Tigers

By Emily Maguire

The Lover
The Lover

By Marguerite Duras

The Quiet American
The Quiet American

By Graham Greene

The Refugees
The Refugees

By Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Sorrow of War
The Sorrow of War

By Bao Ninh

The Sympathizer
The Sympathizer

By Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Things They Carried
The Things They Carried

By Tim O’Brien

When the War Was Over
When the War Was Over

By Elizabeth Becker

General