Carren's Pitch

Life by Design

Text by: Carren Jao
Published: Decemeber 2008

TAKE-OFFs and landings, departures and arrivals. Everyday someone is leaving for somewhere in the great beyond… and we are left yawning in response. In today’s fast-paced world of jet flights and instant telecommunication, the other side of the world seems like a stone’s throw away, leading many of us to become inured to the privileges of travel. We become habituated to the sequence of events that precede arriving at a new destination. Instead, we focus on the destination, fantasizing and romanticizing it to our heart’s content – completely missing the journey it entails.

In his 6th book, The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton strives to resurrect the many nuances of traveling that people tend to miss – the anticipation, the mode of travel, even the very act of seeing a destination. Peppered by personal experiences and aided by the writings of other artists, explorers, and artists, de Botton gently soaks his reader into the way of thoughtful traveling.

I had read The Art of Travel once before as a young woman dreaming of exotic locales and, while the first few chapters were spot-on, I gradually found it hard to progress through the pages. Each chapter seemed too dense that I could not move on without losing some important insight I had gained. Upon turning the last page, it was as if I was changed internally, yet was at a loss to explain why.

Now, five years after the first reading and with a 30-hour solo journey to Pittsburgh from the Philippines coming up, it seemed the best time to indulge in another try. I read chapter by chapter, slowly because I knew I had time to spare. Ensconced in one economy sized seat after another, there was no hustling to the next item on my to-do list, there was just time unfolding before me. Every so often, I would read passages that struck a chord within me and I would reach for journal and pen, faithfully recording the passage or writing down my own thoughts. Interspersed with in-flight movies, choices between chicken and beef, and getting up to stretch, de Botton gently prodded and questioned the seasoned traveler within me.

Why do you travel? What have you noticed while on the way? Have you ever really seen the beauty of your destination? Questions like these rolled in my mind like lazy waves arriving at the sandy shore; they did not demand, they merely waited until my mind could attend to them.

As my plane landed and I got off to wait at yet another stopover, I noticed myself noticing much more. What was first a mind-numbing 30-hour journey became a 30-hour solo adventure.

The Art of Travel is a valuable traveler’s companion. In its endeavor to talk about the experience of traveling, it succeeds in holding a mirror in front of its reader, showing us how much we have missed. Though the book’s illustrations are sadly rendered in black and white, its contents gleam like multi-colored gemstones. With the aid of Van Gogh, Flaubert, Wordsworth, and other luminaries, de Botton manages to help readers see deeply and remove the layers of habituation that have enveloped them over the years.


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