August 28, 2013

The philosophy of travel... the psychology of travel...

I've been looking into the philosophy of travel, and I'm trying to get beyond the psychology of travel. It's not an easy journey, but at least I don't have to go through a metal detector and TSA patdown, and I can surround myself with >4 oz. glasses of whatever liquids I like. Here's the first substantial thing I found, a March 2000 essay by Pico Iyer: "Why we travel."

Let's see how far I can get on this leg of my journey. Iyer begins:
We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again — to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more....
See? This is mostly psychology. What motivates us to go. (And I really don't believe people travel in order to spread their wealth to places that are relatively poor. Just give to charity. Or does he mean that we benefit the less fortunate by inflicting our physical presence upon them?)

Next Iyer cites an essay by George Santayana called, “The Philosophy of Travel” that stresses the work of travel.
Few of us ever forget the connection between “travel” and “travail,” and I know that I travel in large part in search of hardship — both my own, which I want to feel, and others’, which I need to see. 
I'd rather avoid hardship, but I'm sure I could find it somewhere in my own town — I could sit in on criminal trials or volunteer at the respite center — but I'd be ashamed to be satiating a personal need of mine.
Travel in that sense guides us toward a better balance of wisdom and compassion — of seeing the world clearly, and yet feeling it truly. For seeing without feeling can obviously be uncaring; while feeling without seeing can be blind.
Do you really see more clearly because you've traveled to faraway places? Have you spent much time in the worst neighborhoods of your own town? In order to travel to foreign countries, you might endure hardships of your own and you must spend a fair amount of money. These personal sacrifices of yours don't do anything for other people, and they incline you toward pleasures that will compensate, which seems to be the opposite direction from compassion. But some people do go to places where things really will be uncomfortable:
When you drive down the streets of Port-au-Prince, for example, where there is almost no paving and women relieve themselves next to mountains of trash, your notions of the Internet and a "one world order" grow usefully revised. Travel is the best way we have of rescuing the humanity of places, and saving them from abstraction and ideology.
How many of us travel to gawk at poor people? How many of those of us who might consider traveling to gawk at poor people have difficulty understanding poverty from merely reading about it? If you do travel to Port-au-Prince to see women relieve themselves next to mountains of trash, and they question why you are watching them, be sure to say, I have come here to witness this to shake myself out of my complacent abstractions and to gain wisdom. Look at that scene in your mind. It's not too abstract, is it? Aren't you ashamed of yourself?

But admit it: That's not the vacation you'd take! You might do that if it was your job — as a writer or photographer — but you're not going to spend your money to heighten your wisdom and compassion that way, are you? You're going somewhere else, somewhere you think will be amusing or uplifting, aren't you? Pico Iyer goes on to talk about less hardship-ridden trips, and he emphasizes getting outside of oneself:
On the most basic level, when I'm in Thailand, though a teetotaler who usually goes to bed at 9 p.m., I stay up till dawn in the local bars; and in Tibet, though not a real Buddhist, I spend days on end in temples, listening to the chants of sutras. I go to Iceland to visit the lunar spaces within me, and, in the uncanny quietude and emptiness of that vast and treeless world, to tap parts of myself generally obscured by chatter and routine.
Are not these all things you could achieve near home? You have lunar spaces within you, yet you need to go to Iceland to visit them? Why not sit in your room for an hour with your eyes closed, listening to classical music? Or walk to the nearest vantage point for the next sunset and gaze upon it? How much money would you save? $5,000? $10,000? Give it to charity! Now, was my prescription for your soul better or worse than Iyer's recommendation that you go to Iceland and Tibet? As for his Thailand recommendation, there's always a bar down the street. Pick a spot in the dangerous side of town.

Iyer quotes Albert Camus saying "what gives value to travel is fear." Iyer paraphrases "fear" as "disruption... (or emancipation) from circumstance, and all the habits behind which we hide." Do you accept that paraphrase? If that's the value of travel, are you really a traveler (or must you concede you're only a tourist)? Maybe you'll say you travel for disruption but not for actual fear, other than tiny first-world fears, like fear of flying, fear of having to navigate in an environment where not everything is in English, and fear of unfamiliar foods and faces. If you really are traveling for fear, are there no better ways to pursue fear, ways closer to home? In the old days people traveled for fear — fear of starving if they didn't go looking for food, fear of murderous enemies who were moving in on their home territory. That's old-school travel, and you know damned well you are not traveling like that. You're spending your extra money to take on circumscribed fear-stimulating circumstances. Why not go for a walk late at night in the bad part of your own town? Too dangerous?
And that is why many of us travel not in search of answers, but of better questions. 
And I'm blogging this essay in search of even better questions.
I, like many people, tend to ask questions of the places I visit, and relish most the ones that ask the most searching questions back of me: In Paraguay, for example, where one car in every two is stolen, and two-thirds of the goods on sale are smuggled, I have to rethink my every Californian assumption. 
Like the Californian assumption that there are parts of California that you should avoid? Forbes's list of cities with the most stolen cars is dominated, year after year, by Californian cities. Why did Iyer have these assumptions in the first place? Why does his California have such an inane meaning? If you have to go to Paraguay to disrupt that, I wonder about the quality of your mind. And yet somehow you have enough money to pay for a trip to Paraguay, to learn — what? — that life is gritty? That there is crime and poverty?
And in Thailand, where many young women give up their bodies in order to protect their families -- to become better Buddhists -- I have to question my own too-ready judgments.
You found that out by traveling to Thailand? How? That's something you learn from reading about it, not by going there, unless you yourself are a sex tourist. One answer to the Why Travel? question is: You travel to take advantage of poorer people. No one writes that in an essay. But Iyer is almost saying: Travel to see other travelers taking advantage of poorer people... because it will make you a better, wiser, more compassionate person. Why not read about problems like this and give your money to charities that try to help unfortunate people? His answer seems to be because it's about developing his mind. But shouldn't his mind already be developed past that point?

Iyer says that on return from some places — he mentions Southeast Asia — he's felt that he "was in love." Travel is a love affair. That's his metaphor. If so, staying home is monogamy, it's where the depth is, and where the thrill is too, if you have the depth yourself.
For if every true love affair can feel like a journey to a foreign country, where you can't quite speak the language, and you don't know where you're going, and you're pulled ever deeper into the inviting darkness, every trip to a foreign country can be a love affair, where you're left puzzling over who you are and whom you've fallen in love with....
Or is it more like being a stalker boyfriend of someone who does not and will never love you? Iyer makes light of what the tourist is to the people of the visited country:
We are the comic props in Japanese home-movies, the oddities in Maliese anecdotes and the fall-guys in Chinese jokes; we are the moving postcards or bizarre objets trouves that villagers in Peru will later tell their friends about. If travel is about the meeting of realities, it is no less about the mating of illusions: You give me my dreamed-of vision of Tibet, and I'll give you your wished-for California. And in truth, many of us, even (or especially) the ones who are fleeing America abroad, will get taken, willy-nilly, as symbols of the American Dream.
What happened to the love affair metaphor? That is not love. And why are you wheeling out the cheerful examples? What about the Luxor massacre (which took place 3 years before Iyer wrote this essay)? That's the most extreme exemplification of the hostility of the traveled-upon, but think of everything between that and some imagined affable Japanese person who thinks you're just a bit silly. Where's the love? A real love affair has love on both sides. The love Iyer talks about is like the love a teenager feels for a pop idol after the concert. You cannot enter that idol's life. It's an illusion. Find someone real to love. Once you get that far, Iyer's love metaphor makes the argument for staying home.

Iyer writes about many travel writers, and that's what he is too, a travel writer. That means he's not making money doing one thing, then spending some of those earnings on travel. He travels as part of making money, and the insight he gains is not merely for developing his mind — as he argues in his essay — it's for writing about the development of the mind (and festooning the inward reflection with colorful pictures of things the readers have not seen). But what about the rest of us? We could sit home reading these travel writers, who've taken on the expense and the hardship of travel, and we could develop our mind through reading and thinking and sojourning around home.

Iyer gets around to the Thoreau quote — "I have travelled a good deal in Concord" — which we were just talking about on this blog last month (on the topic of the distinction between a tourist and a traveler). Iyer throws in Emerson too: "traveling is a fool's paradise." Iyer argues by paraphrase. What Thoreau and Emerson really do is "insist on the fact that reality is our creation, and that we invent the places we see as much as we do the books that we read. What we find outside ourselves has to be inside ourselves for us to find it." Now, the sleight of hand:
So, if more and more of us have to carry our sense of home inside us, we also -- Emerson and Thoreau remind us -- have to carry with us our sense of destination. The most valuable Pacifics we explore will always be the vast expanses within us, and the most important Northwest Crossings the thresholds we cross in the heart. The virtue of finding a gilded pavilion in Kyoto is that it allows you to take back a more lasting, private Golden Temple to your office in Rockefeller Center....
Home really is superior, but somehow you need to leave home to understand that. But what if you already understand that? Then, why should you travel? And I mean why should you travel if you are not a travel writer, gathering new material?
And if travel is like love, it is, in the end, mostly because it's a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed. That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end.
The trip that never ends is home. 

53 comments:

surfed said...

It's not an adventure until something fucks up and things go wrong. Until that happens you're just a tourist.

C Stanley said...

I think it's a matter of perspective, and aesthetics.

Perspective because throwing oneself into a different environment changes the way you view things. When I paint I step away from the canvas periodically and then I am better able to move forward. When I travel I step out of everyday routines. Can the moving forward be accomplished without altering the perspective? Sure, but it's harder and may take longer and may not wver accomplish the altered view that one is seeking.

Aesthetics because sometimes environments just bring us pleasure. The light is different, the architecture, the culture, music, customs, food. Try on new ones for size, in ways you can't always do at home.

These reasons are more psychological than philosophic, I think, but not everything needs to be philosophical. Why should this aspect of life be examined any more than others? Why eat at restaurants when one can cook at home? Why go to concerts when you can enjoy recordings? Isn't the reasoning the same, even if these things are on a different scale?

It seems like you are taking something which is really individual preference and trying to attach some greater meaning and logic to it. People who glorify travel do the same, I suppose. Why not accept that personal choices in this matter are like all other personal preferences?

lgv said...

Do you really see more clearly because you've traveled to faraway places? Have you spent much time in the worst neighborhoods of your own town?

Yes to both.

Call me a simple minded traveler.

I travel to see things and experience events. I go farther than most people to see things because that's where the things I want to see happen to be. If you like art, you can travel to the best Museum in all of Madison, but maybe you are willing to travel to NYC or even the Louvre. Maybe you don't need to go to Louvre. You can just look at the items online and not go to Louvre. Well, you could do same by not going to the art museum in Madison, avoiding the hassle of parking.

Somehow, reading about and seeing pictures of the Grand Canyon just isn't the same. A picture of the ocean doesn't smell or feel the same.

Taking a lousy 25 hour ferry ride 1000 kilometers south of Tokyo to jump in the ocean with pods of sperm whales doesn't make sense to most people. I can't explain it.

Imagine if everyone stayed home. Michener would have had one nove, "Doylestown". Hemingway?

Nathan Woods said...

It's an elaborate exercise in turning leisure to virtue and thus absolving a guilty conscience.

traditionalguy said...

History comes alive in places like Williamsburg, San Antonio, Pearl Harbor, and the Normandy beaches, probably because of a felt local attitude there as much as the local geography and foods.

A better question may be the psychology behind loving history. Why does it matter so much where we came from?

Sam L. said...

It's just the gypsy in my soul, and feeling that I got to get the Hell outa Dodge. Where it's not home, and there are things that look different and beautiful (or not); places I lived before long ago (or not).

Albuquerque for its gorgeous sunsets; Tucson for the desert; North Dakota for the grasshopper collection on the grille and crevices that become eyebrows...

Carol said...

When I was young I thought if I were rich I would travel all the time. I finally did get to beg my way to Europe in the 80s. I'm glad I went but I should have stayed home and worked for a lawyer friend that summer. I blew it.

Anyway, I think for rich and poor, it's just novelty, relief from boredom. Reading novels written by and for the upper classes, I see a lot of restless moving about between London and Rome, London and Paris, city and country and back to city with no one really happy.

You're not really learning much that you couldn't get from books, and collecting countries may boost your image but only to those similarly inclined. They'll all just filling a vacuum somehow.

Tank said...

Wow, what a load of hot air and crap that article is. I travel every year for vacation, just got back from Oregon, and I do it because, for me and Mrs. Tank, it's fun and we enjoy it.

I like the planning, the doing and the talking about it afterward. If you mostly want to "learn," you could probably learn more at home by studying for two weeks.

But you can't experience the things you see and do on vacation in far off places. Reading about Crater Lake is not the same as climbing Watchman Mountain to look down on it. Reading about Portland is not the same as walking the streets, eating in the restaurants, standing in line for Voodoo Donuts, shopping at the Saturday Market, etc. Reading about their zoos and wildlife preserves is not the same as getting to play with a tiger cub (the highlight of my vacation, I love tigers) - you can't do that at home.

Fun. That's my travel philosophy. I do the things I find fun to do.

Often the simple explanation is the best.

Big Mike said...

Things I like about traveling:

Seeing famous works of art close enough to actually discern the individual brush strokes.

Seeing wonderful works of art in those same art museums that haven't made it into the art history books but are still beautiful.

Climbing Palatine Hill and thinking that Augustus Caesar walked this path, slept in that very room.

Ditto for Salzburg/Mozart, Vienna/Mozart, Edinburgh/Mary Stuart, London/Elizabeth I, William the Conqueror, Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Kit Marlowe, and thousands of other people from my books on English history.

British breakfasts.

Listening to an opera in the Vienna Stadtoper. Any opera. The Met sucks and the Kennedy Center is worse.

Watching "As You Like It" performed by the Royal Shakespearian Company.

Eating food I can't get in local supermarkets.

Things I don't like about travel:

Is "signori" Italian for "men," or is it "signore"? One stinking vowel difference.

Guessing that vowel wrong.

Discovering that the Romans did better brickwork 2000 years ago than the men who built my house.

English cuisine for any meal after breakfast, especially bangers and mash.

Discovering why at least some of the food I can't get in local supermarkets isn't on their shelves and never will be.

Crunchy Frog said...

There are plenty of things that you can read about and see on the internet and TV that you can simply not fully appreciate without physically experiencing them.

The Grand Canyon is one such example. There are many, many more.

(And I really don't believe people travel in order to spread their wealth to places that are relatively poor. Just give to charity. Or does he mean that we benefit the less fortunate by inflicting our physical presence upon them?)

My church does mission trips to help out the less fortunate. The people we help feed, build houses for, etc., all say the same thing: our willingness to go to them, and prove that we care by our very presence, means so much more to them than if we just cut a check to pay people to do it for us.

Yes, Ann. Inflicting ourselves on them is what matters most, both for them, and for us.

ALP said...

Travel must be seen in the context of what one does when one is NOT traveling. Are you a highly paid professional, with money to burn on a six month sabbatical? Or are you an admin assistant on your annual, budget-priced 7-day adventure?

There probably a huge difference between having the resources (both time & money) for leisurely travel that allows time for deep self reflection (the well paid professional), and the frantic "cram as much as you can into your annual 1 week vacation" that most hourly-wage peons (like the admin assistant) experience.

Travel also requires that someone manage dozens of details such as departure times, reservations, price comparisons, house/pet sitters - foreign travel adds issues such as visas, shots and currency exchange. As a peon, I handle dozens of details for the professionals above me when I am on the job. WHY would I want to do the same with my precious vacation time? Traveling for vacation always felt too much like work.

Give me a lazy, at home vacation any day: no details, no paperwork and, most importantly, no reason to LOOK AT A CLOCK. For me, a true vacation is traveling to a world that has no need for clocks - and that world only exists in my own home.

Krumhorn said...

My most rewarding travel has been to places I had another purpose to visit. Driving tour buses in Alaska. Spending many repeated weeks working on tv projects in London, Paris, Munich, Prague, Berlin, Cannes, Monte Carlo, Madrid and Rome. Flying out of a NATO air base in Norway north of the Arctic circle. Bombing and strafing the Cong. Shore leave in Olongapo

Other than taking my kids on vacay or visiting them during their foreign study, I just don't see the value of leaving my little corner of the world to go somewhere else.

There's no philosophical feature to that. Just sloth.

- Krumhorn

Oso Negro said...

This year, I have worked in Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Austria, England, Holland, Oman, Trinidad, Slovakia, Poland, Slovenia, and about a dozen American states. Whatever the benefits of travel may be, I have a lot of them. For me, it's a living. You, on the other hand, should probably stay home.

Ann Althouse said...

"I like the planning..."

This is a problem I have. I don't like the planning. If someone else planned the trip, I'd like to go to some places, provided they accommodated my interests.

As for sightseeing, I agree: buildings, landscapes, art. I'd like to do some of that and it's worthwhile. The aesthetics. But, that said, I can find aesthetically good things nearby, without having to go through the horrible aesthetics involved in getting there (planes, etc.). Also, I can buy many aesthetic pleasures with the money saved, and I don't find the planning stage aesthetically pleasing. So I think the total aesthetic good is higher when you do not travel. (Partly because I arranged my life to have a home in a beautiful place.)

For aesthetic pleasure, there is always music and reading. The greatest the world has to offer is at your fingertips, always.

Ann Althouse said...

"My church does mission trips to help out the less fortunate. The people we help feed, build houses for, etc., all say the same thing: our willingness to go to them, and prove that we care by our very presence, means so much more to them than if we just cut a check to pay people to do it for us."

Like business trips, charitable working trips are beyond the scope of what I'm trying to talk about. Iyer was claiming that his presence as a traveler, just looking and spending his money on his travel expenses, was a benefit to the people in the places he visited.

I do think some of these charitable trips are self-serving. Is your in-person work more valuable than giving money and letting it go toward paying local people (who would then have jobs) do the work?

If it's good for your soul to help the poor physically, why don't you do it as near to your home as you find poverty?

What is the significance of "proving you care"? Is it for yourself, for God to see, or for the people served? If it's for the people you go to see, are they really uplifted by witnessing your caring or is that something that happens in your mind?

cubanbob said...

One problem very smart people have is the tendency to over analyze things. Traveling is either for fun or for some other needed reason. Others prefer not to. To each his own. There really isn't much else to traveling.

C Stanley said...

So I think the total aesthetic good is higher when you do not travel. (Partly because I arranged my life to have a home in a beautiful place.)

Stop moralizing about it and enjoy your choice then. Change the "you" in the sentence above to "I".

It's a bit like your post on conservatives racializing crime stories. If the problem is that the people who like travel are incorrectly claiming moral high ground, point that out but don't get on a high horse of your own.

Hagar said...

Today, you had better plan and reserve accommodations a long time ahead if you are going to any of the famous destinations.
A good year ahead, if you are thinking about the Grand Canyon, and not just at the Canyon, but also at the next stop out.

Trust me on this. I hate planning adventures even worse than AA, but that is one experience I do not neeed to repeat in order to learn my lesson!

MayBee said...

I love where I live and I love to travel, too. I love seeing things with my own two eyes, seeing the surroundings, smelling the air, seeing the light, feeling the wind or humidity or heat or dust. I love discovering whether the food or wine is delicious or disappointing. I love to talk to people who may find me foreign or who I may find very different or surprisingly the same. I love sometimes not understanding what people are doing, when they are doing what is very normal to them. I love feeling the cobblestones of an ancient road or seeing the way the flowers grow in another climate. I love understanding the scale of things, and I get caught up in the romance of imagining who stood there before me.
Things go wrong at home or away from home. Things can be remarkable at home or away from home. I don't think they are competing- the desire to be home vs the desire to travel. For me, they enhance each other.

But I am lucky. I have a husband who loves to plan trips and I love to go along.

Ann Althouse said...

"One problem very smart people have is the tendency to over analyze things."

Well, yeah, that's why Pico Iyer is a travel writer and not your average person who'd answer the question substantially the same way by saying "Travel is broadening, you know, it's just broadening, you know what I mean?"

MayBee said...

Oh, I hate travel-lovers who look down on non-travelers. As an expat, I see it a lot. Life isn't a competition and you don't get points for traveling or not. Just do what you want to do and be happy. No need to convince other people they are wrong, or judge them for their choice. Why worry so much about a completely personal preference?

Ann Althouse said...

"A good year ahead, if you are thinking about the Grand Canyon, and not just at the Canyon, but also at the next stop out. Trust me on this. I hate planning adventures even worse than AA, but that is one experience I do not neeed to repeat in order to learn my lesson!"

This underscores another problem: All those other people. If it's one of the big sights, you're not going to have a peak aesthetic experience.

That's why it might be better to take a walk in the woods or see a local waterfall. Contemplate it in peace.

What's the point if there are a thousand other people milling around?! They'll be talking too, but they won't be saying anything interesting. They'll be declaring it "gorgeous" or "so huge" or whatever.

Important questions they may be asking:

1. Does it look different from the photographs?

2. Does it make me feel small in relation to the size of the universe?

3. How can anyone look at this and think there is no God?

4. Where's the snack bar/bathroom?

Ruth Anne Adams said...

One benefit of our travel while our kids are young is we get the us-against-the-world feeling. We're venturing out--together--into the unfamiliar. Whether it's a Conestoga wagon or a Sienna mini-van, it's the togetherness I enjoy. We're creating a shared memory that's different from our everyday lives. If it's at all like my childhood, it will become the basis for stories we tell at gatherings 20 or 30 years hence.

El Pollo Raylan said...

This underscores another problem: All those other people. If it's one of the big sights, you're not going to have a peak aesthetic experience.

It's almost always possible to look a little harder. I'm thinking of a time in Venice when my girlfriend and I left the beaten path of the Canal Grande and found a remarkable little hidden gem of a canal for lunch with no else in sight. It still had all the charm of Venice: the water...the buildings, the doorways with steps down to the canal, bridges, and even the smell. It's hard to replicate all the sensory feelings in a film or photo.

Ann Althouse said...

"Why worry so much about a completely personal preference?"

It's not merely personal. There are political, ethical, and environmental issues.

But in any case, I'm examining the philosophy of travel, which is a personal preference of mine. Why do you call it "worry"?

I think "worrying" is an interesting issue. How would you define it? What's the difference between philosophy and worrying? What if I'm worrying about finding the line between philosophy and worrying? What if my personal preference is to travel over to the philosophy side of the line?

cubanbob said...

Well, yeah, that's why Pico Iyer is a travel writer and not your average person who'd answer the question substantially the same way by saying "Travel is broadening, you know, it's just broadening, you know what I mean?"

Yeah the guy writes about traveling for a living. Some people write about sky-diving or bungee jumping for a living. Not for me but then again to each is own. Whether or not traveling is broadening depends on the individual. For some yes,for others, not. Average people are just that-average. They have their own reasons to travel and don't need to justify them to others. Should traveling be limited to intellectuals and business people and government functionaries?

mrs. e said...

"This underscores another problem: All those other people. If it's one of the big sights, you're not going to have a peak aesthetic experience."

It's not a problem for all of us. Sometimes crowds are part of the experience, sometimes it's solitude. Either can be welcome or unwelcome and I've learned I can take something from either. The people watching and unintentional ease-dropping can be genuinely interesting and entertaining.

Alex said...

I guess it depends on where you grew up. If you grew up in bumfuck, KS you will have a huge itch to explore the world. If you grew up in a more scenic area like Seattle, maybe less.

Alex said...

Also remember that travel for young people is far easier than travel for middle aged and older. Especially when it comes to health issues and bladder.

vza said...

"So I think the total aesthetic good is higher when you do not travel. (Partly because I arranged my life to have a home in a beautiful place.)"

I agree with C S Stanley. Change the YOU to I.

I sense a hint of defensiveness in all of your posts on this topic.

"What's the point if there are a thousand other people milling around?! They'll be talking too, but they won't be saying anything interesting. They'll be declaring it "gorgeous" or "so huge" or whatever."

Whoah! A bit of sneer here!

"Important questions they may be asking:

1. Does it look different from the photographs?

2. Does it make me feel small in relation to the size of the universe?

3. How can anyone look at this and think there is no God?

4. Where's the snack bar/bathroom?"

Yeah, those uninteresting questions of the plebeian hordes can sure lower the aesthetics of an experience!

John Constantius said...

I think you need to fix a few of your sentences, Ann:

"So I think the total aesthetic good is higher when *I* do not travel."

"(Partly because I arranged my life to have a home in *what I consider* a beautiful place.)"

"This underscores another problem: All those other people. If it's one of the big sights, *I'm* not going to have a peak aesthetic experience."

"That's why it might be better *for me* to take a walk in the woods or see a local waterfall."

"What's the point if there are a thousand other people milling around?! They'll be talking too, but they won't be saying anything *I find* interesting."

As for your many suggestions around reading in lieu of travel: I am reminded of a New Yorker cartoon showing a bunch of boys splashing around and having fun in a swimming hole, while on the bank a boy in glasses is reading a book called "The Joy of Swimming." To each their own.

Other people's utility curves aren't wrong, Ann. They're just different.

John Constantius said...

And there's no way you need to plan a year ahead if you want to visit the Grand Canyon.

Michael said...

I travel a great deal for business but when overseas I make a point to arrive a day early and to arrange some uncommitted time during the work days to lurk around. I am drawn to Central America and Japan and I love the contrast of cultures at both the high and low end of the economic spectrums in both places and within the places themselves. How else can you know the smell and feel of the town that, say, is described in Under the Volcano unless you have been to it or to a similar place in the region? What does it mean to stare at a picture of the American southwest versus standing in the same place and smelling it, feeling the hot furnace of the place or read of the Scottish highlands without having seen and felt a bit of heather? You cannot get out of books what books offer if you have no feel for the places in those books and the only way to get that feel is to travel unless, of course, you are content to read content focused on your own locale. Read Murakami and you will be transfixed. Read him after having spent time in Tokyo jazz bars and you will be transported.


Christy said...

I'm an extrovert. I love being in a new place with new people. Fellow travelers are generally open and friendly -- wonderful companions for exploring new areas. Equally joyous is traveling with a group of already close friends. Separated from quotidian concerns we are open to each other in new ways and relationships become more interestingly faceted.

Paintings and sculpture are great, but oddly I remember with more pleasure the kids sailing wooden boats in a fountain next to the Louvre, kids splashing in the terraced fountains fronting the Philly Museum of Art....

I loved my trip to the grand canyon, but had more fun exploring the Anasazi ruins in the region.

People. People make traveling fun.

Lem said...

The trip that never ends is home.

Brian said...

While I reject the notion that there needs to be a "philosophy of travel", I will nonetheless attempt to articulate one as a mental exercise. It hinges on the interaction between the traveler and the destination, where "destination" is a catchall including the people, institutions, wildlife, etc that can be found in the place the traveler is going.

With regard to any place, there is a set of facts that you cannot really know without having traveled there. That set can be headlined "How would my destination react to my presence?"

On the other side of the coin, there is a set of facts about yourself that you cannot know without traveling to a place: "How would I react to being at my destination?"

Most of what Althouse terms the "psychology of travel" can be laid in this latter set, and indeed this is where we can place Iyer's text. He's interested in what happens to his mind when he's in a Buddhist temple in Tibet or whatever, and there's no way to know this information without going to said temple. So, off he goes.

The rejoinder to this philosophy is obvious: sure, you can't *know* how you'd feel in every specific destination you could imagine. But you ought to be able to get close to knowing; that is, if you are a smart and perceptive person you should probably not need to walk through the gates of Auschwitz to have a pretty good idea of how it would feel to walk through the gates of Auschwitz.

The increment of knowledge between that "pretty good idea" and actually "knowing" is what you pay for (in units of time, hassle, unpleasantness, and of course money). To find a good value in travel, then, you need to choose destinations where the knowledge increment is expected to be relatively large and the cost relatively small.

Shouting Thomas said...

You're inexplicable when you get on subjects like this, Althouse.

When I was younger, I traveled in the hope that all hell would break loose all around me and that the women would be fierce and wild.

All hell did break loose and the women did turn out to be fierce and wild.

I'd still be doing that, but I'm an Old Dawg.

Your great hero, I might add, is an old fart songwriter who can't stop dragging himself from city to city around the globe in search of one more romance and another audience to applaud him.

Studying the paperclips in my office doesn't do it for me, Althouse.

Crunchy Frog said...

If it's good for your soul to help the poor physically, why don't you do it as near to your home as you find poverty?

We do. There are those in our congregation (not me - single dad duties preclude it) that get up at 4:00 to serve breakfast at the Union Rescue Mission in downtown LA. There are also plenty of things we do more locally in Santa Clarita.

What is the significance of "proving you care"? Is it for yourself, for God to see, or for the people served? If it's for the people you go to see, are they really uplifted by witnessing your caring or is that something that happens in your mind?

Any good works that I may perform have zero effect on my salvation. There is absolutely nothing I can do to buy my way into heaven. That is a completely undeserved gift that God has granted me with.

1 John says "We love because he first loved us." It is our responsibility to take the love that we have been shown and spread it in the world to others so that they might experience it. The side benefit is that in doing so, we get to feel closer to God in the process - not in a "see how good I am" kind of way (because nobody can ever bee good enough) but that we get joy in the opportunity to make a difference in people's lives.

Carol said...

I think Ann enjoys travel as much as anyone, but can't justify it using popular moral criteria.

MayBee said...

Please note that I did not say Althouse, specifically, was worrying about others' travel. I said it is a trait I see frequently in the traveler and non-traveler, alike.

Now, do I think writing several posts trying to convince others not to travel for various reasons--it may be uncomfortable, it may not meet some aesthetic standards, it may involve too many people saying uninteresting things, it might not be peaceful, it might involve dining out-- seems overly concerned with their choices? Yeah .
I certainly don't think travel generally falls under the category of public concerns to the extent all travel is political or is of environmental import. Sure, some people are hypocrites in their personal behavior when it comes to travel and the environment, but that is on them, not on all travelers.

There needn't be, and isn't, a philosophy of travel any more than there is one philosophy of not traveling. Some people aren't interested, some are afraid, some are comfortable where thy are, some feel a superiority in. not needing to go anywhere else because they have the best situation in their mind. All very different thinkers.

It seems to me akin to being in love with one person, and trying to convince someone who is in love with another that your lover is much more worthy of love. They aren't going to agree. People just feel differently. It isn't always explicable, but there is value to understanding that neither choice is superior.

Anglelyne said...

AA: But in any case, I'm examining the philosophy of travel...

How many people who like to travel have any "philosophy of travel"? They have the ramblin' urge, and there's on end on't. Spare me the company of a SWPL douchebag who moralizes about travel, or has a "philosophy" thereof.

I don't go anywhere I don't want to go, I don't give a damn about "bucket lists" or "must sees", though many of the things I want to see are those things for other people. I am content to be a rube tourist if the tour is taking me where I want to go.

I travel because it is fun. I get all excited about it like a little kid. I get childish delight out of making myself understood in languages I don't know, with nothing but some rudimentary Pimsleur and a phrase book. I enjoy letting my repressed unreconstructed adolescent romantic out to thrill to the sight of some common water and dirt or stone, just because they mark the site where Lepanto was fought, or Captain Cook slain, or Mehmet invoked Hector, or Low Dog said "it is a good day to die".

Among many other pleasures of travel.

Damned if I'm going to pay any attention to jet-setting hypocrites moralizing about my occasional, much planned for and long-anticipated jaunts across oceans. Or to shriveled rationalists wagging their fingers about the pointlessness of seeing anything for oneelf.

If home is just like any other place in what can be done or experienced there, then any other place is as good as home. I love to travel and I love to come home. All places may be far from heaven alike, but home and "out there" are not the same place.

Michael said...

Professor: I have gathered from other posts that you are uncomfortable with flying and I wonder if that does not greatly influence your thinking on travel in general. I flew hundreds of thousands of miles with clinched jaw and white knuckles. I mean a lot of miles where every engine sound, every bump was an omen. And then one day I was no longer afraid. I was told to sit by the window versus my businessman's aisle. And it worked.

Sam L. said...

Travel: if you want to do it, and can afford it, do it. It needs no other justification. Same for not traveling.

My take, Carol; I have the impression you'd agree.

SukieTawdry said...

It's pretty simple, I guess. I travel because there is much to see in this world and I want to see as much of it as possible. I travel because I like to experience new places, new cultures, new customs, new people, new food. Because I love architecture be it new, old or in ruins. Because I love the treasure troves in world class museums and the chance to see in person works of art I've loved from afar all my life. Because I'm a photo-hobbyist and travel photography is my favorite genre.

I don't dwell much on it, I guess; I usually just start planning the next trip.

Ann Althouse said...

"I have gathered from other posts that you are uncomfortable with flying..."

I don't have a private jet, so it's hard to have a general opinion, but of course, I feel dehumanized by the commercial airline process. Who doesn't? It's only a question of how much you allow that to be a barrier to things you otherwise want to do.

That's why stuff like this is inadequate to me: "Travel: if you want to do it, and can afford it, do it. It needs no other justification."

One wants some of it, but there's a balance of good and bad. I'm inviting people to become more thoughtful about assigning the weights on both sides of the balance.

I hear some of you saying: I don't want to think too much about whether I really want what I think I want.

How much are your ideas influenced by why you think you should want, what you think others want, etc.?

These are interesting questions for me. Of course, you can get along in life without thinking deeply about things. That too is a preference. If you don't want to think about this, don't read this.

It's ironic that the people who are trying to tell me not to do the thing I want to do — philosophize about travel — are insisting that it's all about what one wants to do!

John Constantius said...

I strongly doubt that Ann enjoys travel as much as anyone based on her posts. She's a homebody who likes to stay in Madison and finds everything she needs there, which of course is a perfectly fine choice and one many other people make about [insert home town/city].

The notion that travel needs to be morally justified is utter balderdash. Justify to who? For what?

John Constantius said...

Ann, people aren't telling you not to philosophize about travel. I love to think about the reasons I like to travel and hear the reasons other people do (or do not). What people are asking is that you not take your own personal philosophy of travel and use it to make sweeping statements about what other people should think.

Foobarista said...

I'll admit that it never occurred to me to _not_ travel. I grew up in a neighborhood where everyone was from Somewhere Else, and often went back to the Old Country (Vietnam, China, Phillipines, India, Korea, etc). Even American-born residents were typically from another state.

Even though we do lots of local stuff (including weekend trips to Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, Crater Lake, etc), we travel at least a couple times per year. Some of them are to visit the in-laws in Shanghai, along with other small trips around China or East Asia (we'll go to Angkor Wat next Spring). Other trips are to various "big-nature" places like Yellowstone, the Canadian Rockies, Hawaii (for volcano adventures, with only a couple beach days), as well as interesting historical places.

At some point, we'll go to Europe, but for now, I've pretty much focused on Asia, with some trips to Canada and South America.

I guess I'm just a typical tourist. I frankly don't care much about airport issues, since once you've lived in China, you're used to a certain level of inconvenience in travel.

The idea of _not_ traveling would be like not eating or breathing. For someone who grew up with Star Trek, LotR, Journey to the West, and other "big travel" tales, it just seemed that traveling, exploring, adventuring etc is what humans do.

MayBee said...

These are interesting questions for me. Of course, you can get along in life without thinking deeply about things. That too is a preference. If you don't want to think about this, don't read this.

It's ironic that the people who are trying to tell me not to do the thing I want to do — philosophize about travel — are insisting that it's all about what one wants to do!


Of course, people can think deeply about things and disagree with the conclusions another deep thinker has come to. Especially when the latter deep thinker seems to not understand how the first deep thinker actually thinks (and feels).

Are people telling you you can't philosophize about travel? It seems to me some people (me) are just disagreeing with your thoughts so far as they apply to their own (my own) thoughts and experiences . I agree with what John Constantius wrote.

We are all reading this and responding because its obviously something people involved in the conversattion think about. I don't believe you mean to say if we don't agree we shouldn't read or respond.

Mark Trade said...

Reading about the philosophy and psychology of travel sounds like a contortionist exercise. My general approach is, if you wanted to know about travel, you should do it.

It doesn't require leaving your city. Pick a spot you'd normally drive to and walk/run there. It changes your view of the place and of yourself. Maybe it's 30 miles away. Okay, so get up early.

Eventually you'll get tired and need to stop places for water or food, places you'd just as soon drive past. You'll see faces you don't normally see and people might even look at you differently from how you're used to being looked at. They might even see you as a traveller, someone on a journey, and they'd be right, and not in the metaphorical sense. A 30-mile walk or run is travelling no matter where one does it.

One common element in all my travels is that I want to experience things for myself. I can be told many things about a place good and bad, but I won't feel like I have my own thoughts and opinions about that place until I'll been there and explored it.

It reminds me of the reason why Christopher Htichens said he became a journalist. He had to be his own journalist because he was unsatisfied with others doing it for him. He is also describe as a "travel writer."

Anglelyne said...

AA: These are interesting questions for me. Of course, you can get along in life without thinking deeply about things.

In what way does this "philosophy of travel" rise to the level of "thinking deeply about things"? What have you said here about travel that doesn't belong in the Dictionary of Received Ideas, right alongside "it broadens the mind"?

I hear some of you saying: I don't want to think too much about whether I really want what I think I want.

Then you're projecting, not listening.

92b4e9f6-0e80-11e3-a4a5-000bcdca4d7a said...

There is a great book out also by Denis Hickey that deals with a lot of these questions as he just drops his whole life for a year and travels. It's a great story,http://www.breakingfree-thebooks.com/. I recommend his books if you really like this type!

Henry said...

Here is the same old answer to the Althouse question, this time from Macaulay's history of England:

"Of all inventions, the alphabet and the printing press alone excepted, those inventions which abridge distance have done most for the civilisation of our species. Every improvement of the means of locomotion benefits mankind morally and intellectually as well as materially, and not only facilitates the interchange of the various productions of nature and art, but tends to remove national and provincial antipathies, and to bind together all the branches of the great human family. In the seventeenth century the inhabitants of London were, for almost every practical purpose, farther from Reading than they now are from Edinburgh, and farther from Edinburgh than they now are from Vienna."