When someone says travel guide, most people will think of Lonely Planet, National Geographic, or other well known travel guides. Alain de Botton’s “The Art of Travel” is an utterly different approach to structure and present a guide for travelers. Summarized in a single sentence, The Art of Travel is to travel writing what Sophie’s World is to philosophy.
Rather than focussing on a specific destination, de Botton structures his book around the more basic aspects of travel that tend to get ignored, overlooked or just de-prioritized in your perception – the departure, motives, landscape and art that travelers encounter, the return. Each aspect is illustrated using the author’s personal experience on his own travels as well as making use of recognized artists, writers, philosophers or scientists whose works and views De Botton cleverly integrates to make his point and open your perception about things you might otherwise overlook lightly in your own travel. My personal favorite was De Botton’s use of Edward Hopper’s work to introduce the reader to the visual poetry of travel – or rather those moments in transit, at typical transit locations: airports, hotels, gas stations. Edward Hopper is the master of painted urban poetry who understands perfectly how to portray the beauty of the mundane, lonely places of travel and urbanity. De Botton is a master of helping you make use of Hopper’s perception of urban beauty and open your eyes on your own travels.
Throughout the book, the writing is very light and uplifting. The reader is carried through the book through small episodes and every point is well put without keeping it alive artificially. As such, the book is entertaining and informative at the same time at any point.
I can highly recommend this book to everyone who has become the indifferent traveler that needs to recalibrate their senses. Also, if you’re into photography, this book may give you new ways to look at travel with your camera.