On Travelling


At the end of hours of train-dreaming, we may feel we have been returned to ourselves—that is, brought back into contact with emotions and ideas of importance to us. It is not necessarily at home that we best encounter our true selves. The furniture insists that we cannot change because it does not; the domestic setting keeps us tethered to the person we are in ordinary life, but who may not be who we essentially are. —Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel


Yes, my consuming desire to mingle with road crews, sailors and soldiers, bar room regulars—to be a part of a scene, anonymous, listening, recording—all is spoiled by the fact that I am a girl, a female always in danger of assault and battery. My consuming interest in men and their lives is often misconstrued as a desire to seduce them, or as an invitation to intimacy. Yet, God, I want to talk to everybody I can as deeply as I can. I want to be able to sleep in an open field, to travel west, to walk freely at night. —Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath


Julius [the protagonist of Teju Cole’s Open City] is what Baudelaire might have called a flâneur: a footloose, casual pilgrim in constant motion, stopping to loiter over an interesting sight, peering in windows and discreetly eavesdropping on conversations, contained in his own solitude and yet eagerly attentive to his human and physical surroundings. —A.O. Scott, Better Living Through Criticism


Probably the most valuable lesson I’ve learned after these years of travel is how to bear being lonely. There is nothing that has quite the dull thud of being by yourself in a place you don’t know, surrounded by people you don’t recognize and to whom you mean nothing. But that’s what being a writer requires. Writing is a wonderful life—a marvelous life, in fact—but it is also the life of a vapor, of floating in unseen, filling a space, and then vanishing. There are times when I’m traveling, when I’m far from home, that I am so forlorn that I can’t remember why I chose this particular profession. I yearn to be home so fiercely that I feel as though my heart will pop out of my chest. And then I step out and see the world spread out around me. I know where I’m heading: I am heading home. But on the way there, I see so many corners to round and doors to open, so many encounters to chance upon, so many tiny moments to stumble into that tell huge stories, that I remember exactly why I took this particular path. The journey begins again; the story starts over; I gather myself and go out to see what I can see and tell it as best I can, and the beckoning of home is always, forever, there, just over the next horizon. —Susan Orlean, My Kind of Place


I have come to the conclusion that he who does not encounter the whole universe in the streets of his city will not encounter an original street in any of the cities of the whole world. He won’t encounter them because those who are blind in Buenos Aires are blind in Madrid, or in Calcutta… —Robert Arlt, “The Pleasure of Vagabonding”


There is a lovely phrase from Nietzsche that says the goal of life is to become who you really are. I think he means we should explore all our possibilities, and there are bits of us, waiting to be discovered, lodged in faraway places. So one can see the impulse to travel as a desire to complete ourselves. —Alain de Botton [#]


And this is what I learned, that the world's otherness is antidote to confusion, that standing within this otherness—the beauty and the mystery of the world, out in the fields or deep inside books—can re-dignify the worst-stung heart. —Mary Oliver, “Upstream”


Travel is not reward for working. It’s education for living. —Unknown


In Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, places are folded inside other places. Cities are not only what they appear to be, but also what they are subjected to: memory, history, desire, forgetfulness, dreams. The buildings, storehouses of emotion, are far more than mere edifices; they are the visible structures of the human condition. In Israel and Palestine, I thought often of Calvino’s seen and unseen places, where the horizontal and vertical axes of history and place bend into the space-time of memory and desire. Of cities, Calvino writes, “Everything imaginable can be dreamed, but even the most unexpected dream is a rebus that conceals a desire or, its reverse, a fear.” —Madeleine Thien [#]


It is a curious emotion, this certain homesickness I have in mind. With Americans, it is a national trait, as native to us as the rollercoaster of the jukebox. It is no simple longing for the hometown or country of our birth. The emotion is Janus-faced: we are torn between a nostalgia for the familiar and an urge for the foreign and strange. As often as not, we are homesick most for the places we have never known. —Carson McCullers, “Look Homeward, Americans”


Chatwin also possessed another quality that all great travelers have: the ability to remain completely who he was even as he proved himself ceaselessly malleable. Writers who deliberately seek out the company of those foreign to them need to be armed with an unshakable sense of self-possession and a certain sense of arrogance; you need to be able to walk into a place (be it a city or a souk or a tundra) without wondering whether who you are is actually where you’re from, because you already know that where you’re from doesn’t matter. This kind of writer is certain that his identity has resulted not from where he was raised, but in spite of it. —Hanya Yanagihara [#]


Travel is at its most rewarding when it ceases to be about your reaching a destination and becomes indistinguishable from living your life. —Paul Theroux, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star


Travel is at its best a solitary enterprise: to see, to examine, to assess, you have to be alone and unencumbered. Other people can mislead you; they crowd your meandering impressions with their own; if they are companionable they obstruct your view, and if they are boring they corrupt the silence with non sequiturs, shattering your concentration with “Oh, look, it’s raining” and “You see a lot of trees here.”
It is hard to see clearly or to think straight in the company of other people. What is requires is the lucidity of loneliness to capture that vision which, however banal, seems in your private mood to be special and worthy of interest. Paul Theroux, The Old Patagonian Express