The lost art of travel

by Antonia Case on January 21, 2014

We’re in perpetual motion; we can go anywhere, at any time, and the momentum builds. Before long, we’re planning another trip abroad, or we’re packing our bags to go some place else. Somehow we must escape the commonplaceness of our daily lives.

Until the present century, travelling was expensive and typically uncomfortable. Most people did not travel for fun, but with purpose; aristocrats embarked on arduous journeys to survey farming lands, discover new plants or inspect architectural models. Travelling, like the French word ‘travail’ was hard work, but deeply valuable.

“Great stirrings of the mind have frequently followed great ages of travel,” writes Daniel J. Boorstin in The Image. “The travels of the seventeenth century around Europe, to America, and to the Orient helped awaken men to ways of life different from their own and led to the Enlightenment…Travel has been the universal catalyst. It has made men think faster, imagine larger, want more passionately. The returning traveller brings home disturbing ideas.”

Sourced online, these are a compilation of notes from today’s travellers:

“We enjoyed the convenience of the parking.”

“Mattress and pillow were comfortable. Towels soft and clean.”

“TV was in the most illogical location possible. Couldn’t see it from the bed.”

“Rooms were clean and well maintained but a little uninspiring!”

At the end of World War II, Conrad Hilton founded Hilton Hotels. “Each of our hotels,” he explained, “is a ‘little America.’” Before long, Hilton hotels were a global phenomenon. “If we were to set our hotels a day’s journey apart, we’d be around the world in no time,” Conrad explained. “So perfectly sound business is in line with national idealism,” he concluded. From that day, the US citizen could travel almost like they’d never left.

Today, there are few travellers, but many tourists. Foreign travel has ceased to be an activity – an experience, an undertaking – and instead has become a commodity, Boorstin writes.

We now engage in sight seeing, shopping and packaged tours – which involves payment to a company or person to make nice things happen to us.  And when they don’t we are disappointed that the pleasure was interrupted:

“My only minor criticism was that at times the concierge came across as a little stand-offish.”

We are a spectator, and nothing more, peering out from our picture window at the natives, insulated from the landscape; insulated from the noise, the smells, the people; insulated from thinking about anything other than the convenience of the parking, the comfort of the pillows and the positioning of the television set.

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