From Brochure to Beach: Anticipation in “The Art of Travel”

“If our lives are dominated by a search for happiness, then perhaps few activities reveal as much about the dynamics of this quest – in all its ardour and paradoxes – than our travels. They express, however inarticulately, an understanding of what life might be about outside of the constraints of work and of the struggle for survival” – Alain de Botton

In his best-selling book “The Art of TravelAlain de Botton begins with a chapter on  “Anticipation”. He tells of being in cold, dreary, England in the winter and receiving a brochure advertising an alluring picture of a beach; a resort with sunshine and cloudless sky. Palm trees beckon from the picture and he is caught up in the enticement. He promptly decides to go. From there with a true writer’s skill he crafts an image of everything it takes to get him from where he is to the inside of the brochure.

What is the image between brochures, skillfully created by marketers and actual arrival? It usually includes extra time at work in order to make sure we can take vacation, difficulty getting reservations, crowds at the airport, difficulty securing a cab on arrival, figuring out a budget and more. It’s the total opposite of the brochure. But it’s an important piece of the in between; all that happens between deciding to go on a trip and actually getting there.

His point? Anticipation never includes the mundane that is a part of wherever we travel. If it was, where would be the allure?

When we travel, we don’t anticipate “same”, we anticipate “different”, “exotic”, “unusual”.  In his case his anticipation of the island of Barbados did not include waiting for his luggage in a crowded airport; seeing a large, ugly factory building on the way to the hotel; streets crowded with people who were nowhere to be seen in the advertisement. All he anticipated was the actual picture on the brochure, not everything that comes along with it. He goes on to tell of people who like the anticipation stage so much that they never actually go on the trip.

I remember preparing to go to Cairo a couple of years ago; my husband had gone on ahead and I was still in gloomy snow and the stress of single parenting. Along with that I was trying to make sure every detail was arranged before leaving. The anticipation of Cairo and thought of waking up in the warmth and sunshine kept me hanging on until the morning I was to leave. It was then that I burst into tears and promptly did what you are never supposed to do in a marriage: I wrote an email saying that I didn’t even want to go anymore; that it had been too much work; that it wasn’t even going to be fun after all it had taken me to prepare; and on and on and on I went, not willing to connect my brain to my keyboard.

As I got out of the taxi and stepped onto the courtyard of the beautiful Marriott Hotel in Zamalek, Cairo, all of that faded – it no longer mattered. What mattered is all that transpired was behind me and my ten days of Annie and Cairo were in front of me. I was in my brochure.

For me the anticipation stage is that critical piece of this thing we call travel. Nightly we look at those we love and say “In just 2 weeks, we’ll be at the beach!” “In just 12 days, we’ll be in Cairo!” “In just…..” and on it goes. The anticipation of the trip is what gets us through the gruel to the other side.

What do you think? Would travel be as meaningful without the anticipation process? 

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Third Culture Kid - Grew up in Pakistan, lived and worked in Pakistan and Egypt as an adult. Moved to the United States and learning to live away from curry, Urdu, Arabic and the Pyramids.

9 thoughts on “From Brochure to Beach: Anticipation in “The Art of Travel”

  1. Anticipation is essential. I learn about the history, the geography, the people, and the possible ways to spend our time. I like to work through each day to try to “see” what mundane problems we might encounter — How might rush hour affect our drive to a restaurant? What are the directions from our hotel to our daughter’s apartment and might they truly be the five minutes GoogleMaps predicts? When will two nights and a full day in a fancier hotel be important? Recently, a hiking day was snowed out, but we were in a delightful, quiet resort in the off-season and were able to enjoy a peaceful day of reading by the fire. I would spend much more of a vacation being frustrated in the moment and worrying about the next day if I weren’t able to research and think through my expectations.

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    1. Yes to all those things! That’s why I actually found his chapter on anticipation so interesting! For me, the mundane in Cairo is so much what I miss. I don’t like feeling like a tourist and when you have the mundane – you don’t feel like a tourist! When we were in London last year I purposely rented a flat in Kensington – (cheaper than a hotel!) Renting the flat made me feel a part of the landscape. Your hiking day turned sit by the fire sounds delightful.

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  2. My anticipation began a few weeks ago when we accepted an invitation to a conference in North Georgia. Getting it all together has been hectic at times. I’m still checking off the list! We’re off tomorrow by road and very much looking forward to the weekend. Just got THE HUNGER GAMES, downloaded on Kindle. I think anticipation never ends, because now I anticipate the trip, the book, the conference, the new friends we’ll make, etc. etc. I don’t want to lose my sense of anticipation. It’s the Adrenelin that pushes us along. Thanks Marilyn.

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    1. So agree Jessica. I actually can’t imagine travel without this aspect. One of the illustrations he gives is so interesting as it’s about this really rich man that made plans to go to London and once he got to the station to take the train he wandered into a book store and looked at pictures of London, then went to a British pub at the station etc. finally deciding he had already seen London and went back home, never getting there….interesting thought but I could never do it.

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  3. “Anticipation” I think is a fundamental longing for any MK or TCK that enables us to be semi-content and appear normal and grounded in our own realities………..thanks for sharing this Marilyn.

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    1. I never thought of it in that way Al – but I think that’s so true. It’s part of the whole wistfulness and “Saudade” of the TCK piece. I think you’d like his book! He’s got these funny and astute observations about travel and airports.

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