“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 Travel” Alain 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?
- Book Review: The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton (secondphaseofmylife.wordpress.com)