Book of the Week

Book of the Week: Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel

A writer on philosophy, architecture, and other contemporary themes considers travel

By Tiffany Lambert, Designers & Books October 30, 2013

Cover of The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton, 2002, 2004 (Penguin/Vintage)


The Art of Travel

by Alain de Botton
2002, 2004, Penguin/Vintage
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“We are inundated with advice on where to travel to but we hear little of why and how we should go.”

“The pleasure we derive from journeys is perhaps dependent more on the mindset with which we travel than on the destination we travel to.”

“What we find exotic abroad may be what we hunger for in vain at home.”

Quotes can be found in the 2002 edition by Penguin Books on pages 9, 246, and 78, respectively. 


A broad range of travel literature has existed for centuries—from the ancient Greeks to the Bible to more contemporary nomads—even if it wasn’t always recognized as a genre in its own right. Christopher Columbus kept a journal to document his search for the new world. Mark Twain used humor and satire in his travel book The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims’ Progress. While the many works in this camp vary widely in scope and intent, travel writing can sometimes romanticize the places our pilgrimages, voyages, or journeys take us, both near and far.

This image of clouds from de Botton’s plane window could be a metaphor for the larger book: travel from the author’s perspective. Photo: courtesy of Penguin Books 

Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel, however, concerns itself more with the psychology of travel than any one place. As Designers & Books contributor Karim Rashid, who put The Art of Travel on his book list, describes it, the book is something of a “socio-dissection.” De Botton’s ruminations on how we move about the world reveal a surprising personal insight that no matter where you go, it's difficult not to bring yourself. Through a number of essays, de Botton uses passages and artworks from historical figures (including Flaubert, Baudelaire, Van Gogh, Ruskin, and others) and interjects his own experiences, guiding us through his considered analysis. With a thoughtful and readable approach, the author's musings suggest that we really travel, perhaps, to discover ourselves.

In chapter two, “On Traveling Places”, de Botton admires the vast and complicated “species of aeroplane” and the psychological pleasure gained from new vantage points. Photo: courtesy of Penguin Books

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