You’re travelling way too much: A footnote to R.W. Emerson’s “Self-Reliance”

 Oftentimes, I catch myself appraising the merits and demerits of travelling, specifically for leisure. Usually the demerits win out. This sort of dilemma strikes me first during the prepping stage. Sloth accompanied by most of the seven deadly sins get the better of me when it comes to dealing with paperwork that is essential for travelling. It strikes again when my bags are packed and I’m just about ready to go… with my irritation continuing to build up at different points even during the travel.
Forgive me, I don’t get the brouhaha over travelling… without a definite purpose.
Like every millennial in this brave, new millennium I have, for a long time, faithfully maintained some of the following refrains when I have thought about travelling: it broadens our mindwe must travel for adventureto make memoriesto become more sensitive… and smart and confident
Yeah, okay.
But all of the above and much, much more can be attained more cheaply and fulfillingly just by opening a “good” book, watching a movie, engaging with the arts, having deep, engaging conversations, helping others, immersing ourselves in work, taking long walks by the sea or just by letting the silence and stillness of the quiet hours of the day wash over us.
Moonlight still
Still from Moonlight (2016)
When recently I was reading through the essay Self-reliance penned by father of Transcendentalism Ralph Waldo Emerson, for a completely different reason (take hints from the title of the essay), some illuminating parts resonated with me quite powerfully, such as this:
It is for want of self-culture that the superstition of Travelling, whose idols are Italy, England, Egypt, retains its fascination for all educated Americans. They who made England, Italy, or Greece venerable in the imagination did so by sticking fast where they were, like an axis of the earth. In manly hours, we feel that duty is our place. The soul is no traveller; the wise man stays at home, and when his necessities, his duties, on any occasion call him from his house, or into foreign lands, he is at home still, and shall make men sensible by the expression of his countenance, that he goes the missionary of wisdom and virtue, and visits cities and men like a sovereign, and not like an interloper or a valet.

 

RW Emerson
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1802-1882)
“The soul is no traveller…” is a sentiment that is echoed even by the world-renowned travel writer Pico Iyer in this riveting TED talk .  Travelling in olden days used to carried out with a purpose — trading, pilgrimage and such. And explorers would have to undergo tremendous hardships to reach any place offshores. Since tourists have replaced explorers much commodification of travelling has come to pass, which has alienated us from the real experience. Scrambling for three, four or six cities in ten days can only leave us with an antiseptic experience of any country, people and their culture. Besides, we can hardly afford to ignore anymore that tourism massively enlarges our carbon footprint. In order to feed our curiosity we shouldn’t contribute to environmental degradation. Emerson would have told you that travelling to travel is a trait of a wandering, restless mind:
 
But the rage of travelling is a symptom of a deeper unsoundness affecting the whole intellectual action. The intellect is vagabond, and our system of education fosters restlessness. Our minds travel when our bodies are forced to stay at home. We imitate; and what is imitation but the travelling of the mind? Our houses are built with foreign taste; our shelves are garnished with foreign ornaments; our opinions, our tastes, our faculties, lean, and follow the Past and the Distant. The soul created the arts wherever they have nourished. It was in his own mind that the artist sought his model.
 
Depending on how you look at it, travelling without a purpose can be a spectacularly decadent, wasteful and vacuous activity and a major contributor to the consumerist culture. Why don’t we instead invest little money and energy into the lives of people around us and in the places where we live? Tend to our gardens, build communities, clean our cities, educate people. Take vacations or study sabbaticals to create art, make films, publish research papers, learn a new skill or share our skills with others. Less glamour and more immersion for me, please. Any day.
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