Against the Cult of Travel

The cult of travel is a modern phenomenon. The internet, social media and technology have created an echo chamber where the world appears to be getting smaller every day. We are all fragile creatures who need reassurance that our lives matter by telling stories about how beautiful other people’s are. But what does it mean when we only focus on traveling abroad?

the art of travel” is a blog that discusses the “cult of travel.” The author argues against the idea that traveling is a good thing.

Vintage J.R.R. Tolkien sitting on ground against tree.

Travel is in the midst of a true love affair in modern society. It’s become a major principle in living a fulfilling, non-pedestrian existence, and a central feature of our zeitgeist. Everywhere you look, and no matter what your problem is, vacation is suggested as a solution.

Do you have no idea what you want to do after college? Take a year off and tour the world.

Have you lost the spark in your relationship? Take more vacations with your partner.

Are you restless and bored with life in general? Set off on an amazing journey across the world.

Travel is also positioned as a goal around which to construct the other aspects of one’s life, rather than as a cure-all for whatever ails us. It’s recommended that you avoid having children since they will obstruct your capacity to travel. Working for yourself and generating passive income will allow you to travel to exotic locations anytime you desire.

Travel has become a way to have an adventure, to demonstrate a kind of bravery — a cosmopolitan courage where one ventures into unfamiliar territory and undergoes a rite of passage to become an enlightened global citizen — in a relatively safe and prosperous time, in a society that lacks many built-in challenges and hardships.

As a result, travel is considered as a tool for personal growth as well as a nearly altruistic moral benefit.

In summary, as traditional religious sources of leadership and identity have faded, a “cult of travel” has emerged to fill the void.

Is our confidence in travel, however, justified? Or have we burdened it with much more demands than it should be expected to bear?

There once lived a Hobbit Creator in an Oxford suburb.

If travel has become a religion, one of its holy books must definitely be J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Many people (including us!) have compared the narrative to how contemporary people should try to break free from the confines of a mundane, routine existence and go out and explore the world: Until he gets dragged along on an adventure by a band of dwarves, Bilbo lives a secure, happy, bourgeoisie life, nestled in his wood-paneled, fireplace-heated, well-stocked hobbit hole. He receives a call to greatness he didn’t know he had, exhibits bravery and leadership, broadens his vision, and returns to his suburban shire a transformed hobbit. The tale of the contemporary, domesticated, drone-turned-world-traveler, it seems, is being played out in the domain of imagination.

Many people may be persuaded to use the book as a source of travel inspiration. However, it had no effect on the conduct of one notable exception: the author himself.

Tolkien’s personal life was a calm, mundane, and unchanging household routine. He was a professor, husband, and parent who lived in a succession of modest, quite traditional suburban houses. Tolkien’s normal day consisted of taking his children to early morning Mass by bicycle (he didn’t possess a vehicle for much of his life), teaching at Oxford’s Pembroke College, returning home for lunch, tutoring students, having afternoon tea with his family, and puttering about the garden. In the evenings, he’d write, mark examinations from other colleges to supplement his income, or go to the Inklings, a literary group. He seldom traveled, practically never went overseas, and when he did, he brought his family to over-the-top, over-the-top tourist traps around the English coast.

 

Nothing important or particularly spectacular occurred to Tolkien between his service in WWI as a 20-year-old and the popularity of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in middle age, and even when his works became worldwide blockbusters, his lifestyle remained almost unchanged.

“In everything save size,” he conceded, “I am in reality a Hobbit”:

“I like gardens, trees, and unmechanized farmlands; I smoke a pipe and enjoy fine simple cuisine (unrefrigerated), but despise French cookery; I enjoy, and even dare to wear, attractive waistcoats on these gloomy days.” I like mushrooms (from a field); I have a very basic sense of humour (which even my most ardent detractors find irritating); and I go to bed and wake up late (when possible). I don’t travel a lot.”

One of the brief notes Tolkien gave his son in 1944 on the progress he was making on The Lord of the Rings captures beautifully the contrast between his creative work and his household routine: “I got an hour or two of writing done, and I’ve almost got Frodo to Mordor’s gates.” Mowing the grass in the afternoon. The new semester starts next week, and the proofs for the Wales papers have arrived. Still, I’m determined to keep ‘Ring’ running as long as I can.”

So, how can we interpret the fact that a guy who lived such a constrained, conventional existence simultaneously created works with epic, sweeping adventures and characters who leave behind their everyday comforts to go on tremendous, perilous, and hard quests?

Was Tolkien a liar and a hypocrite? Were his works only a type of wish-fulfillment, a way for him to live out in imagination what he was too afraid to do in real life?

Not if you understand what Tolkien was attempting to do with his novels and what he saw as the most significant kind of adventure.

A Hobbit Hole’s Secret Dimensions

Aside from his own background, Tolkien’s characterisation of hobbits was influenced by the general nature of his fellow people. “The Hobbits are merely rural English folk,” he told one interviewer, “rendered little in size because it symbolizes the typically short reach of their imagination — not the small reach of their bravery or latent might.”

Tolkien had experienced personally the perseverance of enlisted men in the battlefields of WWI, and he never questioned that his neighbors had great physical bravery. When they were challenged to rise to the challenge, they did so admirably and without hesitation.

Tolkien considered bravery to be one of the distinguishing attributes of hobbits. When his son Christopher was flying aircraft for the Royal Air Force during WWII, he urged him to “keep up your hobbitry in heart!” as he faced terrible danger and frightening foes.

No, Tolkien believed that what the ordinary hobbit, or Englishman, needed was a vibrant imagination — the willingness to explore new ideas and viewpoints, to leave the status quo behind and go on a voyage of faith, personal development, and moral challenge.

 

Nothing in this world, including its culture, knowledge, assumptions, and expectations, as well as its rocks, trees, and people, was fully as it looked to Tolkien. Other levels and dimensions existed beneath what poet P.B. Shelley referred to as “the curtain of familiarity.” While such worlds are typically invisible to the naked eye, they are felt via intense pains of desire for something more — the odd, brief sensation of being on the verge of something bigger.

Tolkien believed that not enough people had the creativity or bravery to go beyond the surface of things to examine this thought seriously. The ordinary dude was like Bilbo Baggins from The Hobbit, where you already know what he’d say on any topic without having to ask him. ” Most people are uninterested in penetrating the customary, comfortable, and acceptable conceptions of the way things are in order to uncover deeper realities.

Tolkien believed that all of life — whether in suburbia or on a real battlefield — is an epic, heroic conflict between good and evil, dark and light; that everyone’s actions, no matter how “insignificant,” count; and that each individual’s modest tale is part of a bigger, cosmic storyline. Everyone has a role to perform and a trip to make – a moral and spiritual one, not necessarily a physical one.

Tolkien also thought that one of the safest ways to begin such a trip was to study mythology. Fantastical explanations of who we are, how we got here, and what we’re capable of may be found in myths. Tolkien believed that such tales had echoes of Truth with a capital T – “a sudden vision of the underlying truth” that was truer than anything simply factual. In leaving from reality, a good myth paradoxically helps us find it, reminding us that heroic and legendary potential resides underlying the blandness and activity of our daily lives.

Tolkien wanted to create his own mythology for this purpose, and he succeeded in doing so in The Hobbit and other works. Bilbo embarks on a journey that goes far beyond the external landscapes and enemies described on the page; it is a pilgrimage through an epic mythological world in which he battles the forces of darkness, discovers his destiny, and undergoes a “rite of passage from wisdom to ignorance and from bourgeois vice to heroic virtue,” as the author of Bilbo’s Journey puts it.

By following Bilbo’s adventure vicariously and imaginatively, the reader finds himself on a round-trip voyage of his own. In his assessment of The Hobbit, Tolkien’s friend C.S. Lewis noted that the novel introduces the reader to a world that “becomes vital to him… You can’t predict it before you arrive, and you can’t forget it once you’re there.”

Both Lewis and Tolkien believed passionately in the ability of “fairy tales” to provide “sensations we never experienced before, and broaden our notion of the spectrum of conceivable experience,” as the later phrased it. The reader’s reaction to creative stories was described by Lewis as follows:

 

“Fairy land arouses a need for something he doesn’t know.” It stirs and bothers him (to his life’s richness) with a faint feeling of something beyond his grasp, and instead of dulling or emptying the real world, it gives it a new deep dimension. He doesn’t hate actual forests because he’s read about magical woods; in fact, reading about enchanted woods makes all real woods a bit enchanted.”

To put it another way, novels like The Hobbit are meant to restore the freshness of familiar settings right in front of our eyes, rather than to inspire excursions to far-flung locations. Once you’ve found this portal to other worlds, you’ll be able to view the world through a mythical lens, discovering secret dimensions even inside the confines of your hobbit hole. Your viewpoint is irrevocably altered after you’ve gone there and returned; you begin to see things for what they really are. Everything may become more important, even magical, from the scenery outside your flat to your journey to work.

Tolkien’s ability to cross this boundary anytime he pleased, despite his generally bourgeois lifestyle, marked him apart from other “hobbits.” It’s also why he’s completely ignorant to the appeal of physical travel. “His imagination did not need to be stirred by strange landscapes and cultures,” according to one of his biographers; the fact that he could just sit down at his desk and instantly begin exploring the topography of Middle-earth explains why he “did not totally care where he was.” Tolkien’s household routine, no matter how familiar, was always new to him.

Tolkien’s absorption in his imagination was a reacquaintance with reality, not an escape from it. He recognized how even the most commonplace life is filled with epic journeys, excruciating conflicts, and heroic choices between bravery and compassion, greed and selfishness, and he saw it more clearly than others. So, despite his life’s “limited” scope, one can’t help but believe it was much more vast than the lives of individuals who fill their Instagram feeds with photographs of their world excursions.

When it comes to life’s most significant adventures — spiritual quests, self-discovery, and self-mastery — Tolkien knew that geography is immaterial.

The best excursions don’t need the use of a passport.

Our exterior adventures, in fact, may obstruct our interior ones.

Many people who wander are really lost.

“Because I measure distance internally rather than outside.” There is ample room and setting for any biography inside the confines of a man’s ribs.” –Thoreau, Henry David

There’s nothing wrong with travel provided it’s given its right weight and devoid of unnecessary moral importance, superpowers, and inflated expectations.

The process of recalibrating such expectations starts with the realization that travel isn’t intrinsically worthwhile. The advantages it brings, like as the opportunity to broaden one’s horizons, mature, and learn to deal with uncertainty, are undeniably valuable, but they do not come with the simple act of traveling from point A to point B. If they had, the author of Eat, Pray, Love, who started her globe-trotting adventure flaky and egotistical, would have concluded the voyage a better person, but — spoiler warning – she seems no less self-absorbed at the conclusion.

 

Travel has value only for those who approach it with the correct mentality and a pre-existing sense of self-sufficiency – traits that may be cultivated anywhere and must be established before you begin.

Many individuals believe that traveling will help them change or discover themselves, but if you can’t become the person you want to be right now, you won’t be able to do so 5,000 miles away. Because, of course, you carry yourself with you everywhere you go. People who are dissatisfied with their life and seek satisfaction in exotic and historical locations are just carrying “ruins to ruins,” as Ralph Waldo Emerson phrased it.

“The superstition of travel, whose gods are Italy, England, and Egypt, maintains its allure for all educated Americans due to a lack of self-culture.” People who made England, Italy, or Greece venerable in the minds of others did so by staying put, like an axis of the planet. We believe that responsibility is our role at masculine hours. The soul is not a traveller; the wise man stays at home, and when his necessities, his duties, call him from his house or into foreign lands, he stays 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.

I have no churlish objection to a man circumnavigating the world for the sake of art, research, and kindness, so long as he is first domesticated, or does not travel abroad in the expectation of discovering anything better than what he already knows. He who travels to be entertained or to get what he does not have, travels away from himself, and becomes old amid old things, even in youth. His will and intellect have aged and deteriorated as they did in Thebes and Palmyra. He transports ruins from one location to another.

It is a fool’s paradise to travel. Our initial excursions teach us about places’ apathy. At home, I fantasize of becoming captivated by beauty and losing my misery in Naples or Rome. I pack my luggage, hug my friends, board the ship, and finally wake up in Naples, where the harsh reality, the unhappy self, unyielding, identical, that I escaped from, stands alongside me. I’m looking for the Vatican as well as the palaces. I give the impression of being drunk by images and ideas, but I am not. My colossus follows me everywhere I go.”

Or, as Seneca, the Stoic philosopher, put it two thousand years ago:

“[Travelers] take one voyage after another, changing sights every time.” ‘Thus each man flees himself,’ says Lucretius. But what good would it do him if he doesn’t manage to get away? As his most annoying buddy, he chases and dogs himself. As a result, we must recognize that our difficulties are due to our own faults, not the faults of the places.”

 

Those who go in quest of something they don’t have realize that whatever was holding them back at home is waiting for them when they arrive at the airport.

If someone believes they won’t be able to discover themselves or satisfaction until they take a certain journey, they may be starting off with the incorrect attitude — the one that says, “If I only had/did X, everything would change.” It’s the same thinking that makes you believe you’ll lose weight if you just find the appropriate diet; if you just get the right organizing software, you’ll get more done; and if you just obtain a higher paid job, you’ll be happy. In such circumstances, you’re not searching for a tool to help you get started on your objective, but rather a way to avoid having to work on it at all.

You won’t find long-term enjoyment traveling around Europe if you can’t find rewarding adventure in your own backyard. If you can’t cultivate a deep inner life in suburbia, you won’t be able to do it in India’s ashrams. A summer’s journey across the world won’t rescue you from a life of hollow boredom if you can’t find freshness in the familiar and satisfaction in the pursuits of self-mastery, spirituality, and morality.

Happiness, growth, and contentment may be found in almost any situation, or none at all.

A round trip ticket, and a round trip ticket, and a round trip ticket, and a round trip ticket, and a

Travel is often portrayed as a test of bravery and the pursuit of the eternally inquisitive. However, it may also be used to justify doing the exact opposite. Using a trip’s framework to discover thrill and adventure demonstrates a lack of creativity rather than an excess of it. Nothing is more cowardly than using travel to escape the turmoil, disappointments, and flaws of one’s everyday life rather than confronting them straight on.

In addition, there is forgery.

Travel provides the same sense of being on the verge of something weird and magnificent — of dwelling in a liminal condition — that Tolkien loved, but its impact is more fleeting and fails to point beyond itself to anything higher. The traveler who sets out without a pre-existing framework of self-knowledge and character, planning to discover it along the route, is set up like a sieve; when his journey’s longings emerge, they pass straight through him. Throughout the journey, he feels energised, purposeful, energized, and on the verge of larger and better things.

However, he has just mistook movement for development.

When he returns home, these sentiments fade, and the only way to rekindle them is to embark on another adventure and experience another surge of adrenaline. Rather of being a gateway to better things, the threshold experience becomes a loop of replication, an empty set of passport stamps.

Travel, therefore, should be addressed in the same manner that a good love relationship is undertaken. You come as a fully complete person, rather than seeking for a mate who would satisfy all of your aspirations. Rather of searching for your partner to complete you, they only add to the solid foundation of self you’ve already built.

 

Similarly, travel should be seen as an optional enrichment for people who are already leading meaningful, fulfilling lives – an interesting leisure, a passion like any other, appreciated by some but not all.

Travel should never be used to go away from life; rather, it should be used to enrich it.

Conclusion 

“Our limbs have plenty of space, but our souls rot in a corner. Allow us to migrate across the interior without stopping, pitching our tent each day closer to the western horizon.” –Thoreau, Henry David

The amount of travel one does these days is used as a sort of litmus test: the more you travel, the more brave, cultural, and non-traditional your life is thought to be; the less you travel, the more boring, conventional, and limited your life is assumed to be.

The lines, on the other hand, are not so readily drawn. A man who has traveled to every continent may have a soul as shallow as a thumbnail scratch, while a man who has never left his hometown may have a spirit as deep as an oceanic trench; a man whose Instagram profile is full of images of ancient ruins and beachside sunsets may have a very limited view of life’s possibilities, while a man who has never left his hometown may have cultivated an expansive and far-reaching mind; a man whose Instragram profile is full of images

Of course, the same goes for the other way around.

These sorts also don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Start with the latter, rather than the former, if you want to be a guy whose travels are as rich as his inner life.

Prioritize depth over breadth.

And remember that the biggest and most meaningful experiences of your life may begin right now, just where you are. You may embark on a voyage to deeper self-discovery, epic greatness, and heroic virtue without even packing your luggage, so that, like Bilbo, you’ll soon be “doing and saying things utterly unexpected.”

And remember that the biggest and most meaningful experiences of your life may begin right now, just where you are. You may embark on a voyage to deeper self-discovery, epic greatness, and heroic virtue without even packing your luggage, so that, like Bilbo, you’ll soon be “doing and saying things utterly unexpected.”

Sources:

Humphrey Carpenter’s J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography

Colin Duriez’s Tolkien and C.S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship

Joseph Pearce’s Bilbo’s Journey

“Some Unconventional Travel Advice” Ryan Holiday’s contribution

 

 

 

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