The art of travel by Alain de Botton

kunstdesreisensWhy our way of travelling won’t work.

In a nutshell:

Short synopsis:

The Art of Travel explains our way of travelling, why it doesn’t work and what we could do to improve our travel experiences.

Language I read the book in: German (Kunst des Reisens)

Did I like it? Only in parts

For people who: like Alain de Botton, long winded musings.


My thoughts: 

I read this book in German and was very pleased with the translation by Silvia Morawetz. I know Alain de Botton’s writing style from other books and she seems to have captured it very well. It was a pleasure to read this book – as far as the German was concerned.

I love travelling. I have been working in the hospitality industry for decades and everything even remotely travelling related is in my nature. That is why I was really looking forward to this book. Unfortunately I was disappointed by it.

The book is divided into several chapters about departure, reasons for travelling, landscapes, art and return. In each chapter Alain de Botton is musing about what we do while travelling, how we do it and why it does or doesn’t work, enriched with his own experiences. His reasoning was always right on, not that they were anything new, mind. Everybody who has travelled and possesses the ability for self reflection must come to the conclusion that travelling won’t make you happy if you haven’t been happy in the first place. The conclusion that you are always bringing yourself is not that original, but I am sure there are people out there who still think that going from one place to another will change their own  disposition. Those are the people this book is for.

I also found his arguments about sightseeing and why it usually isn’t educating very reasonable and convincing. It all makes sense and it was really nice to read about it.

Unfortunately, as if he thought his books needs more substance or as if he thought he needed help from other writers or artists, he brought other people’s thoughts into it. And that is exactly what bored me to death. Alain de Botton could have gone on ad infinitum about travelling and I would have gladly read it all, but Gustave Flaubert’s thoughts on France and the Orient, Edward Hopper’s love for gas stations, or von Humboldt’s obsession with plants I found plain boring. And those guys (among others) took over a big part of the book.

The only interesting chapters and their “supporting writers”, in my opinion anyway, were the ones about Vincent van Gogh and John Ruskin (about whom I knew next to nothing before).  Those were interesting reflections about beauty, art, painting and drawing.

All in all, I would have preferred it if the book had been smaller and had focused less on other people’s thoughts.

Product info and buy link :

Title The art of travel
Author Alain de Botton
Publisher Penguin Books
ISBN 9780140276626
I got this book from I swapped it
Buy link Buy The art of travel

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Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I would love to hear other opinions.

6 Comments Write a comment

  1. After reading your review I’m glad I accepted your offer 🙂 and seeing how I love travelling as much as you obviously do to, I wonder if my thoughts about it will be similar to yours too. BTW have you read anything by Paul Theroux? I read “The Tao of Travel” last year and totally loved it.
    Birgit’s last post ..Bookish Etsy – Lead me into temptation …


    • It’s on the way already. I am curious to hear what you think about it.
      I will look at the Theroux book, I have never heard of him.


  2. Sorry to hear that it wasn’t quite the riveting read that it seems to be. I agree with you in that there are apparently people who still believe that simply going on a holiday or travel somewhere to do soul-searching (or traveling for other reasons) will in itself make you happy. But perhaps it is just something we have to discover for ourselves?

    Too bad that sight-seeing is not as educating as we would like it to be 😉 What does the author advise though? To read up on the location first? 🙂
    Chinoiseries’s last post ..Book review: Enough About Love – Hervé Le Tellier


    • No, what he says, would be more logical, but not practicable. To visit sights that relate to each other in terms of subject, time period, style, artist etc. That way one would not visit sights in one location that are completely unrelated to each other, but rather sights in various locations (all over the world) that would actually futher one’s education on a subject.


      • That doesn’t sound practical at all… I wonder though, what if you choose to sightsee a few comparable places in one city, like Holocaust-related locations in Berlin. Would you learn less than if you would travel to Auschwitz and Anne Frank’s house?


        • It isn’t and he admits that, too. He is just pointing out what would work better – if it was do-able…Your example would work, of course. I can’t remember exactly the example he mentioned but it was something architectural.


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