This post is concerned with the preconceptions of travel or a destination; how we imagine it before we arrive, and the reality of actually being there and experiencing it outside of the imagination. Without a doubt, all of us construct a notion of a place before we visit: what will it look like? what will the weather be like? The people? I know I certainly do this. If I’m planning on visiting a specific attraction, I imagine what it will look like from my point of view, what will be around me etc. These ideas stem mainly from films/books/images of the place, which I then reconstruct in my head to create imagined scenarios and landscapes. When I actually arrive at my destination, my preconceived ideas in tow, I’m always shocked by how different the reality is (you must have heard yourself saying ‘This isn’t how I imagined it’ at somepoint in your life!)
In his book, The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton describes the case of Duc des Esseintes who lived in alone in Paris. After being inspired by Dickens’ novels, Duc had a huge urge to visit London. Whilst waiting for his train, he went to an English tavern and ordered traditional English food; roast beef, potatoes and soup. Just before he was about to board his train he was overwhelmed with lassitude and begun to question why he wanted to go all the way to London:
What was the good of moving when a person could travel so wonderfully sitting in a chair? Wasn’t he already in London, whose smells, weather, citizens, food, and even cutlery were about him? What could he expect to find over there except fresh disappointments?
In the end, he didn’t go. Sitting at his table in the English tavern, Duc reflected that he must have been suffering from some mental aberration to have rejected the visions of his obedient imagination and to have believed like any old ‘ninny’ that it was necessary, interesting and useful to travel abroad.
Before we set out to travel, we already know that the image created in our head is not going to be the reality, but Duc’s view that the reality will always be disappointing is an interesting notion. Is this really the case? Have you arrived at a destination disappointed because it didn’t meet your expectations? Or vice versa; has the reality exceeded your imagination? Like many people I expect, I like to keep an open mind before travelling, but obviously there is always going to be some sort of preconceived idea. There hasn’t been any specific circumstances where I have been truly disappointed with the reality, but there have been many, many cases (everywhere I have been!) where it has not been as I imagined. Not that this is a bad thing, it is just simply different.
What do you think of Duc’s idea of fresh disappointments awaiting us on arrival? Or, the idea that it is not necessary, interesting or useful to travel abroad? Are our preconceptions always going to be better than the reality? Why is this?