Travel, Clouds, and a Laugh

The NY Times ran a piece online today called Reclaiming Travel by Ilan Stavans and Joshua Ellison.

While I think a lot of it is kind of wordy and ok--pretentious--I also think they really nail it here:

The act of traveling is an impossibly broad category: it can encompass both the death march and the cruise ship. Travel has no inherent moral character, no necessary outcome. It can be precious or worthless, productive or destructive. It can be ennobling or self-satisfied. The returns can be only as good as what we offer of ourselves in the process. 

Yes, yes, and YES. I find myself frequently defending travel for travel's sake, but I think it's very valuable to talk about this fact that there is no "inherent moral character, no necessary outcome" to it as well. Some people travel and return home humbled and inspired in a way that translates into being a better member of society, other people come home with some new bad ideas. That's just a reality.

The article also made me think of one my favorite passages about travel. It's from travel writer extraordinaire Alain de Botton in his book The Art of Travel. Towards the beginning of it, he writes about just how incredible flying by airplane is and how wild it is that we've all gotten used to the magic of it.

There is not much talk about the clouds that are visible up here. No one seems to think it remarkable that somewhere above an ocean we are flying past a vast white candy-floss island that would have made a perfect seat for an angel... In the cabin, no one stands up to announce with the requisite emphasis that if we look out the window, we will see that we are flying over a cloud. [His emphasis.]

That really just cracks me up. Mostly because I imagine how INSANE you would look if you stood up in a plane and started yelling about the obvious. "We are flying over a cloud! A CLOUD YOU GUYS!" But don't you ever have those moments when you're traveling? When you catch yourself doing something that a split second earlier felt unremarkable, but now, suddenly, you're like: "I'm in Vietnam. I am literally across the world from where my house is in this completely random noodle shack that I will probably never see again in my life. What am I doing? WHO AM I?"

One last thought on travel for the day: I really want to go back to San Francisco soon. The Tumblr Whilst in SF had me laughing out loud today. Probably because of my experiences from living there, not being a tourist there, so sorry for the inside joke but...

Man, now I really want a repeating gif of Alain de Botton on a plane yelling "We are flying over a cloud!"