Travelling for pleasure is a modern phenomenon. Before the twentieth century, few people undertook long journeys if it was not for investment or trade. Moving from one country to another was uncomfortable and expensive. Before vaccination became an everyday procedure, malaria and yellow fever presented major health risks for those travelling to tropical areas.
In our days, public taste has shifted to the
opposite extreme. From teenagers to pensioners, millions of individuals
devote their holidays to visiting distant cities. Airlines offer
affordable tickets to cross the ocean, inviting consumers to spend their
next vacation exploring exotic cultures. Who can resist their enticing
The fact that large numbers of people travel for
pleasure provides evidence of its popularity, not of its benefits. Many
individuals count smoking, overeating, and excessive drinking amongst
their favourite occupations. The enjoyment derived from those activities
does not automatically qualify them as advantageous. Judgement should
be passed on the basis of rational assessment, not of popularity.
We need purpose
dogs and cats appear perfectly contented to move around without
purpose, human beings tend to become restless. Travelling dissolves our
routines and forces us to start from scratch. Encountering novelty can
be pleasurable, but too much of it leads to exhaustion.
your vacation in an unusual location guarantees that you will meet new
people and taste exotic food. For the duration of the break, you will
forget your routines and feel exempted from preoccupations. The idea is
that, since you have worked hard for months, now it is your turn to
enjoy a holiday.
On the other hand, if you are one of those who
loves his work and is inclined to introspection, you might experience
some doubts: Should you really be there? Don't you have better things to
do? What is the point of all these vacation trips? Are you not wasting
The vision of life as a sequence of work interrupted
by holiday trips was born a century ago, but our mental patterns are
more than 5.000 years old. The practice of going away at regular
intervals and leaving everything behind would have seemed
incomprehensible to most 19th century entrepreneurs, composers, or
inventors. They would have looked at us with surprise and inquired about
the purpose of all that travelling.
A daily structure
The German philosopher
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) is known to have spent his entire life in
Konigsberg, a city that nowadays belongs to Russia. Apparently, he never
wandered more than a few kilometres away from Konigsberg, where he
worked for decades as a university professor. If he had wished to
travel, he possessed the means to do so.
Kant never crossed the
ocean to see America and never visited Russia, even though St.
Petersburg is not far away from Konigsberg. He never went to London,
never set foot in Paris, and never spent a summer in Rome. For all we
know, he did not even go to Berlin for a weekend. If this sounds boring
to you, wait until you read the whole story.
Due to financial
difficulties in his youth, Kant was forced to interrupt his studies for a
couple of years. He eventually managed to obtain an advanced degree
and, when he was 31 years old, he landed a teaching job at the
University of Konigsberg, where he would continue to lecture until his
retirement decades later.
For most of his life, Kant did pretty
much the same every day, irrespective of the season. He would have
breakfast, walk to the University, teach his classes, have lunch, do
some research, write a few pages of his next book, return home, and have
When his friends urged him to have a more active social
life, Kant politely replied that he had no time. There was always some
exciting subject that he was researching or some important book that he
was planning. His writing kept him busy, leaving little room for travel
and other activities.
After a quarter of a century at his job, he
produced his most important book, the Critique of Pure Reason (1781).
When the volume was published, Kant was already 57 years old and fully
conscious of the importance of what he had accomplished. History would
prove him right. His work has exerted foremost influence on philosophers
during the last two centuries.
The insights contained in Kant's
book prepared the ground for scientific discoveries and industrial
development. His ethical theories, which underline the role of reason,
stressed the importance of individual responsibility.
have written such exceptional book if he had spent several weeks per
year travelling for pleasure? Would he have produced such extraordinary
achievement if he had interrupted his work at regular intervals?
exotic vacations are fine for some people, other individuals find them
disruptive. Depending on your personal philosophy and the type of
activities you like, extended travelling might or might not be the right
thing for you.
Do not assume that you are obliged to follow the
trend. If there is a lesson to be learned from Kant's life, is that you
can attain great success without going anywhere. Travelling for pleasure
can be great fun, but if there are better things that you could do with
your time, do not let anybody decide for you.
Image by David Berkowitz under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us
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