Frenchman revolutionises travel industry
We are flying around too much and the planet is suffering badly. Populations that previously expected to go abroad a few times in their lives now expect to go twice a year at least. Airports are at full capacity and our shorelines and previously pristine wildernesses are in grave danger.
Our love of travel has made travel unloveable
There is an answer to this from an unusual source. In 1790, while he was living in an apartment in Paris, a young French writer called Xavier de Maistre pioneered a mode of travel with an intense relevance to our own times. He called it ‘room-travel’. In a bestselling book called Journey around my bedroom, de Maistre announced: ‘Millions of people who, before me, had never dared to travel, others who had not been able to travel and still more who had not even thought of travelling, will now be able to follow my example and have an eyeopening time in their own four walls.’ He particularly recommended room-travel to those on restricted budgets or afraid of storms, robberies and high cliffs. At the start of his book, we find de Maistre locking his door and changing into a pair of comfortable old pink and blue pyjamas once given to him by his mother. Without any need for luggage, he then travels to the sofa, the largest piece of furniture in the room. His journey having shaken him from his usual lethargy, he looks at it through fresh eyes and rediscovers its virtues. He has a chance to think about aspects of his life that he’d long forgotten about; a daydream leads him to thoughts of a childhood friend whom he hadn’t spoken to in a decade. He takes out a notebook and writes down some ideas about his career that alleviate his anxieties. Then, suddenly, de Maistre spies his bed. Once again, from a traveller’s vantage point, he appreciates this complex piece of furniture entirely afresh. He feels grateful for the nights he has spent in it and takes pride that his sheets almost match his pyjamas. Next he looks under the bed and is amazed by the complexity of the wooden floor, which workmen have laid so carefully and with a modest eye for beauty. It’s not long before de Maistre goes to take a look at the window sill, where further fascinating adventures await…
De Maistre’s work is a shaggy-dog story with a profound and suggestive insight at its heart: that the pleasure we derive from places depends more on the mindset with which we approach them than on how far they are from where we normally live. If only we could apply a travelling mindset to our own neighbourhoods, we might find these places becoming no less interesting than foreign lands. What is a travelling mindset? Curiosity and appreciation might be the chief characteristics. We approach new places with humility. We carry with us no rigid ideas about what is interesting; we’re on the look out for beauty. We wander down narrow streets and admire brickwork that the locals have long stopped noticing. We risk getting run over because we are intrigued by the roof of a government building or an inscription on a wall. We find a supermarket or hairdresser unusually fascinating. We dwell at length on the layout of a menu or the clothes of the presenters on the evening news. We are alive to the layers of history beneath the present.
Compare that with how we are at home. Here we are resigned and settled in our expectations. We feel assured that we have discovered everything interesting about a neighbourhood, primarily by virtue of having lived there a long time. It seems inconceivable that there could be anything new to find out about a place which we have been living in for a long time. We have fallen into habit and have therefore grown blind.
Dressed in pink and blue pyjamas, full of curiosity as to the contents of his own room (he spends two hours in his wardrobe), the unusual Xavier de Maistre stands as a reminder that, before taking off for Mauritius or Tokyo, the Seychelles or Peru, we should perhaps pop down to the streets around us and pay closer attention to what lies under our own unfairly dismissive noses.
Reinvented the travel industry