Non-fiction review: The Meaning of Travel, by Emily Thomas

I've been doing a lot of reading about travel, mostly accounts of travel or adventures/exploration. I'm also getting more interested in the philosophy and psychology of an activity that I greatly enjoy and at times feel driven to pursue.

Title: The Meaning of Travel: Philosophers Abroad
Emily Thomas
Publication Info:
Oxford University Press, 2020. 261 pages

Publisher's Blurb:
How can we think more deeply about travel?

This was the thought that inspired Emily Thomas to journey into the philosophy of travel, to explore the places where philosophy and travel intersect. Part philosophical ramble, part memoir, The Meaning of Travel begins in the Age of Discovery in the sixteenth century, when philosophers first began thinking and writing seriously about travel It then meanders forward to encounter the thoughts of Montaigne on otherness, John Locke on cannibals, and Henry Thoreau on wilderness.

On our travels with Emily Thomas, we discover the dark side of maps, how the philosophy of space fueled mountain tourism, and why you should wash underwear in woodland cabins... We also confront profound questions, such as the debate on the ethics of 'doom tourism' (travel to doomed places such as glaciers or coral reefs), and how space travel might come to affect our understanding of human significance in a leviathan universe.

The first ever history of the places where history and philosophy meet, this book will reshape your understanding of travel.

My Review:
I'm not sure this book quite lived up to the last line of the blurb, but it did cause me to do some thinking about travel, what I do when I travel--and why we value it so highly. It probably deserves another read to get a better grip on what the author is trying to do, but I can't say that I'm inspired to reread.

Probably the history, not the philosophy, of travel is what interested me most here. The evolution of European ideas about wilderness and mountains, the introduction of the "Grand Tour" of the Continent (i.e. Europe) as a means of education, and the moral dilemma of "doom tourism" were the aspects that grabbed my attention.

I have long accepted the idea that travel is good for us, broadens the mind, prevents a narrow provencialism, etc. That may fall more into the area of excuse than reason.

Reading this book and others that remind me how early mountaineering always had the excuse of "science" and exploration also makes it plain that for most of us today, hiking, climbing, and tourism are about a desire to see things. A fear of missing out? Our travels may not offer a lot of room for philosophy or personal growth. Science and exploration seem unavailable to most of us, other than exploring our own personal limits, physical and psychological. I have here gone beyond what the author directly discusses, but demonstrated the kind of thinking the book induces.

My Recommendation:
This is probably a worthwhile read for those interested in the subject. For my own quest to understand how walking, hiking, and travel have played into my personal and spiritual growth, I'm finding other books more helpful.

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed an electronic copy of The Meaning of Travel from my library, and received nothing from the author or the publisher in exchange for my honest review. The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”   

 ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2023
 As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated.

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