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The Art of Travel: A new manifesto

I recently decided I needed to shake things up a bit. My blog, Wild About Travel + Writing, has long been sitting dormant and my previous work website was hacked and overtaken porn spammers. (Sorry to anyone who may have received emails soliciting sex toys - I swear they weren’t sent by me!!)

My life too has changed much in recent years. After living the life of a nomad and flitting in and out of places as varied as the red, dusty plains of Birdsville in Outback Australia and the brilliantly bright and buoyant Cape Town in South Africa, I’ve finally returned home to rediscover my roots. And while I am still writing, these days it’s mostly about the successes of alumni from my old alma mater, the University of Southern Queensland, rather than the latest off-the-beaten-path travel destination.

You could say I’ve hung up my boots … Well … At least for now...

My backpack may currently be unpacked, but travel and mapping out new adventures are still very much on my agenda. In fact, I’m already in the planning stage for two big trips next year: the first a week-long fling to Singapore in June and the second a five-week cross-country expedition from South Africa through Namibia and Botswana (lots more to follow on those in time). Besides, there is much truth in the saying “once a traveller, always a traveller”.

The question then became: how do I merge these two very different lives – the one spent plotting and planning routes for other travellers and the one now reclaiming and restoring my family roots?

Here I was sitting with two decades worth of articles, books, photographs and on-the-ground experience as a travel writer wondering what to do. Not happy to simply file these away as happy memories and move on, I decided I needed to find a new and more meaningful way of sharing my experiences and knowledge.

The answer soon came in the form of The Art of Travel.

Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel has long been one of my favourite books and high on the recommended reading list for anyone doing one of my Travel Writing courses. It’s not just a book about travel, but a book about seeing things and places in newer, more enlightening ways.

In particular, his chapter on “Possessing Beauty” struck a deep cord with the writer in me. Drawing on the works of the 19th century critic and writer, John Ruskin, de Botton reveals the ways in which we can find and appreciate beauty in our travels, even in the everyday.

Ruskin believed the primary goal of people when travelling was to seek beauty and to possess it. He proposed that the only way to possess beauty was through understanding it: “making ourselves conscious of the factors (psychological and visual) that are responsible for it” (p. 220). The best way to achieve this understanding, he concluded, was to draw or write about (word paint) the places and things we come across in our travels that strike us as beautiful.

On rereading the chapter recently, it was Ruskin’s revelations on travel photography that most stood out to me. While initially a fan of the camera, Ruskin noticed most travellers used their cameras in such a way that they paid less attention to what they were seeing. That is, rather than appreciating what was before them, in their “haste and blindness” they merely took an obligatory “I was there, I saw this” photograph.

I’ve always sought much more from my travels and my photography than evidential “I was there” snaps. And I’ve hated the notion of using my camera to capture images of sites/sights as if I was ticking off a predetermined bucket list of the world’s best attractions.

During my studies for my Masters in South Africa, I took this one step further by working on a number of projects which studied travel photography and exposed and encouraged new ways of seeing and capturing images of places we visit. Like Ruskin, I wanted travellers to look beyond their viewfinders and truly see and appreciate a place – even if it was mundane. But unlike Ruskin, I was determined I could “possess beauty” with a camera.

My new photography project, The Art of Travel, is all about proving Ruskin wrong. It is about using photography and its many devices (namely Photoshop in this case) to expose and appreciate the beauty of a place. While the selective colouring of B&W photographs is a rather blatant, in-your-face way of achieving this end, it is the start of a much larger commitment I’ve undertaken to promote and inspire more meaningful travel experiences. So I suppose you could say The Art of Travel is my new manifesto for the New Year.


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