The COVID pandemic has forced us to reflect on our lives and our world. It has made us value more the things we took for granted; travel being one of them. It wasn’t long after the restrictions for COVID were implemented that posts of longing and travel-sickness began to swarm the social media world. Traveling solo, with family, friends, or even strangers is a very fulfilling activity. It has the power to bring us back to ourselves while simultaneously introducing us to new parts of our being. With the pandemic in full swing traveling and vacations became a longed-for thing. However, we discount the fact that traveling is, fundamentally, a mental more than physical activity. We have forgotten that our imagination is the most powerful and the most versatile mode of travel. It is both the vehicle and the destination and every road we take in between.
The travel bans and the solitude of the pandemic reminded me of an excerpt from Xavier de Maistre’s book ‘A Journey Around My Room.’ Bedridden as a result of an injury from a duel Maistre is forced to spend 42 days within the confines of his room. In order to escape the madness of having to sit alone with himself, Maistre devised an ingenious solution to his lack of contact with the outside world; he began to travel around his room! Maistre claims that he is, through his book, introducing a new way of traveling to the world, a way which we undoubtedly find of great significance and value 3 centuries later.
Humorous, nostalgic, and enlightening all at once, the brilliance of Maistre’s work lies in its power to transform ordinary objects into magical realms, and commonplace experiences (such as that of being confined to one’s bedroom) into a sacred, exhilarating, almost mystical adventure. Perhaps these are the reasons why Alain de Botton chose this piece of memoir to be included in a volume of some of the greatest tales of travel ‘The Art of Travel.’ Botton points out that Maistre’s work is important and worth being included in a book of travel adventures because his work successfully encapsulates the essence of travel which is wonder and curiosity.
Maistre shows us how to break the “Habit” because it is only in seeing of the familiar with a new set of eyes that one can appreciate even that which is unfamiliar. Now one might argue that as an individual has seen one’s room so many times that the experience is very different from being on a road to a travel destination. Yet my conclusion is this; if you are unable to generate a way of seeing which enables viewing the familiar as novel and exciting then pretty soon the very endearing vacation you take falls into the danger of being just a few run-of-the-mill days. Because pretty soon the road, the trees, the water, the sun, the nights will all lose their magic of newness for after all you’ve seen countless trees before, been on countless roads before. Therefore, transforming your idea of familiarity will greatly benefit any journey you undertake.
Maistre’s work highlights the very significant role of furniture and other everyday objects beyond the merely obvious one. The armchair, for instance, is a place of comfort and warmth during the cold winters, a place of reflection, reminiscing, and inspiration, a companion in an evening of entertainment, and a handy comrade in days of socialization. Thus, an ordinary armchair becomes an enchanting space with seemingly endless purposes to serve.
The crux of Maistre’s writing lies in the idea of perspective. The correct mental mindset is the most important prerequisite of any journey we undertake be it around our rooms or around our world (which is just a bigger room in a sense). A positive mindset can turn an exhausting and distressing affair, such as isolating in one’s room, into one of the most rewarding experiences of one’s life. What Maistre offers through his book is another mode of travel, which in my opinion, should be the only mode of travel; traveling in a manner that makes the old seem new and the mundane brimming with exciting possibilities. The dreary isolation of the pandemic lockdown seems to be loosening its grip on our lives but if for some reason you, your family, friends, or loved ones are forced to self-isolate then you should remember that it’s never too late to take a voyage around one’s own room. Who knows what you might discover in the process of doing so. Happy Traveling!
Written by: Ayesha Ali