How many pages have you read?

Augustine of Hippo by Sandro Botticelli, c. 1490.

Augustine of Hippo by Sandro Botticelli, c. 1490. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently, quite a few of my FB friends posted following quote by Saint Augustine: “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”

At first, that sounded like a good metaphor to me, but after doing some thinking I am not sure I agree. I mean, I am not sure, whether it still applies.

Of course, travelling broadens the horizon. Living in foreign countries even more so, as all expats will agree. However, to me it seems that HOW you travel is key.

You see, we live in a very touristy part of Mexico, and as you may know, tourist spotting is one of my favourite things to do. There seem to be 3 different kinds of tourists: A) the adventure tourist, B) the comfort tourist, and C) the thing in the middle. A is the kind of tourist who travels around with his backpack, who doesn’t mind to stay at cheap hostels, eat the local street food and who eagerly studies the country’s culture. C is the tourist who isn’t too adventurous when it comes to hotels and food, but explores the region and culture of the country. (I wished I could say that I fell under category A, but I am afraid I am much more of a C… Well, what can you expect from a taurus, right?) And then there is B, the comfort tourist, the one who stays at the resort day in, day out, enjoys beach life and can hardly be found anywhere else. Those are the ones who get home and upon being asked about their travels, they will tell you about the hotel, the food, and of course, the weather.

When bumping into a tourist of the B category, I always feel a little disappointed with the lack of interest in Mexican culture. I mean, everybody has a right to do what feels best while being on vacation, after all, that’s what holidays are all about. Nevertheless, it just almost pains me to think that, in this case, they miss out on the ruins, and cenotes, and whatever else is typical for this country / region. And I never fully understand why they picked this destination then, certainly, there must be cheaper options that are closer by?

Well, whom am I kidding? Admittedly, it can be hard to pull yourself away from the beach...

Well, whom am I kidding? Admittedly, it can be hard to pull yourself away from the beach…

So when I think of that quote, even though these people travel a good deal and can finally put a pin into Mexico on their little map, they didn’t really read that page, did they?

And then there are those people who for whatever reason cannot travel. Like waiter P. in our favourite restaurant. P. is an elderly gentleman who has never left Mexico, after all, salaries are ridiculously low, while cost of living in this part of Mexico is rather high, and international flights are expensive. When dinner service slows down, P. always comes to our table for a chat, and he always asks us many questions about Europe. And although he has never been to Germany, he knows a big deal about that country – things that sometimes I didn’t know, like the histories of famous churches and such. He gains all his knowledge from books, and honestly, that guy should be on a quiz show! So I’d say that he did read more than just one page – in any sense of the word.

Or then there is my almost 99-year old grandma who clearly cannot travel anymore. Instead she watches every single travel documentary on TV, and afterwards she joyfully tells me that yesterday, she travelled to Mexico! Or that last week, she went to the Grand Canyon!

Travel Guides

Poor Saint Augustine had none of these! (Photo credit: Vanessa (EY))

Sure, seeing a film or reading a book can’t teach you the experience of being there, on the other hand, just going somewhere doesn’t mean you do get the experience either, does it? I think it is great that nowadays we all have easy access to whatever information we might be looking for, and that this way people who are not so fortunate to be able to travel, can at least recreate the experience – and hey, they are the ones who never get a sunburn! Of course, Saint Augustine who was born 354 could have never imagined a thing like the internet, he couldn’t even look at photographs, so he definitely had a point there back then. But nowadays?

What do you think? Is it necessary to actually travel some place to get a feeling what that particular country is about?


12 thoughts on “How many pages have you read?

  1. I guess some people just aren’t intellectually curious, which leaves them impervious to those experiences and opportunities of travel, which others find so enlightening. They care chiefly about their physical comfort, and whether they got a ‘good deal’ or not. The latter tends to determine which destination they choose.

    “Reisen bildet” – but only those who want to 😉

    Oh wait – I’ve just remembered an amusing phone conversation I once had with a fellow freelancer before I decided to move Spain. (I didn’t know him, I got his number from one of my clients.) He had made the move from the UK a few years ago with his wife and kids, and kindly took the time to share some useful tips with me.

    In the middle of this conversations, he suddenly asked me, “And why is it that you want to move? It is really important to be clear about your motivations before you do something like this. Never do it on a whim, you need a sound enough reason. Do you know why we decided on taking this step?”. I sat there, waiting for his profound revelation.

    “I shall tell you,” he continued, “the weather. With a capital ‘W’. We don’t really care much for Spanish culture or the food or the people. We don’t really have much contact with them. But we just love the weather here”.

  2. I think the ultimate is still being able to see it with my own two eyes and research and “pin my map.” However I agree about being intellectually curious and that should count too!

    • Of course, nothing like actually going someplace to get the full picture, but at least people nowadays can get a pretty good idea of how a place might be like through media.
      Thanks for reading!

  3. I’m all for world travel via Google maps and reading guidebooks and blogs! Technology has made information much more accessible and for the intellectually curious, and this powerful tool also translates into pretty good virtual experiences. But reading about something still isn’t the same as experiencing it for yourself. Smells, sounds, sensations, emotions–you can’t really replicate those as well. It’s like thinning out an experience so that you cover a lot more area, but the coverage isn’t very deep. While we can’t have a lot of deep experiences with every place on the planet, we should try to carefully pick and choose where to “go deep.” Thanks for sharing these profound questions! 🙂 Really made me think, and motivated me to get out of my B/C tourist mode the next time I travel! 🙂

    • Thanks, Angela! Yes, I would like to be more adventurous, but I just have to face it: I am not Lara Croft! 😉
      And of course, you are right, just reading or watching documentaries can’t replace the experience of actually being there. But it is a good alternative for some people. Love the Google maps option! Such a fascinating tool!
      Thanks for your input!

      • Hahaha… Yes, I love Google’s street view option. Sometimes if I’m trying to remember for example, the route I used to walk from my old house to my elementary school, I can still “walk” that route in Google street view. Quite cool! 🙂

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