Why, for as long as we can remember, do we travel? We are not just talking about tourism, a recent phenomenon and a privilege of a small part of humanity. We are talking about that need that takes over a person to push them beyond their boundaries and sometimes their limits.
This is the question Eric J. Leed tries to answer in the book “The Mind of the Traveler: From Gilgamesh to Global Tourism ” (Basic Books, 1991).
Leed begins his book with a history of travel. It talks about a journey interpreted as a force capable of changing the course of history, as a movement across space, able to shape the human soul. He starts with Gilgamesh’s wanderings and the braveOdisseo to modern migration and mass tourism; through the solitude of medieval knights, the philosophical journey, the voyage of discovery and the scientific ones, the wandering freedom of the Romantics, the need to get back on the road of Jack Kerouac.
He continues with an analysis of the structure of the journey. Departure, transit and arrival are the cornerstones of every travell in every era.
Departure is often experienced as trauma and loss of identity. It is perceived negatively or positively depending on the historical period and the reasons that drive the individual out of their comfort zone. Because, eventually, leaving is breaking that invisible barrier that binds us to a place and defines us as people in that place.
Transit is growth, change, and the definition of one’s identity. Those who leave and those who arrive are rarely the same people.
The arrival… the arrival is not a moment. It is not the end but a process that lasts over time.
The book overflows with stories of individuals who set out on the road for the most varied reasons. All of them could be a source of inspiration. But it talks about the entire travelling society too. And, towards the end, the spirit of the traveller comes into the picture.
For those who are still wondering whether or not this book contains the answer to the initial question ‘Why do we travel?‘, Leed concludes his research with this sentence: