William Woodsworth and Pico Iyer, two hundred years apart, pick at ideas of the tourist and the traveler. Though Iyer says that delineating between them is something now fashionable, traveling to boast about your experiences is in no way novel. Woodsworth’s poems approach traveling and nature simplistically through examining how humans appreciate and connect with the world – and how we don’t.
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers
In The World is Too Much With Us Woodsworth’s presents to us, in a roundabout way, nature’s value. His poem is a gentle nudge to us that we have been neglectful habitants. Blind and unappreciative. And yet we travel.
Iyer seeks to describe to us why we do so. In many places he offers answers to that question, but to me the most compelling answer is this:
We travel, then, in search of both self and anonymity — and, of course, in finding the one we apprehend the other.
In our physical homes, in the cities and towns we call home, we easily get complacent. We stop looking at the trees around us because we’ve seen them so many times. We forget to smile at the things that make our spaces unique. In traveling, we can recontextualize and refresh what it’s like to perceive things.
In high school I went to Rome. Everyday I was there I walked through Piazza del Popolo in the morning. It became familiar, but never repetitive. I often wonder at what point it would, at what point I would stop noticing every statue and stop looking at every person, but I came back home with fresh eyes as Proust would hope. That point, to me, is the one travel fends off. I try not to get lazy around the beautiful things I see every day, but its not easy because its rarely mindful.