Two Provocative Travel Insights From G.K. Chesterton


Writer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You are to be altogether forgiven if the initials G.K.C. strike no immediate chord with you. Let me assure you, however, that there was a time in the early twentieth century when those initials at the conclusion of an essay or newspaper article (mere initials being the customary byline of the time) guaranteed a thoughtful reading by the literate class across the entire English-speaking world.   As my title reveals, those initials stand for the English journalist, novelist and essayist, Gilbert Keith Chesterton.

Chesterton was, and still is, one of the world’s most quoted individuals.   You would be doing yourself an immense and pleasurable favor to Google “G. K. Chesterton quotes” and spend a little time perusing any of the several sites that come up.   Today, however, I want to call your attention to two particular quotes.  The first offers an insight into the proper approach to travel and the second reveals the single greatest benefit of traversing the planet.

“The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see.”

When we pack to go on a trip we all pack two kinds of items:

Picture from ATTitude

Picture from ATTitude

1)  We consciously pack every tangible item we think we might need.  (In my case, unfortunately, that tends to be everything I could conceivably need in any climate under any set of foreseeable or unforeseeable circumstances resulting in baggage fees equal to the GDP of small nations.  Don’t even ask about the ladies’ lingerie or the bunny.)

2)  We subconsciously pack an invisible suitcase with intangible items such as every expectation, preconceived notion,  prejudice, and misconception we have ever harbored regarding our destination.

This practice, of which we are almost all guilty to some extent, makes us very vulnerable to seeing only that which we expect and plan to see.  As G. K .C. astutely suggests, a true traveler manages to removed the filtered sunglasses of expectation and absorbs reality as he or she encounters it.  As G. K .C. once remarked of some of his contemporaries, ““It isn’t that they can’t see the solution. It is that they can’t see the problem.”  The best way to ensure you are a traveler and not a tourist, is to recognize this growth inhibiting problem and determine that you are going to travel more like a wide-eyed child than a jaded know-it-all.

“The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” 

This quote demands a little more reflection.  It seems paradoxical to the first which is hardly surprising since every fan of G. K .C. knows he is often referred to as the “prince of paradox.”  He believed that if you really wanted to see something clearly you could do that best by standing on your head.


Picture from Anna Maria Island Realtor

We are all so immersed in our own culture that it practically never occurs to us to question anything about it.  They say a fish does not know there is any such thing as water.  What envelopes you, largely gets ignored.  Ah, but when you travel to a distant land (remember, as a traveler, not a tourist!), suddenly everything seems strange and . . . well . . . foreign.

When we return home, especially after an extended stay, suddenly we notice all sorts of things we had heretofore taken totally for granted.

Why do we drive on the right?  Why do we switch hands with our forks?  Why do we use Fahrenheit?  What is the big bleeping deal with soccer (OK, football everywhere else) anyway.?  Why don’t we have a Parliament?  You mean all women don’t shave under their arms???  You mean all male children aren’t circumcised???

If Socrates was right that the unexamined life is not worth living, then one of the best ways to re-examine all your core beliefs is to travel somewhere with a radically different culture and a markedly different perspective.

Finally, apologies to those who regularly tune in expecting to find a more liberal sprinkling of silliness often topped off by a shot of stupidity, straight up.  Ever so often I feel compelled to write a relatively sane post to restore a modicum of credulity and decorum to this blog.  But never fear,  I am sure in my next post I will resort to the same tasty yet trivial travel tripe for which I am rapidly earning a reputation.  Just remember, tripe can be quite tasty.  What do you think goes into a hotdog?