The Philosophy of Travel: Alain de Botton

6th April 2010 (Last Updated April 6th, 2010 18:30)

Philosopher Alain de Botton was born in Switzerland in 1969 and educated at Cambridge University in the UK. His first book, Essays in Love, was published when he was 23. Since then, he has written several international bestsellers. He founded and helps to run The School of Life in London dedicated to a new vision of education. De Botton’s latest book is The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work.

The Philosophy of Travel: Alain de Botton

“My dream is to start a hotel of my own, something called the Psyche-Spa, which would be a cross between a hotel, a university, a psychotherapy centre and a social club, and would offer people the chance to stay in beautiful surroundings while they re-evaluate their lives, learn new things and properly meet other guests. This seems so much more valuable than another hotel dedicated to golf.

I’d love to be resident writer in another place now – maybe in a hotel, maybe an airline. I love to study the places of travel. All of life is there, it is unavoidably fascinating.

Hotels are a chance to create a space dedicated to happiness. They are outside of our normal routines, and should therefore be full of imagination and ingenuity. If a hotel is nice, I like to stay there as long as possible. It becomes an oasis and refuge. I love to travel with my wife alone, without children. We rediscover each other as if we were having an affair. It’s thrilling, and
legal.

Social networking

“Imagine a hotel version of Facebook, allowing you to see who else was staying and to send them a message.”

It amazes me how boring even very luxurious hotels are in the choices they make. It’s so peculiar that they don’t do more to introduce their guests. In a big hotel, at any time, there are so many people who would have things to say to one another. Imagine a hotel version of Facebook, allowing you to see who else was staying and to send them a message. This would transform in-house dining. There would be no more lonely meals and think of the new romantic and business opportunities. I always look for a hotel that is modern and well-designed. I am very uninterested in food but deeply interested in architecture. I look obsessively at the pictures on the website, and look out for things that smack of rusticity in the bad sense.

I will also invariably check the hotel out on TripAdvisor. I can’t imagine how one travelled before TripAdvisor, it really tells you the truth about hotels, particularly revealing are the travellers’ photos, which never condemn a good hotel but always identify the ones pretending to be something they aren’t.

Marcel Proust would have made a good hotel critic. He was fascinated by hotels and writes beautifully about them in the second volume of In Search of Lost Time. He was interested in life at the reception
desk, the maids, the sheets, noises from other rooms, the routines of the kitchen.

My favourite hotel is the Hotel Greulich in Zurich. It has only 20 rooms arranged around a courtyard. All the rooms are large and totally simple, a concrete box with a very comfortable bed and a beautiful bath and shower. The architecture is restrained and yet elegant.

My hotel

If I could design a hotel it would have very quiet rooms – noises drive me crazy, whether from other guests or a/c units – so endless attention would be given to making the room sound as quiet as a tomb. Rooms would be luxurious but sparse. We have enough clutter in our lives, so we need calm and emptiness. I would also have a good library and recommendations by the bed for interesting things to read
from a resident bibliotherapist, and an in-house psychotherapist to talk to about work and relationship issues.

My real regret is the feeling that I’m not properly in touch with the place I’m in, because I’m not meeting the right people. I was recently in Oslo and spent far too long watching CNN in my bedroom. There was a whole Norwegian world out there that I embarrassingly failed to discover, simply because I’m not the type to walk into a bar and start talking to strangers. We should realise that
the standard definition of what you should do in a place is likely to be highly restrictive. Use your imagination, dare to be free and weird.

A good journey very much depends on the mindset. If you are furious or disappointed, no amount of surrounding beauty will help you.”