When Concorde made its first flight in 1969, a new era of travel dawned. Gone were the days of long journeys to one’s destination. Now, one could travel to distant lands in a seeming blink of the eye. Since then, though Concorde has long since retired, travel has remained, if not having become more so, an instantly gratifiable wish. And this is not a privilege reserved only for those with means and money; anyone can get away thanks to the dramatically increased efficiency of the package holiday. In spite of the increased ease however, the thrill of adventure, of travel, has been diminished. Even with the luxury of first-class flights and five-star hotels, something has been lost. That’s why I think every gentleman worth his wall-map-of-the-world should tour.
Since I was a mere six months old, I have travelled; and though I have flown and charted my way across continents, I reserve the place of most fond memories for the times spent touring continental Europe with my family. Indeed, for more than ten years running, I have spent a minimum of a fortnight per year driving across France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Spain. These trips are special, not simply because of the time I have spent engaging with my family, but because of the meditative quality they possess: the innumerable hours spent traversing rural roads, gazing out at endless fields of golden crops or ever-imposing mountain ranges, the warm high-summer sun, or blankets of winter snow. This makes for times when I can retreat inward, and explore my inner-self. Assuredly, meditation and self-betterment is key in a gentleman of the world.
Perhaps, however, I’m missing the point. Of course travel isn’t simply a means by which to think. What about discovering and experiencing new cultures? Seeing and hearing and smelling and tasting new things? Touring allows for all of that and, I would argue, even more. Indeed, unlike jetting directly off to some foreign location, touring embodies the sense of adventure that was lost from travel in the second half of the twentieth century. Surely, nothing can surpass the feeling of leaving the beaten track and discovering a quaint village in Normandy, or a small town in the Schwarzwald, or wherever one may choose, and taking lunch amongst locals. And, when venturing into a city of more widespread interest – say, Bern, or Strasbourg – what is more comforting (or thrilling) than not having a flight to catch in the morning? Surely, Alexander the Great experienced these feelings greatly as he dedicated his life to such tasks. Indeed, it was only at the overwhelming demand of his troops that he turned back from his lifelong quest of world exploration. Fortunately, we tourers of the twenty-first century are not burdened by armies of followers, and may stay as long on the road as we wish.
Amongst this excitement though, we must remember that any travel is meaningless if nothing is gained from it – whether that be greater cultural appreciation or greater sense of self – and in what circumstances is that better achieved, than by touring?