Why we travel: Pico Iyer on his transformational trip to Tibet

The author and memoirist recounts a powerful journey through asia that culminated on the high plateau of lhasa among prostrating pilgrims, in the shadow of the potala palace — the former winter palace of the dalai lamas..

pico iyer why we travel

Resident monks stroll through Jokhang Temple, Lhasa, an important destination of Tibetan Buddhist pilgrims.

I was 28 years old and enjoying the kind of life I might have dreamed of as a boy: a 25th-floor office in Midtown Manhattan, a stimulating job writing on international affairs, a studio apartment next to one occupied by a gaggle of runway models. Yet something in me intuited that the enticements and exhilarations of this world might prove so all-consuming that I’d wake up one day, aged 70, and realise I hadn’t lived at all.

Pico Iyer is the author of 15 books, most recently, Autumn Light and its companion piece ...

Pico Iyer is the author of 15 books, most recently, Autumn Light and its companion piece A Beginner’s Guide to Japan.

So, I asked my bosses for a six-month leave of absence and flew to Tokyo. Within a few days, I was in Hiroshima; silent, watching red and yellow and emerald lanterns sent floating down the Motoyasu River on the 40th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb. Soon, I was staying in a broken room in Manila’s red-light district, heading out each morning to join the demonstrations that would culminate in the toppling of Ferdinand Marcos through the nonviolent People Power Revolution. Later, I was riding an overnight train from Guangzhou to Beijing, stepping out to find the capital’s wide streets entirely car-less, citizens in blue Mao jackets playing badminton in the main boulevards leading to Tiananmen Square.

“Clear and elevated as I could never remember feeling before. Freed of every distraction.”

The moment that transformed me, however, came after I flew to Lhasa, in Tibet. My parents had introduced me to Tibetan monks while I was a little boy, in Oxford, and as a teenager I’d made my first trip to Dharamsala (with my father) to meet the Dalai Lama. But nothing had prepared me for the shockingly blue skies on the plateau itself, the silence around the great monasteries of Drepung and Sera, the tear-streaked faces of pilgrims who’d walked 1,200 miles — some prostrating themselves every few steps — to see the Jokhang Temple by flickering candlelight. Lhasa then was still a cluster of whitewashed shops and houses under the protective gaze of the 1,000-roomed Potala Palace  high above.

One bright September afternoon, I took the steep walk up to the home of the Dalai Lama, and, after passing through rooms full of statues and mandalas, stepped out onto a terrace to look across the valley. The elements had a sharpness I’d never seen, even at higher altitudes in the Andes. The monks chanting inside conferred an air of solemnity. The few other visitors were mostly pilgrims, excitedly buying scrolls near the rooms where their spiritual leaders once lived. At that moment, I felt not just on the ‘rooftop of the world’, as all the guidebooks had it; I was on the rooftop of my being, as clear and elevated as I could ever remember feeling before, freed of every distraction. By the end of my four-month journey across Asia, I’d decided to tell my bosses I was leaving my comfortable job and moving to Japan — where I still live, 35 years later. But it was that one moment in Tibet, in the midst of all the oppression and destruction that culture had suffered, that reminded me if I didn’t follow some intuition to leave the familiar world behind, I could remain an exile all my life. 

Pico Iyer is the author of 15 books, most recently, Autumn Light and its companion piece A Beginner’s Guide to Japan, both published by Bloomsbury Publishing. picoiyerjourneys.com

Read more tales from our Why We Travel cover story Published in the Jul/Aug 2020 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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English Summary

Why We Travel Summary in English Class 12

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Table of Contents


This chapter is written by Pico Iyer and addresses the question about why do humans travel. The writer delves into the reasons that make travelling a pleasurable activity. He quotes some great writers and also cites his own travel experiences.

Travelling as a Liberating Experience

The writer begins by stating that the primary reason for travelling is that it acts as a liberating experience. One loses oneself in travel. There are no burdens of everyday life and no responsibilities of our personal or professional life hold us back. So, there are no inhibitions while travelling.

A traveller leaves his beliefs and certainties at home and opens himself to newer possibilities. While travelling, we are not recognized by our professions or our social standing, that is, we are freed of inessential labels. Therefore, we freely follow our impulses while travelling.

Travelling as A Search for the Self

Travel provides the much needed respite from our busy lives. The hustle and bustle of our hectic schedules drain away our spirit to live. Travelling gives us a renewed spirit to live life to the fullest. We begin to pay attention to one spiritual needs. Each time we travel, we question our beliefs and reconsider our opinions. Thus, travelling compels us to think and reflect on our notions.

Travel, therefore, enriches our knowledge of our own selves as it makes us explore the unexplored recesses of our mind and understand our own moods. The quietude and tranquillity that travel offers helps cause a kind of spiritual awakening. That is to say, that when we travel outside, we also travel inside ourselves. We explore the vast expanse of our inner selves.

Travelling to Enrich our Perspectives

When we travel to unknown places and meet new people, we get exposed to their culture. This gives us a deep understanding of humanity. Travelling makes us more kind and empathetic. The horizons of our thought process broaden and we gather multiple perspectives.

We begin to understand that our perspectives are not universal but are only limited to us. The writer cites words of Marcel Proust who aptly said that travelling is not always about visiting new places but seeing them with new eyes or simply through fresh perspectives.

Exposure to the Realities of the World

Travelling does not only show us scenic beauty and breath-taking landscapes but also exposes us to the harsh realities of the world. Only when we leave the comforts of our homes, do we see the hardships of the other people in the world. Our misconceptions about their lives are done away with.

We come to understand that the terrains like mountainous or deserts which looks so pleasing aesthetically, are actually difficult places to live in. We are thereby prevented from thinking of them as mere abstractions. This way, we travel to rescue ourselves from such misconceptions.

Travelling Enables Cultural Exchange

When a person travels, he takes along with him not only a luggage but also his beliefs and values. This enables a cultural exchange between travellers and the natives. The writer, for example, says that he always takes Michael Jordan posters to Kyoto and brings home woven ikebana baskets. Sometimes, it is not only cultural artefacts but even dreams that get exchanged or transported in travelling.

Travelling as a Return to Our True Selves

Our modern lives and the rat race for success corrupt our visions for life. But while travelling, we tend to carry the basic minimum belongings with us. Hence, we discard all that does not seem essential. This way, we get rid of our obsession for material possessions.

Travelling Makes Us Fall in Love with Life

The writer says that as we travel, we are born again. By this he implies that travelling gives us new purposes and motivation. We begin to appreciate life. Also, travelling brings out the child in a traveller. Thus, the experience of travelling gives us the innocent eyes with which we see the world anew and afresh. The writer believes that each time he returns after a tour, he keeps thinking of that place and revisiting it through the photographs and his diary entries, just like a person in love.

Adventure over Monotony

The confines of our homes make life seem monotonous and dull. Travel provides the adventure and thrill that excites us. In the words of the great writer Albert Camus, “what gives value to travel is fear”. And this fear demands us to be more alert and active.

Travelling Makes us Question the Fixity of Identities

While travelling, a person visits many places and meets many people. He absorbs certain elements of various places and its people. One’s identity, therefore, does not remain fixed or singular. A traveller acquires a curious amalgam of identities of various languages and cultures. The writer quotes Sir Thomas Browne who said that “We carry within us the wonders we seek without us.” This implies that we carry multitudes within us and no human is confined to one singular identity.

This way, Pico Iyer concludes that travelling is essential to keep the human mind active. It prevents the soul from getting exhausted due to the boring routine of everyday life. It keeps a check on our prejudices. Travelling reminds us that the world is too vast and complex, just like the vast expanse of the human inner self.

For life to remain interesting and for enthusiasm to never fade, it is important that one remains wakeful, receptive and willing to face the world in all its strangeness and unfamiliarity. Travelling achieves this end for us.

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Pico Iyer Has Traveled the World for 46 Years. Here’s What Has Changed—and What Has Stayed the Same.

So much of what i do today would have looked like science fiction when i first started. but the reasons i travel haven’t changed at all..

pico iyer why we travel

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The first time I ever received a job offer, my parents left a message for me at the tiny guesthouse where I was staying in Sardinia: I needed to call an office in New York, instantly. But it was a Friday afternoon during a World Cup summer, so the only public center for placing international phone calls was already closed for the day. As it was on Saturday. Sunday, too. Monday turned out to be a national holiday. Finally, almost four days after I received the summons, I was able to step into a large hangar-like hall, take a number and wait in line to receive an instrument on which I could talk (for a few exorbitantly priced minutes) to Midtown Manhattan.

Three years later—by now firmly installed in my new job writing about the world for Time magazine—I spent four months traveling around Asia to write a book. Throughout those 120 days, I was able to call home exactly once, when at last I got to Singapore, the rare city that offered a similar public facility from which overseas phone calls could reliably be placed.

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Pico Iyer Shares His Secrets for Traveling Better and Relaxing More

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Pico Iyer Shares His Secrets for Traveling Better and Relaxing More

When I first started working in the travel world, my biggest fear was that I’d grow callous to that sensation of feeling so alive when visiting a place for the first time. You know how pasta at home never tastes as good as it does while you’re in Italy? I wondered if, the more I traveled, the less vulnerable I’d be to that sense of wonder. Or that I’d be too distracted by the (admittedly fabulous) pressures of bringing something back from that trip: an idea, a story, or even just a box of the Kit Kats du jour from Tokyo.

But I’ve found that those low-grade pressures sharpen my senses even more. As I savor that carbonara in Rome, I’m thinking about how I might remember or translate the experience into words on a page. It feels almost meditative, and the more I can dip into this mindfulness, the more content I am, even when things go wrong.

All of this was swirling around in my mind when an email invitation to interview travel writer Pico Iyer—famous for his talks and books on the connection between stillness and travel—came through. Our conversation wound from how to treat a flight like a retreat in the sky to his arguments for choosing someplace like Iran or North Korea over, say, a week in Hawaii. He had many wonderful things to stay, but here are the ones I want to tuck away and revisit.

1. Think of travel as just the starting point.

“Travel is the way we collect the sights that turn into insights when we’re sitting still back at home. If we take an amazing 10-day trip to Bhutan , and if it’s a rich trip, we’ll probably spend the next 10 months or 10 years looking back on it, finding a place for it in our daily lives. It’s akin to going to a market to collect some raw ingredients to cook up into a meal when you’re back home. I think most people who come back from a trip saying that it changed their lives will probably find that their life is most richly changed as they’re sitting still at home and revisiting those places.”

2.Trade at least one beach vacation for North Korea.

“For any traveler, it’s really useful to spend a few days in North Korea . Twenty years ago, I went for four days—and really spent the next two decades thinking about those four days. This time last year, I revisited the county. It’s not the most pleasant or inviting destination on the planet, but it’s one of the most thought-provoking and different—and the one that sends you home with the most questions and uncertainties. You return with the deepest realization that nothing you believe to be part of daily life pertains to daily life in North Korea, and vice versa. And that’s really my definition of a good trip. I’ve been to beautiful places such as Hawaii and Venice and I’ve partaken of their beauty…and then I’ve returned home and picked up my daily life as if nothing has happened to me.”

3. Turn travel mishaps to your advantage.

“I’m speaking as the everyday journalist and travel writer whose job involves keeping up with the moment but who nonetheless feels that I won’t be able to keep sanity or balance if I don’t step outside of my life or the world as often as possible. I don’t have a formal meditation or spiritual practice, but I have a handful of daily habits by which I try to hold onto my sanity. And travel is an ideal way to practice them. For example, when I show up at the airport and the flight is delayed for two hours, I will often think (if I’m in a good mood) ‘Wonderful! I have a micro vacation—I can go off to a quiet corner and bury myself in a book.’ It’s not always easy to find 120 minutes free to read a book these days.”

4. And consider the flight as a mini retreat.

“When I’m on the plane, I try to pretend it doesn’t have Wi-Fi. And I learned through watching my fellow passengers to use the flight to turn off your mind—which is to say to let it run around like a dog off the leash. I think more and more of us find in our accelerated world of updates and messages that the plane is one of the rare places where we can escape all that. We can read or think about someone we care about or do nothing at all. Those three things are ever more luxurious. I was talking to a monk once and I asked him how he deals with jet lag. He looked at me as if I were a five-year-old child (which I probably am) and said, ‘A flight is a mini retreat in the sky. You can’t be anywhere else. Nobody is expecting you. Everything is brought to you in the comfort of your seat. What better place to practice monasticism, at least for the 16 hours of the flight?’”

5. Get in touch with all your senses.

“When people talk about meditative practices they’re really talking about attention. And I’ve always thought that the beauty of travel is that it’s like turning all your senses to the setting marked ‘on’ and suddenly you’re wide awake and not able to take things for granted like you might at home. So I suppose travel is a training in attention, which therefore brings you to the same point as mindfulness.”

6. Leave your routines at home.

“I just wrote a piece on the virtue of having a quest or a question whenever you take a trip. Even if that quest is that a friend’s six-year-old has asked for a Hello Kitty bag when you go to Japan . Suddenly you’re going to parts of Japan you never would have seen otherwise. So that six-year-old is opening a door for you. But a quest also takes you out of your routines. When we travel it’s not so much about leaving our homes but about leaving our habits behind.”

7. Travel behind the headlines.

“When my neighbors in California ask where they should go on vacation, I always suggest Iran, Cuba, and Vietnam . Partly because those are three of the most culturally rich, beautiful, and welcoming places I’ve ever been and partly because, while having an amazing time, you’re also getting a history lesson about places that have been so implicated in our recent history. You’re learning about the headlines you’ve been taking in over the last 30 years.

8. Be a traveler in your own hometown.

“I try to look around Santa Barbara , for example, with the eyes of someone’s who from, say, Cambodia and within a second, I’m reminded what a beautiful place it is. When we’re at home, most of us are keenly aware of what’s not perfect, but visitors can remind us of the beauty that surrounds us. I remember one time when I had come back from Tibet, and I was restless and jet lagged and out of sorts. I was missing Tibet a lot and wanted still to be there. I was so antsy, I decided to just get in my car and drive. A few minutes later, I looked out to one side of me and there was the great blue expanse of the Pacific. Then I looked to the other side of me and saw this ridge of untouched valley with an emerald lake in the center and not a single trace of human habitation. And I suddenly realized that 10 minutes from my mother’s house was a landscape probably more beautiful than anything I’d seen in Tibet.”

9. And don’t overlook the power of the staycation.

“A large part of the beauty of travel is the way it illuminates home and shows you the things you take for granted. For example, if you go to North Korea, one happy result is coming back and enjoying the freedoms and movements we have here and often forget (and even complain) about. But if you’re seeking stillness, it’s right here, you don’t have to go to Tibet or Tahiti to find it. It’s right in the heart of home, if you can only open your mind and senses. In Kyoto, when you step into a temple, it’s often written in the ground to ‘Look beneath your feet.’ As a way of saying that everything you’re trying to find is right here.”

Want to hear Pico’s wisdom in person? Join him for a day-long workshop at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco on Saturday, July 25th.

>> Next: This Off-the-Grid Getaway Will Steal Your Heart

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Pico Iyer on the secret of immersive travel

A traveller's capacity to be stirred is often in direct proportion to their ability to quietly contemplate the world around them (Credit: mantaphoto/Getty Images)

I walked off a cruise ship this January, having sailed for 10 days around the Antarctic Peninsula, in a rare state of exaltation. I’d wandered among a huge colony of penguins before, in Patagonia, but nothing had prepared me for standing, day after day, surrounded by the irresistible birds as they waddled past, threw back their heads to squawk, or glided, with surpassing grace, through the icy water.

The deepest reason why I was moved, I came to realise, was that I spent so much of each day sitting still

I’d seen calving glaciers in Alaska, but that somehow paled next to the sensation of drifting in a 10-person Zodiac for one midsummer morning across a sea of turquoise and aqua and silver icebergs. Even the time I’d watched my mother swim with dolphins in Tahiti, 20 years ago, was nothing next to the sight of 50 orcas porpoising beside our ship in bright light, long after dinnertime.

By freeing himself of other people and quietly watching the world around him, the author felt a deep sense of liberation and clarity (Credit: Ray Hems/Getty Images)

By freeing himself of other people and quietly watching the world around him, the author felt a deep sense of liberation and clarity (Credit: Ray Hems/Getty Images)

What was it that had transported me so profoundly, I wondered? Of course, there’s a special clarity in sailing through a noiseless world where there’s often no sign of human habitation. And nearly all my fellow passengers seemed as liberated as I by the fact that phone calls were almost impossible on the ship and the internet punitively slow. Every morning, a four-page digest of news told us of a virus in faraway Wuhan, but that barely translated to this unpeopled landscape with its 360-degree horizons. Yet the deepest reason why I was moved, I came to realise, was that I spent so much of each day sitting still.

Destinations can only be as rich as what we bring to them

It’s a relationship that has come to haunt me more and more over 46 years of travel: my capacity to be stirred is in direct proportion to my ability to be quiet. That’s one reason why, whenever I visit Midtown Manhattan, I reflexively seek out St Patrick’s Cathedral to inhale, in silence, everything I’ve just experienced and to prepare myself for the honking horns and noisy meetings to come. It’s also the reason so many of us try to sit on a rock in Petra before the tour buses arrive, or walk along the treeless emptiness of Iceland at 02:00 in mid-June when the sun is just beginning to sit on top of the sea.

We’re most transported when we’re least distracted. And we’re most at peace – ready to be transformed, in fact – when most deeply absorbed. I’d much rather converse with one sight for 60 minutes than 60 places for one minute each. When I travel with the Dalai Lama – as I’ve done for 10 recent Novembers across Japan – I’m convinced that the wide-awake responsiveness he brings to every last convenience store and passing toddler is partly the result of the three hours he spends at the beginning of every day in meditation. Destinations can only be as rich as what we bring to them.

A traveller's capacity to be stirred is often in direct proportion to their ability to quietly contemplate the world around them (Credit: mantaphoto/Getty Images)

During this new season of the virus, I’ve been spending many happy hours on the tiny sunlit terrace outside my apartment in Nara, Japan, with the poet laureate of lockdowns, Marcel Proust. I think of him also as the patron saint of travellers, precisely because he was confined by severe asthma to spending three years alone in his cork-lined bedroom. What allowed him to read with such acuity the small print of every crowded soiree? To recall with such fresh immediacy a long-ago gaggle of young beauties on a beach? To record with wakeful precision the sight of a loved one asleep? That time in solitary, I suspect. It was Proust, I never forget, who reminded us that the point of every trip is not new sights but new eyes. Once we have those, even the old sights are reborn.

The point of every trip is not new sights but new eyes

I think, too, of the preternatural vividness of Emily Dickinson. Not leaving her house for 26 years brought her to such a high pitch of attention that she could see South Pole and North – and wild nights and heaven and carriage-rides with death – just by standing at her window. It was through going nowhere that she made everywhere seem wondrous.

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I got my own first taste of the richness and stimulation of sitting still on one of my greatest adventures, 29 years ago, when I drove to a Catholic hermitage three and a half hours from my parents’ home in California. I stepped, on arrival, into a room consisting of a single bed, a long desk, a chest of drawers and windows looking out on a private walled garden and the still, blue plate of the Pacific Ocean, extending in every direction, 1200ft below. In the absence of disturbances – no television, no telephone reception, no internet connection – every tolling bell seemed momentous. I noticed every Steller’s jay as I never did when they alighted outside my room in my family home. Nothing I’d seen in Bhutan or Ushuaia had carried me so far or deep. I’m not a Christian but I realised that silence is non-denominational.

From Proust to Dickinson, many great travellers have found that prolonged periods of isolation have helped them see the world in vivid detail (Credit: fizkes/Getty Images)

From Proust to Dickinson, many great travellers have found that prolonged periods of isolation have helped them see the world in vivid detail (Credit: fizkes/Getty Images)

Three days later, of course, I was back in my all-over-the-place, multitasking, split-screen life. But those three days in silence opened a door to possibility, to the point where, by now, I’ve returned to stay in that hermitage more than 90 times, on occasion for as long as three weeks.

No-one has yet mastered the art of seeing the world deeply while running around

More than that, it’s thrown a fresh light on all my other travels. Returning to Myanmar four years ago, I simply took myself every morning, before breakfast, to the Shwedagon Pagoda: there was no need to go anywhere else, since young lovers, schoolkids, nuns, family historians – the entire city – seemed to be walking past me. Every time I visit San Francisco now, even on business, I try to take a long walk soon after I wake up, and not to go online for as long as possible. I’d rather see the world around me than be back amidst presidential tweets or messages from my bosses.

I think back to the teenager who bumped by bus from San Diego to Bolivia in 1975. At that time, I was so excited by new stamps in my passport and the prospect of telling my friends I’d crossed a pass at 15,000ft and stayed (inadvertently) for three nights in a house of ill repute that I measured my days by the quantity of experiences they threw up. It took years of travel to appreciate how a single morning in Kyoto, wide-awake in a quiet garden, could transform me more than any packed three-week itinerary across Asia.

By making the most of our enforced stillness now, we may all become better, more thoughtful travellers later (Credit: manjik/Getty Images)

By making the most of our enforced stillness now, we may all become better, more thoughtful travellers later (Credit: manjik/Getty Images)

Many of us now are waiting to emerge from long weeks of enforced stillness and to think about what travel can be in the future. In my case, discouraged from taking buses or trains, my wife and I enjoy walks every day around our neighbourhood and have discovered a bamboo forest, lined with flowering cherry trees, only five minutes from the apartment where we’ve been living for 27 years. Staying inside has helped me notice the light, the song of nightingales, even an occasionally passing motorbike as never before.

I’ve also got to hear from my too-seldom encountered best friend, reporting that he’s on his way to Antarctica next February. How should he prepare, he asked? I told him to read Admiral Byrd’s book, Alone, about all that the famous explorer discovered while trapped inside a tiny space near the South Pole, alone, for five months. I also told him to make the most of his stillness in advance. No-one has yet mastered the art of seeing the world deeply while running around.

Pico Iyer is the author of 15 books, translated into 23 languages, including The Art of Stillness and, most recently, Autumn Light and A Beginner’s Guide to Japan .

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pico iyer why we travel

Writer Pico Iyer On Why There's More to Travel Than Your Instagram Feed

By Pico Iyer

Image may contain Human Person Art Painting and Ruins

Our magazine hit newsstands 30 years ago and, in celebration, we took time to check in with travel writers, industry players, and Condé Nast Traveler's founding editor Sir Harold Evans to see just how travel has changed since 1987. You can find all their insights here . But, in reading the thoughts from travel writer Pico Iyer , we knew we had to run what he said in full. Here, why technology and a constant Internet connection don't always improve travel.

In 2017 the world remains as rich, as full of surprises, as inexhaustible as ever. I’m thrilled to see Thai tourists in the chic new minimalist hotels of Jaipur , and Chinese crowding the garden hotels of Yazd . I’m delighted to meet Zen students on the streets of Little Rock, and to find almost every kid I know conversant with the sounds of Iceland . (In 1987, when I spent ten days there, dark-skinned visitors were such a rarity that I was treated as if I had just beamed myself in from Mars ). The menu from any restaurant down the street will show you how much more diverse and tasty the world has grown in its criss-crossings.

But my fear is that more and more people will look only at those menus. That “tasting” cultures becomes more fashionable than truly entering them, and that it will be just the surfaces of other places we collect, not their essence. Indeed, that collecting places becomes more a goal than plunging into them and being transformed by them.

This image may contain Water, Outdoors, Nature, Vessel, Transportation, Vehicle, Watercraft, Waterfront, Human, and Person

I worry, in short, that travel is becoming more a form of consumerism, whether you live in Santa Monica or Shanghai, than a real exercise in curiosity, and that, as the world grows more open and available, going to another country will seem more like going to a cool ethnic supermarket or trendy restaurant than a true journey into shock or difference. I worry, in other words, that the tasting menu will replace the true unsettledness of being lost on the streets of Calcutta or spooked by a witch doctor in Haiti; that people will seek to become plusher versions of themselves when they travel rather than different versions. That comfort will seem a more essential part of the travel experience than challenge, not so different from shopping online, and that the selfie will become a more central part of our experience than the detailed portrait.

People, rightly and wonderfully, grow ever more concerned about the wilderness around us, and what we’re doing to our rivers and trees; I worry about the wild places in the imagination and the rainforests of our being. That travel has grown so commonplace is a blessing for us all, and has the potential to make us all more cosmopolitan, broad-minded, and alive. But if we don’t travel to Ethiopia or Japan for something deeper than the ramen joints and the clothes shops there, we’ll remain no less provincial than before.

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Book Reviews

Pico iyer's 'the half known life' upends the conventional travel genre.

The Half Known Life cover

A mesmerizing collection of essays that vividly recalls sojourns to mostly contentious yet fabled realms, Pico Iyer's The Half Known Life upends the conventional travel genre by offering a paradoxical investigation of paradise.

Iyer's deeply reflective explorations at once affirm and challenge the French philosopher Blaise Pascal's statement that "All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone."

After years of traversing the globe as the Dalai Lama's biographer and observing first-hand how people struggle with the search for a meaningful existence, Iyer, a noted British-American essayist of Tamil ancestry, has often wondered what kind of paradise can be found in our increasingly fractious world.

Since travel is often tied to escape/refuge as well as conquest/acquisition, the notion of paradise in today's context inevitably brings up attendant issues of loss, instability, violence and oppression. Voyaging from shadowy mosques and gardens of Iran (where the same Farsi word is used for both "garden" and "paradise") to the sterile skyline of North Korea; the deceptively peaceful lakes of Kashmir to the unyielding terrains of Ladakh and the tense sunlit lawns of Sri Lanka; the wrathful Old Testament landscape of Broome, Australia to the fog-shrouded, Bardo-like embankments of Varanasi; the clamorous streets of Jerusalem to the hushed temples of Koyasan, Japan, Iyer poetically depicts the otherworldly beauty of these places while trenchantly examining the paradox of utopia. Why do so many seeming paradises rupture in suffering and chaos? Is the serpent an inherent feature of paradise? In the process he also questions our idea of knowledge by positing that "the half known life is where so many of our possibilities lie."

While acknowledging that a flawed understanding of other cultures can create tragic consequences, Iyer believes "it's everything half known, from love to faith to wonder and terror," that actually guides the trajectory of one's life. Accordingly, there is usually a gap between our preconceived notion of happiness and a deeper, realer truth that we may intuit but tend to overlook in our pursuit of happiness. "The places we avoid [are] often closer to us than the ones we eagerly seek out," Iyer insightfully observes.

The notion of home/truth versus exile/illusion is fluid one — Iyer is less interested in binary thinking than in embracing contradictions. In his view, it's precisely our imperfect grasp of reality that both invites us to commune with other worlds and teaches us to be humble when we find ourselves untethered from the familiar. Therefore Iyer's idea of paradise, in embracing both engagement and conscious solitude, affirms yet also modifies Pascal's isolationist sentiment. In some way Iyer's worldview is closer to Olga Tokarczuk's Boschian universe of provisionary heretics in The Books of Jacob , and shares more kinship with limbo or hell than what we normally envision as the kingdom of perfect happiness.

In acknowledging suffering as an indispensable feature of paradise, Iyer emphatically renounces a pristine image of Eden, as embodied by North Korea's "massive stage set, all Legoland skyscrapers and false fronts." Seeing the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden as a necessary fall, and the Buddha's departure from his princely estate as a conscious acceptance of human frailties, Iyer concludes that a true paradise is only attainable through displacement.

While The Half Known Land is not without its romantic seductions — Iyer's indelible prose often conjures the hypnotic, teeming vista of a David Lean epic or the evocative interior of a Mira Nair picture — his descriptions are suffused with an awareness of loss. Although we are deeply enchanted by Iyer's recounting of his mother's fairytale childhood in Kashmir's alpine hills, we also understand his wish to relinquish this illusory past:

"Could [my mother's] memories of Kashmir still be found? Should they? The very British who had raised her and educated her so beautifully had also cut the honeymooners' valley into pieces and left it in the hands of implacable [Pakistan, Indian and Chinese] rivals ...."

In another bittersweet story about Kashmir, a Westerner's dream of escape turns into a long lasting, sustainable engagement with the region after the man suffered a devastating loss. In Iyer's riveting anecdotes, a sudden intimacy with death brings one closer to glimpses of paradise. This unflinching yet organic acceptance of death seems to nullify any hubristic attempt toward absolutes. Iyer's discussion of the Dalai Lama's pragmatism in treating various religious traditions as complementary medical systems — rather than mystical truths — seems especially apt. By concentrating on relieving human suffering, His Holiness's teachings are situated in the here and now, rather than in any theoretical exaltation of eternal life.

Finally, The Half Known Life offers us a revelatory refresher on American literature. Iyer's intimations of mortality help us embrace Herman Melville's visceral terror of the unknown in Moby Dick , and his engagement of diverse worlds brings to mind both Emily Dickinson's dwelling in possibility ("The spreading wide my narrow Hands / To gather Paradise") and Elizabeth Bishop's ambiguous epiphany in "Questions of Travel":

"Continent, city, country, society: the choice is never wide and never free."

Thúy Đinh is a freelance critic and literary translator. Her work can be found at thuydinhwriter.com. She tweets @ThuyTBDinh

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  • Intelligent Travel

Meet the Writer: Pico Iyer

Award-winning essayist and travel writer  Pico Iyer has been a part of the National Geographic  Traveler family   since the magazine’s earliest days, contributing articles short and long and adding star power to live-audience events at Nat Geo’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.

“We’re always delighted to feature Pico’s refined and lyrical prose on places from Istanbul to Kyoto,” says  Traveler  Executive Editor Norie Quintos. “He has a singular ability to capture both a moment and a mood, root them firmly in a place, and render it all on the page,” she says. “The result is that the reader is transported.”

Here’s a brief peek into the life and times of Pico Iyer:

Home: I spend a few months a year in Japan on a tourist visa, but Santa Barbara has been my base since I arrived in the U.S. in 1965, when I was 8.

Urban Renewal: Even one’s hometown can be a grand adventure and discovery, if only one can look at it with the right–fresh–eyes.

Transferring Titles: The mystery stories of Ross Macdonald and Sue Grafton are fine evocations of the secrets and hidden treasures of Santa Barbara.

On the other end of the spectrum, I’m currently rereading Behind the Beautiful Forevers , by Katherine Boo . It’s the best nonfiction account of a very foreign place (a slum next to the Mumbai airport) that I’ve read in years. Anyone interested in our new global order–or humanity itself–would be moved and humbled to read it.

Wanderlust: I’ve always been haunted by Mali –just the sight and the thought of those mud-wall mosques draw me magnetically. I may have missed my chance for a bit, though, as new troubles seem to have descended.

Souvenirs: I’m fortunate to have enough travel memories and images to keep me going for decades.

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Pico Iyer is an essayist and novelist whose  most recent book is  The Man Within My Head .  Iyer also collaborated with photographer  Macduff Everton  on The Santa Barbara Book .

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  • Pico Iyer’s Santa Barbara

Read This Next

Author pico iyer on finding the ancient spirits of koyasan, japan, what i discovered about my heritage while visiting guadeloupe, 6 books about the uk to read this summer, notes from an author: sophie pavelle on dartmoor, uk.

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An Interview with Pico Iyer, The Contemplative Traveler

by Pico Iyer | December 21, 2023

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For writer Pico Iyer, travel is a spiritual experience that shakes up our usual certainties and connects us to a richer, vaster world. Iyer talks with editor-in-chief Melvin McLeod about his new book,  The Half Known Life: In Search of Paradise , recently named as one of New York Times ‘ “ 100 Notable Books of 2023 .”

Pico Iyer looks over railing at water.

Pico Iyer. Photo by Thomas Silcock.

Melvin McLeod: You write about travel as a transformative spiritual experience, even a spiritual practice. How do we approach travel in order to benefit from it spiritually?

Pico Iyer: I’ve always seen travel as a means of transformation. Part of its beauty involves not just leaving your home, but leaving far behind your habits and the self that you recognize at home. When you’re in a foreign place, you can’t define yourself in the ways you’re used to, and therefore there’s a chance to become a slightly different self.

I’m always seeking out those places that will overturn my assumptions, push me beyond what I think I know, and send me back a slightly different person from the one who left home. Of course, one doesn’t have to physically travel to be liberated from oneself, but it’s certainly a shortcut. If we’re in the streets of Varanasi, we can’t orient ourselves in familiar ways and we’re freed from our illusions of knowledge and of control.

The world is always richer than our ideas of it.

The ways that travel humbles us are also the ways it releases us. When I’m at home, I’m living according to plan, trapped within my preconceptions. But put me down in Jerusalem, and reality is coming at me from all directions. Travel strips me of the comfortable notions I hide behind. It cuts through projections and illusions very quickly.

These days it’s so easy to get the world secondhand, through small screens and in two dimensions, so there’s a greater need than ever to encounter the world in all its confounding intensity.

For me, travel is a confrontation with reality. It’s like when the Buddha left his gilded palace to confront head-on the realities of sickness, old age, and death. I left my comfortable job in New York City when I was twenty-nine, and I wasn’t unaware of the fact that my first name is Siddhartha, that my parents named me after the Buddha. I felt I was living in something of a gilded palace, and I wanted to meet the world head-on.

It seems to me that a lot of the problems we have today—racism, xenophobia, toxic nationalism—are because so many people have never been exposed to different peoples, cultures, and communities beyond their immediate world. Basically, they’ve never travelled. Do you think travel can be an antidote to the pervasive fear and hostility toward the other we see around the world?

Fear, I think, is always based on ignorance. But it’s a hard, vicious cycle to cut through. When I’m sitting at home and I think about Syria or Iran or North Korea, I focus on everything about them that’s different from my world. But as soon as I get off the plane in Damascus or Tehran or Pyongyang, I’m confronted with the human realities I have in common with the people in those countries. It’s only by keeping the world at a distance that we can preserve that illusion of difference. But as soon as we meet others in the flesh, we’re reminded of all the things we share.

The world is always richer than our ideas of it. I called my new book The Half Known Life to remind myself that it’s only when we’re at home and in our heads that we assume we’re so different from others. But when we’re actually in the streets of the world, we see all the ways we’re united with others that are beyond differences in custom or language.

The good news is that one doesn’t have to travel far to encounter the world. Go to Toronto or New York or San Francisco, and all the cultures of the world are on your doorstep. The most important division we see now is between the city and the countryside. Our cities largely belong to a multicultural, global, twenty-first-century reality, while the countryside is often more caught up in the old black-and-white definitions of the nineteenth century.

In a typical classroom today, there are children from many places and traditions, and I think that’s the signature quality of the twenty-first century. It’s true that nationalism is on the rise around the world, but I think that’s because it’s on the run. It senses that the world is incrementally losing its old black-and-white definitions and borders and turning into a multicultural, multicolored swirl. Certainly populism is shouting very loudly at the moment, but largely because the world is accelerating in a very different direction.

Peole in Varanasi, India, people bathing in the Ganges.

In the Hindu tradition, the goddess Ganga is the personification of the Ganges River. In Varanasi, India, people bathe in this holy body of water. Photo by iStock.com / Henk Bogaard

Can we ever know life fully—through travel or education or contemplation—or is the half-known life inherently part of the human condition? We long to know life fully, but can we ever?

I love that question. My prejudice is that not knowing is a permanent condition—and it’s a condition to embrace. Life doesn’t offer answers, and our lives are defined by how readily we embrace the state of answerlessness. Our lives will be made by what we do with the myriad things we can’t understand.

Don’t-know mind and not knowing as a form of intimacy are basic principles in Buddhism, particularly in Zen. That makes all the sense in the world to me. I’ve found that everything essential that determines my life—falling in love, seeing my house burn down, suddenly having the world stopped by a pandemic, stepping out onto the terraces of the Potala Palace in Lhasa and feeling myself lifted to a state that I didn’t know was inside me—all of these I can’t begin to explain, and they would only be reduced if I tried to put them into words or ideas.

I feel that our permanent condition is akin to being in a little tent in the Himalayas late at night. We may have a lantern or a flashlight, but otherwise we’re surrounded by the vast darkness of the nighttime sky, pinpricked with stars. We’re surrounded by things far greater and larger than we are, and how ready we are to accept them will define how happy our lives will be.

The phrase “the half known life” comes from Herman Melville. The poignancy of Melville’s life was that he was always trying to come to answers. What’s the meaning of life? Does God exist? What’s the relation of God to evil? I think there’s no answer to those, and he, by seeking answers to unanswerable questions, ended up walking sleepless through the streets of New York City, forgotten and unable to come to rest.

Unlike Melville, I feel that we need to come to rest in the awareness of everything that we can’t hope to understand.

The subtitle of the book is “ In Search of Paradise. ” Many of the places you go in search of paradise, such as Jerusalem, Northern Ireland, and Iran, are places with deep religious traditions and ideals of paradise. But they’re also places where religion itself is the source of great conflict. How do you experience the disconnect between their religious ideals of paradise and the reality of conflict?

For me, the disconnect is between the reality and the thoughts of reality I have, which will always be much smaller.

Jerusalem is a perfect example. It is the home of three great monotheisms, each beautiful in its own right. Yet the city of faith has been the city of religious conflict for more than two thousand years.

When I go there—and I’m not a Muslim or a Christian or a Jew—there’s something in the air, something in those ancient stones, that moves me almost to tears. Every morning I walk through the predawn dark to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. There, I sit in this little ragged space where there’s nothing but a rocky ledge and a glittering candle, and I feel transformed.

I feel that religious longing, the sense of something beyond us, is very real. But the theories and ideologies we create around that longing only cut us in two. What we do in the name of religion creates tribes of “us” versus “them,” “chosen” versus “unchosen” people. Whereas religious longing reflects the sense that there’s something there that is surely universal to us all.

I think my greatest teacher is silence. Silence seems to dissolve me and open me up to something much wider. I think everybody who’s been on a retreat, whether it’s a Zen retreat or time at a contemplative Catholic monastery, partakes of the same silence and clarity.

As you said so perfectly, I go in the search for paradise to places of great conflict and difficulty. This book was written during the pandemic, when all of us were living with death breathing down our necks, and my sense was that the only paradise I could trust was one I would find right in the middle of the real world, and in the face of death.

Here in Japan, where I sit now, they often talk about living joyfully in a world of sorrows. Sorrows are nonnegotiable—they’re a part of everybody’s life. But the fact of sorrows doesn’t have to preclude joy. And the fact of conflict in Jerusalem doesn’t have to preclude real moments of beauty and surrender and wonder.

Elaine Pagels, the great scholar of religions, said that this book is just a Buddhist parable, and she’s probably right. I suppose the book is my way of saying that we can’t hope to live in a world without suffering or difficulty or challenge. But none of those things means the absence of hope, of possibility, and the chance for kindness.

The Dalai Lama came from an obscure, impoverished place on the far side of the mountains to suddenly become the global friend of us all. This is one of the things that really gives me hope in the world. Two of his great friends were Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Vaclav Havel. One day Havel was in prison, and weeks later he was president of his country; Archbishop Tutu had never had a chance to vote for sixty-two years, and then he became one of the leaders of a post-apartheid South Africa.

These are wonderful reminders not to be stuck in despair or depression. Because the world is as suffused with miracles as it is with unpleasant surprises.

Woman in wedding dress standing beside deer.

In Nara, Japan, a woman gets her wedding photos taken in front of Todai-ji, a historic Buddhist temple. Deer, seen as heavenly animals, freely roam Nara. Photo by Hama Haki

You’ve written beautifully in Lion’s Roar about your own spiritual practice, which draws on different contemplative traditions. What ties these contemplative practices together for you?

This goes back to what we were saying about not needing Religion with a capital R—where I believe this, and everybody else believes something else—but trying to find that common core all the contemplative traditions share.

The contemplative tradition doesn’t need to define itself as belonging to East or West or this school or that school. As somebody who doesn’t have a Buddhist practice, I’m deeply grateful for what I have learned from His Holiness the Dalai Lama. As someone who’s not Catholic, I’ve completed more than a hundred retreats with my Benedictine friends at the New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, California, where I benefit hugely from the monks’ kindness and devotion.

I went to an Anglican school in England, and we had to go to chapel twice a day. We had to sing the Lord’s Prayer in Latin on Sundays. So by the time I was twenty-one, I’d had enough crosses and hymns to last me a lifetime. Christianity was the one tradition I wasn’t open to in the ways I might be open to the Zen tradition or Sufism.

So it has been a perfect blessing to end up spending so much of my life with these Christian monks, who are very grounded and decent people. That has also given me the chance to learn from Thomas Merton, Richard Rohr, Father Thomas Keating, and other great Christian contemplatives. I’m glad I’ve been able to learn from these Christians, whom otherwise I think I would have written off.

In terms of my life, growing up between many cultures has been a challenge, because I haven’t been rooted in a single one. But it’s also been a blessing, because I’ve been able to learn from all of them. For example, I always try to spend autumn here in Japan, which is, for me, a deeply Buddhist country. My wife is Buddhist, and I met her in a Zen temple in Kyoto. I think the Buddhist tradition looks more closely at suffering, impermanence, and loss than any of the other traditions I’m acquainted with. So if you’re thinking about how to live in the midst of death, how to love in the face of loss, the Buddhist tradition has something to offer, whether or not you have a Buddhist practice.

Then, I feel that the light and sense of affirmation and resurrection of the spirit in the springtime is very strong in the Christian tradition. So I tend to spend my springs in the Benedictine Hermitage in California, because the light and the flowering and the celebration that happens in the spring takes full-bodied form there.

So I’m very grateful that Buddhism can teach me about the end of life, and Christianity can teach me about the light within the end.

Western Wall in Jerusalem at twilight.

The Western Wall in Jerusalem, Israel, is a sacred site for the Jewish people. It’s the last remaining wall of the ancient Jewish temple that was destroyed in 70 CE. Photo by Gavin Hellier / Stocksy United

One of the greatest challenges facing the world is toxic religion. That’s religion that is conflated with nationalism, racism, and forms of aggression and supremacy. It seems to me the best antidote to toxic religion is contemplative practice like yours, which is free from rigid, us-versus-them beliefs and emphasizes universal human experience. But how do we bring more people to the kind of contemplative practice you do when the hard certainties of toxic religion seem so appealing to people?

When I called my book The Half Known Life , it was a way of saying we don’t need certainty and we don’t need hard conclusions. But we probably do need spiritual counsel and wisdom to navigate a world that’s always going to have shadow as well as light.

I think the medical example is a good one. None of us is going to be cured of life. All of us are mortal and no doctor is infallible. All a doctor can offer is her best prescription for the condition she has diagnosed.

I think we all need that kind of expertise in life, which is why we have turned to the great contemplative masters through the ages, why we go on retreat, why we look for teachers. Because we need counsel and we need wisdom, but we certainly don’t need fixed or final truths.

Actually, I think the trend toward contemplative practice is developing very quickly. I think people are more and more exposed to traditions other than their birth tradition. We are aware of many more options than when I was growing up because there are many more teachers in our midst from every corner of the globe.

We take that for granted, but we’re very lucky. When my parents were in college, fewer than two thousand Westerners in the whole of history had set foot in Tibet. Now the wisdom of Tibet is found in every section of the world. Growing up, my parents never imagined they could listen to a Vietnamese Buddhist teacher. Now we have all benefited from the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh. How lucky we are that people in every part of the world can meet these amazing bringers of wisdom.

That’s why we’re seeing this developing movement toward contemplative religion. I think the world is moving very quickly beyond borders, in the same way it’s moving beyond fixed identities of every kind.

Your magazine is a perfect example of this. Forty years ago, if Lion’s Roar had existed, it might not have been easy to find people who speak for contemplative practice. Now I’m sure there are more people than you have space for. I feel Lion’s Roar has been chronicling not just the growth but maybe the explosion of this movement.

pico iyer why we travel

About Pico Iyer

Pico Iyer is the author of fifteen books, most recently Autumn Light and A Beginner’s Guide to Japan, twinned works on living with uncer­tainty and impermanence.

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Pico Iyer Journeys

Pico Iyer Journeys

pico iyer why we travel


pico iyer why we travel


pico iyer why we travel

I’m more than a little surprised to find myself in this box: my idea of NEWS is something that happened in 1848, and I think there are better things to advertise and take notice of than my tiny doings or scribbles.

But now that ddb singapore has brought me into the 20th century – with every sign of coaxing me into the 21st – i’m happy to welcome anyone who’s interested to this space, where we may now and then post something that’s not easily found elsewhere, a video clip from our recent journeys or something that might be of interest to anyone who’s traveled as far as this unexpected corner., thank you for your time and attention, and if you’re irritated by something here, please blame the brilliant designers of these pages. without them, i’d still be in some black hole.

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Pico Iyer  was born in Oxford, England in 1957. He won a King’s Scholarship to Eton and then a Demyship to Magdalen College, Oxford, where he was awarded a Congratulatory Double First with the highest marks of any English Literature student in the university. In 1980 he became a Teaching Fellow at Harvard, where he received a second Master’s degree, and in subsequent years he has received an honorary doctorate in Humane Letters.

Since 1982 he has been a full-time writer, publishing 15 books, translated into 23 languages, on subjects ranging from the dalai lama to globalism, from the cuban revolution to islamic mysticism. they include such long-running sellers as video night in kathmandu, the lady and the monk, the global soul, the open road and the art of stillness. he has also written the introductions to more than 70 other books, as well as liner and program notes, a screenplay for miramax and a libretto.  at the same time he has been writing up to 100 articles a year for time, the new york times, the new york review of books, the financial times and more than 250 other periodicals worldwide., his four talks for ted have received more than 10 million views so far., since 1992 iyer has spent much of his time at a benedictine hermitage in big sur, california, and most of the rest in suburban japan., all the photos on this site, other than the portraits on the welcome page and above, are taken by pico iyer. in many of these journeys, we’ve put a picture of bali next to a mention of l.a., and a photo of an old friend next to a mention of somerset maugham. that’s not a mistake. in our fluid new century, many places are parts of other places, and all of us are a part of others. ultimately, inner world and outer world may not be so different, either., if you want to find original, non-syndicated pico iyer articles, some of the places where they appear regularly or have appeared in the past include:, click on each category to view more ».


In recent years, Pico Iyer has spoken at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, West Point, Stanford, Wellesley, the University of Toronto and many other institutions of higher learning. He has given four talks for TED, including the closing talk at the first TED Summit, in 2016, and the opening talk at the second TED Summit, in 2019, and his talks for TED have received more than ten million views so far. He has also addressed the World Economic Forum in Davos, the World Government Forum in Dubai, Coca-Cola, Google, SAP, Fox Television, The Association of American Museums, the World Monuments Fund and other associations across North America and the world.

Recent feature-length programs with him can be found on Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul Sunday, Krista Tippett’s On Being, Larry King’s show, NHK World and on CNN.

He is the host of the “Speaking with Pico” series of onstage conversations at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and has conducted onstage interviews, there and elsewhere, with the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, President Mary Robinson of Ireland, Martin Scorsese, Phillip Glass, Meredith Monk, Zadie Smith, Werner Herzog, Salman Rushdie, Amy Tan, George Saunders, Evan Williams, Annie Leibovitz, Matthieu Ricard, Maria Popova, BJ Miller and others in many fields.


French, German, Italian, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Polish, Greek, Ukrainian, Czech, Slovakian, Croatian, Hungarian, Hebrew, Russian, Turkish, Romanian, Bahasa Indonesia, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese and Mandarin.

Articles have appeared in Hindi, Finnish, Swedish, Norwegian, Flemish and many more.


In recent years, Pico Iyer has spoken at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, Columbia, West Point, Stanford, Wellesley, Mount Holyoke, the University of Toronto and many, many other institutions of higher learning, and has addressed such groups as The World Economic Forum in Davos, The World Government Summit, The Association of American Museums,, Dance/USA, the World Monuments Fund, SAP Labs, Coca-Cola, Google, Citigroup, Fox Television and Virtuoso, as well as giving three talks for TED (one of them to close the TED Summit in 2016) and telling a story for The Moth.

He has appeared regularly at the New York Public Library, the 92nd Street Y, the Los Angeles Central Library, the Asia Society (in many of its centers), the Los Angeles County Museum, the Guggenheim, the National Geographic Society, the Rubin Museum and many others.

He has also appeared at literary festivals in Bogota, Jamaica, Edinburgh, Ireland, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Macao, Singapore, Jaipur, Sri Lanka, Bali, New Zealand, and across the United States, Australia and Canada; and he has conducted onstage conversations with the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, President Mary Robinson of Ireland, Martin Scorsese, Sebastiao Salgado, Werner Herzog, Salman Rushdie, Takashi Murakami, Krista Tippett, Matthieu Ricard, Elizabeth Gilbert, Chris Anderson (head of TED), Meredith Monk, Zadie Smith, Evan Williams, Maria Popova and innumerable others.

If you want to learn more about his work and life, you can see the program-length features on him broadcast on PBS, CNN, the Oprah Winfrey Network and NHK World, among others.

pico iyer why we travel

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And let me add here that i owe huge and heartfelt thanks to the astonishing jeff cheong and his team at ddb in singapore and to david tang and the other terrifically generous friends there who first suggested that some set of journeys be made up in digital form – and then brought them to life on-screen with a sense of style, of fun, of imagination and vitality that humbled me. yeo wee lee, francis chong, rosslyn chay, and lim si ping have brought me vividly into the present moment and taught me, in inspiring ways, where our new world is going..

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Travel Stories:  In a classic essay, Pico Iyer explores the reasons we leave our beliefs and certainties at home to see the world with open eyes

We are the comic props in Japanese home-movies, the oddities in Maliese anecdotes and the fall-guys in Chinese jokes; we are the moving postcards or bizarre objets trouves that villagers in Peru will later tell their friends about. If travel is about the meeting of realities, it is no less about the mating of illusions: You give me my dreamed-of vision of Tibet, and I’ll give you your wished-for California. And in truth, many of us, even (or especially) the ones who are fleeing America abroad, will get taken, willy-nilly, as symbols of the American Dream.

That, in fact, is perhaps the most central and most wrenching of the questions travel proposes to us: how to respond to the dream that people tender to you? Do you encourage their notions of a Land of Milk and Honey across the horizon, even if it is the same land you’ve abandoned? Or do you try to dampen their enthusiasm for a place that exists only in the mind? To quicken their dreams may, after all, be to match-make them with an illusion; yet to dash them may be to strip them of the one possession that sustains them in adversity.

That whole complex interaction—not unlike the dilemmas we face with those we love (how do we balance truthfulness and tact?)—is partly the reason why so many of the great travel writers, by nature, are enthusiasts: not just Pierre Loti, who famously, infamously, fell in love wherever he alighted (an archetypal sailor leaving offspring in the form of Madame Butterfly myths), but also Henry Miller, D.H. Lawrence or Graham Greene, all of whom bore out the hidden truth that we are optimists abroad as readily as pessimists as home. None of them was by any means blind to the deficiencies of the places around them, but all, having chosen to go there, chose to find something to admire.

All, in that sense, believed in “being moved” as one of the points of taking trips, and “being transported” by private as well as public means; all saw that “ecstasy” (“ex-stasis”) tells us that our highest moments come when we’re not stationary, and that epiphany can follow movement as much as it precipitates it. I remember once asking the great travel writer Norman Lewis if he’d ever be interested in writing on apartheid South Africa. He looked at me astonished. “To write well about a thing,” he said, “I’ve got to like it!”

At the same time, as all this is intrinsic to travel, from Ovid to O’Rourke, travel itself is changing as the world does, and with it, the mandate of the travel writer. It’s not enough to go to the ends of the earth these days (not least because the ends of the earth are often coming to you); and where a writer like Jan Morris could, a few years ago, achieve something miraculous simply by voyaging to all the great cities of the globe, now anyone with a Visa card can do that. So where Morris, in effect, was chronicling the last days of the Empire, a younger travel writer is in a better position to chart the first days of a new Empire, post-national, global, mobile and yet as diligent as the Raj in transporting its props and its values around the world.

In the mid-19th century, the British famously sent the Bible and Shakespeare and cricket round the world; now a more international kind of Empire is sending Madonna and the Simpsons and Brad Pitt. And the way in which each culture takes in this common pool of references tells you as much about them as their indigenous products might. Madonna in an Islamic country, after all, sounds radically different from Madonna in a Confucian one, and neither begins to mean the same as Madonna on East 14th Street. When you go to a McDonald’s outlet in Kyoto, you will find Teriyaki McBurgers and Bacon Potato Pies. The placemats offer maps of the great temples of the city, and the posters all around broadcast the wonders of San Francisco. And—most crucial of all—the young people eating their Big Macs, with baseball caps worn backwards, and tight 501 jeans, are still utterly and inalienably Japanese in the way they move, they nod, they sip their Oolong teas—and never to be mistaken for the patrons of a McDonald’s outlet in Rio, Morocco or Managua. These days a whole new realm of exotica arises out of the way one culture colors and appropriates the products of another.

The other factor complicating and exciting all of this is people, who are, more and more, themselves as many-tongued and mongrel as cities like Sydney or Toronto or Hong Kong. I am, in many ways, an increasingly typical specimen, if only because I was born, as the son of Indian parents, in England, moved to America at 7 and cannot really call myself an Indian, an American or an Englishman. I was, in short, a traveler at birth, for whom even a visit to the candy store was a trip through a foreign world where no one I saw quite matched my parents’ inheritance, or my own. And though some of this is involuntary and tragic—the number of refugees in the world, which came to just 2.5 million in 1970, is now at least 27.4 million—it does involve, for some of us, the chance to be transnational in a happier sense, able to adapt anywhere, used to being outsiders everywhere and forced to fashion our own rigorous sense of home. (And if nowhere is quite home, we can be optimists everywhere.)

Besides, even those who don’t move around the world find the world moving more and more around them. Walk just six blocks, in Queens or Berkeley, and you’re traveling through several cultures in as many minutes; get into a cab outside the White House, and you’re often in a piece of Addis Ababa. And technology, too, compounds this (sometimes deceptive) sense of availability, so that many people feel they can travel around the world without leaving the room—through cyberspace or CD-ROMs, videos and virtual travel. There are many challenges in this, of course, in what it says about essential notions of family and community and loyalty, and in the worry that air-conditioned, purely synthetic versions of places may replace the real thing—not to mention the fact that the world seems increasingly in flux, a moving target quicker than our notions of it. But there is, for the traveler at least, the sense that learning about home and learning about a foreign world can be one and the same thing.

All of us feel this from the cradle, and know, in some sense, that all the significant movement we ever take is internal. We travel when we see a movie, strike up a new friendship, get held up. Novels are often journeys as much as travel books are fictions; and though this has been true since at least as long ago as Sir John Mandeville’s colorful 14th century accounts of a Far East he’d never visited, it’s an even more shadowy distinction now, as genre distinctions join other borders in collapsing.

In Mary Morris’s “House Arrest,” a thinly disguised account of Castro’s Cuba, the novelist reiterates, on the copyright page, “All dialogue is invented. Isabella, her family, the inhabitants and even la isla itself are creations of the author’s imagination.” On Page 172, however, we read, “La isla, of course, does exist. Don’t let anyone fool you about that. It just feels as if it doesn’t. But it does.” No wonder the travel-writer narrator—a fictional construct (or not)?—confesses to devoting her travel magazine column to places that never existed. “Erewhon,” after all, the undiscovered land in Samuel Butler’s great travel novel, is just “nowhere” rearranged.

Travel, then, is a voyage into that famously subjective zone, the imagination, and what the traveler brings back is—and has to be—an ineffable compound of himself and the place, what’s really there and what’s only in him. Thus Bruce Chatwin’s books seem to dance around the distinction between fact and fancy. V.S. Naipaul’s recent book, “A Way in the World,” was published as a non-fictional “series” in England and a “novel” in the United States. And when some of the stories in Paul Theroux’s half-invented memoir, “My Other Life,” were published in The New Yorker, they were slyly categorized as “Fact and Fiction.”

And since travel is, in a sense, about the conspiracy of perception and imagination, the two great travel writers, for me, to whom I constantly return are Emerson and Thoreau (the one who famously advised that “traveling is a fool’s paradise,” and the other who “traveled a good deal in Concord”). Both of them insist on the fact that reality is our creation, and that we invent the places we see as much as we do the books that we read. What we find outside ourselves has to be inside ourselves for us to find it. Or, as Sir Thomas Browne sagely put it, “We carry within us the wonders we seek without us. There is Africa and her prodigies in us.”

So, if more and more of us have to carry our sense of home inside us, we also—Emerson and Thoreau remind us—have to carry with us our sense of destination. The most valuable Pacifics we explore will always be the vast expanses within us, and the most important Northwest Crossings the thresholds we cross in the heart. The virtue of finding a gilded pavilion in Kyoto is that it allows you to take back a more lasting, private Golden Temple to your office in Rockefeller Center.

And even as the world seems to grow more exhausted, our travels do not, and some of the finest travel books in recent years have been those that undertake a parallel journey, matching the physical steps of a pilgrimage with the metaphysical steps of a questioning (as in Peter Matthiessen’s great “The Snow Leopard”), or chronicling a trip to the farthest reaches of human strangeness (as in Oliver Sack’s “Island of the Color-Blind,” which features a journey not just to a remote atoll in the Pacific, but to a realm where people actually see light differently). The most distant shores, we are constantly reminded, lie within the person asleep at our side.

  • Comments (23)

Pico Iyer is the author of several books about his travels, including Video Night in Kathmandu , "The Lady and the Monk," "The Global Soul" and "Sun After Dark." His most recent travel book, The Open Road , describes 33 years of talks and adventures with the 14th Dalai Lama.

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23 Comments for Why We Travel

PeggyCoonley/SerendipityTraveler 04.27.09 | 10:49 PM ET

Thanks for reposting this stellar travel essay by Pico Iyer . May we continue to travel the landscapes and hidden gems of our heart bringing with us peace, and leaving love as our footprint.

Vera Marie Badertscher 04.28.09 | 3:39 PM ET

Such a beautiful paean to the urge to travel. Thank you.

Bobby 04.29.09 | 2:21 PM ET

I enjoyed your insightful article. It inspires me to write myself, perhaps more so to travel and experience this beautiful world through my own lenses both via canon and the optic nerve….

Tim Patterson 04.30.09 | 11:53 AM ET

I love this essay so much.  It’s a staple for some Where There Be Dragons student travel programs - instructors read the essay to students at the start of the trip.

Thanks for republishing and congrats on the anniversary - here’s to 80 more years of World Hum.

Roger 04.30.09 | 1:14 PM ET

This essay is a masterpiece.

Carlo Alcos 04.30.09 | 8:55 PM ET

Happy 8th birthday! This is my first read of this essay - it blew my mind. It’s everything I know in my heart but can’t come close to expressing. Thanks!

unstranger 05.01.09 | 5:01 AM ET

Intelligently written and so insightful.

Travelanthropist 05.01.09 | 11:28 AM ET

This is such a wonderful essay on the inner journey, discovery, open-mindness—all bundle up in an activity we can do call travel.

Edna Hickey 05.08.09 | 8:14 AM ET

Wow!!  Every place I have ever been i.e. Kalalau Trail in the darkness, Bryon Glacier (off the trail), driving on the Seven Mile Bridge, just woke up!!  Thanks for taking me there again.  I’m excited to read more and will share this journey with others!!

shakester 05.08.09 | 12:20 PM ET

thanks for resposting for those of us unlucky enough to have not read this before. Absolutely wonderful, at almost 1am, reading this in near silence, and feeling both excitement and calm within.

here’s to many more years!

pax 05.27.09 | 1:21 PM ET

this made my day. thank you for reposting it. I definitely have to look for other of Pico Iyer’s writings.

Danielle 06.17.09 | 12:09 AM ET

I am so happy I have found this essay.  Iyer has reassured and aided me on a clearer journey to express my experiences from travel.  It is exciting to know there are others who find travel just as intoxicating as I do. Thank you.

Johnny B 10.07.09 | 4:05 PM ET

I travel because I need to be in touch with the dynamics of nature. Urban dwellers face an imminent risk of getting entangled in plastic life. A life that has come to define our unpleasant existence. Most of us can’t think beyond it. The laptops are babies and the internet is a pamper. Believe me, life is much more that that. Much more beautiful and mystical than what you could imagine at home.

I travel because it gives me a sense of freedom. A sense that is hard to come by in this utterly boorish urban landscape. I don’t mean to suggest that Karachi is boring. No, it’s not. It’s just that I don’t like it here any more. I want more of something new. The difference need be quantifiable in terms of pleasure bits and love bytes.

The exoticism of lands and of seas and of mountains is yet another charmer for me. But landscapes in isolation can be dreadful at times. They need animation. It is here that the best part of traveling comes in - the birds, the animals and the humans.

Johnny B CEO, Halo Electronic Cigarette Company

Ryan 01.04.10 | 5:28 PM ET

James L. Moore 01.12.10 | 2:45 PM ET

Congratulations on your 8th anniversary!  And thank you for re-posting Iyer’s essay and re-minding all of us of why we travel.  Of why it is important to reach out beyond our own personal space, reach out beyond our borders, reach out beyond our cultural expectations.

Pico Iyer delves into the actual meaning of travel—- as getting outdoors can stave off ‘Nature deficit’, traveling can stave off ‘cultural deficit’.

Mary 08.11.10 | 12:33 PM ET

I can say that travelling is like getting into new reality, even if you travel to the same place it is always something new there. This essay inspires to expand new horizonts!

Kelly Harmon @hiptraveler 11.13.10 | 1:27 AM ET

intelligently written and infinitely relate-able by all travelers.

keep discovering! ~cheers, @hiptraveler

Nina 11.13.10 | 2:59 AM ET

I love this article By Pico Iyer. Thank you World Hum for republishing it. So beautifully written.

Heather Bosely 11.17.10 | 11:23 AM ET

Thank you for republishing this article!  What a joy to read and hear expressed so clearly the wonders of travel to be experienced by really seeing.

Boomergirl 11.22.10 | 12:03 PM ET

Made my Monday morning!

deepa gupta 11.29.10 | 8:44 AM ET

profound writing,immensely strong and impressive-your beginning of this article is truly deadly.thanks for sharing this .

Raghuvir 12.04.10 | 6:31 AM ET

Loved this article. Hope you republish more of such articles.

WhiteApple 12.22.10 | 9:10 AM ET

I’ve watched a big amount of videos on the issue on this site http://www.tubesfan.com and got my own vision of the philosophy of travelling. Well, if a person is too fond of travelling, in my humble opinion it means that they are infantile, this is a direct evidence of the immaturity of thinking, selfishness, irresponsibility if you wish, though in the best meaning of those qualities.)) Most people travel to escape their daily lives. Unfortunately, when they come back to reality, their problems, family, friends, and issues they face are still there. Travel to enjoy it, meet new people, get rid of your baggage, learn about culture and history, and enjoy yourself.

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pico iyer why we travel

A Passionate Response to Pico Iyer’s “Why We Travel”

Travel writer Pico Iyer explores the motivations of wayfarers in his article “Why We Travel.” To him, travel is about the enlightenment of an individual and ultimately those around them. I agree wholeheartedly. Iyer points out that “… one of the subtler beauties of travel is that it enables you to bring new eyes to the people you encounter.” He is highlighting the interplay between the traveler and the local—how experience opens the visitor up to unexplored facets of their identity, and how their wonder impacts the country itself.

Much like Iyer discusses in his article, I believe travel is a cobbling of adventure through individual understandings of one’s home country, the country being traversed, and one’s own self; every individual’s unique expectations colors their exploration differently. I travel to challenge myself, so I can be encouraged and allowed to adapt in a place I’m not familiar with. I want to explore new cultures, countries, and, as a result, the different parts of myself that have been stunted from sitting stagnant in place. As Iyer puts it, travel “shows us all the parts of ourselves that might otherwise grow rusty.” I travel so I can shake off that rust.

Specifically, I hope Spoleto can teach me some of these extrinsic and intrinsic truths, and I hope I can grow as a writer and a person because of it. I plan to approach each element of this opportunity with adaptability and a sponge mentality. I am ardent for everything Italy has to teach me—I want to consume as much culture as I can, food and art alike. I’ve seen Michalangelo’s “David” in person before, and it was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever experienced, so getting to see “The Birth of Venus,” the Medici house and its collection, or anything else would be beyond. I want to immerse myself in and learn the language more, and I’m excited to learn how to articulate my wonder and gained experiences in sharper writing. Throughout the trip, I want to be more spontaneous, adaptable, and approachable to both other people and to new experiences. By the end, I hope to be a more assured and indulgent version of myself. As Iyer says, “… the first great joy of traveling is simply the luxury of leaving all my beliefs and certainties at home, and seeing everything I thought I knew in a different light, and from a crooked angle.” I am eager and ready for Italy to show me that different light, that crooked angle.

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Easy English Notes

Analysis of Pico Iyer’s Why We Travel

Introduction: the deeper layers of travel.

In today’s fast-paced world, travel is not just about ticking off destinations on a checklist. It is about discovering the soul of travel, and nobody captures this spirit better than Pico Iyer. In his thought-provoking essays and books, Iyer delves deep into the essence of our wanderlust, revealing the transformative power of travel. With a precise and insightful writing style, Iyer takes us on a journey of self-discovery through his own experiences and reflections. He challenges our notion of time and place, urging us to embrace the beauty of stillness and the art of being present. From his encounters with monks in remote Himalayan monasteries to his explorations of cultures across the globe, Iyer shows us that the true meaning of travel lies not in the external but in the internal exploration. In this comprehensive analysis of Pico Iyer’s thoughts, we dive into his most influential works, dissect his ideas, and explore how they resonate with our own travel experiences. Join us as we uncover the profound wisdom that can be found in the pages of Iyer’s writing and embark on a journey to discover the soul of travel.

The allure of travel often conjures up images of physical movement across landscapes and continents, yet beneath the surface lies an intricate tapestry of experiences that transcends mere transportation. Pico Iyer, a distinguished travel writer and essayist, delves into this notion, suggesting that beneath the act of journeying lies what he terms the “soul of travel.” This concept encapsulates the profound impact that travel can have on our inner selves. It’s not just about changing geographical locations; it’s about embarking on a transformative journey where the destinations mirror the depths of our souls. Iyer’s concept introduces the notion that each journey can be a pilgrimage of self-discovery, unveiling layers of meaning beyond what initially meets the eye.

Transformation through Travel: The Journey Within

Iyer’s perspective on travel reaches far beyond the superficial notion of a mere change of scenery. He posits that travel is a catalyst for personal transformation, a transformative experience that extends beyond the physical journey. Beyond the outward journey, travel becomes an exploration of the self, offering an opportunity for introspection and profound self-realization. By immersing oneself in diverse cultures, landscapes, and experiences, travelers undergo a metamorphosis. The encounter with the unfamiliar challenges preconceived notions, encourages personal growth, and fosters a sense of adaptability. This perspective redefines travel as a vehicle for inner evolution, a journey where travelers return not only with memories but also as changed individuals. Through Iyer’s lens, each voyage becomes a chapter in the ongoing story of personal growth.

The Solitary Path: A Voyage of Introspection

In a world that often glorifies constant connection and interaction, Iyer highlights the transformative role of solitude in the travel experience. Solitude, while traveling, becomes a cherished companion that encourages genuine connections—with both the surroundings and oneself. Away from the noise and demands of everyday life, travelers find space for introspection, a unique opportunity for self-discovery. The moments of solitude provide an unfiltered communion with nature, culture, and personal thoughts. Iyer emphasizes that through solitude, we can truly engage with the essence of a place and our emotions, resulting in a deeper understanding of our experiences. In this context, solitude becomes a guiding light to exploring the depths of both external landscapes and the intricate terrain of the human spirit.

Redefining “Home”: An Emotional Connection

Iyer’s travel narratives transcend the conventional boundaries of “home.” He suggests that home isn’t confined to a physical location but rather is a state of mind—a connection that transcends borders and geographical markers. Drawing from his rich multicultural experiences, Iyer presents home as an emotional tie that resonates across various places. His perspective invites us to consider that the sense of belonging can be found in the relationships, memories, and cultures we encounter during our journeys. As he weaves his narratives, the idea of home evolves into a dynamic concept that reflects the interconnectedness of the human experience itself, challenging the notion that home is a static entity confined to a singular space.

The Dual Impact of Technology: Enhancing and Distancing

In the era of rapid technological advancement, Iyer delves into the paradoxical relationship between technology and travel experiences. While technology brings seamless connectivity, access to information, and opportunities to share experiences with the world, it can also potentially detach us from the present moment. He encourages travelers to strike a delicate balance, advocating for the use of technology as a tool to enhance, not overshadow, our experiences. Iyer’s insights urge us to reflect on the nature of our engagement with technology. By embracing technology as a means to complement our journeys rather than define them, travelers can maintain an authentic connection with the essence of a place while navigating the digital age.

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The Essence of Presence: Savoring the Journey

Amidst the frenetic pace of modern life, Iyer advocates for the timeless practice of being fully present while traveling. He believes that immersing oneself in the present moment enriches the travel experience in profound ways. Iyer champions the art of savoring each encounter, encouraging us to absorb the beauty of our surroundings, engage in meaningful interactions, and cultivate genuine connections. Through this lens, the true essence of travel transcends the mere act of visiting destinations; it lies in collecting moments of authenticity and experiencing the journey in its entirety. By being present, travelers amplify the significance of their journey, and the ordinary transforms into the extraordinary.

Cultural Immersion: Connecting Through Diversity

Cultural immersion stands at the core of Iyer’s travel philosophy. He contends that fully immersing oneself in foreign cultures not only broadens horizons but also fosters empathy and understanding. Engaging with local customs, traditions, and ways of life breaks down barriers, dispels stereotypes, and encourages authentic human connections. Iyer’s narratives resonate with a call to step outside comfort zones, embrace diversity, and build bridges of empathy through shared experiences. In his writings, cultural immersion emerges as a potent tool for cultivating a global perspective and fostering a deeper connection with the world and its inhabitants.

Travel’s Role in Personal Growth: An Ever-Evolving Journey

Pico Iyer masterfully intertwines the themes of travel and personal growth in his writings. For him, travel isn’t solely about exploring geographical landscapes; it’s a profound journey into the uncharted territories of one’s own being. The challenges faced during travel prompt resilience and adaptability, while encounters with different cultures and unfamiliar environments encourage self-discovery. Iyer’s philosophy underscores the symbiotic relationship between travel and personal evolution, highlighting that every journey, whether near or far, offers an invaluable opportunity for growth and self-exploration. Through Iyer’s eyes, each trip becomes an ongoing exploration of both the external world and the inner self, a continuous narrative of self-discovery and development.

Embracing the Soul of Travel: A Final Revelation

Pico Iyer’s insights weave a rich tapestry of travel experiences that extend far beyond the realm of geography and sightseeing. In his intricate exploration of transformation, solitude, the concept of home, the impact of technology, the importance of presence, cultural immersion, and personal growth, Iyer provides readers with a comprehensive view of the multifaceted nature of travel. His musings invite us to delve into the soul of travel, to embrace journeys as opportunities for introspection, connection, and growth. By embracing the essence of travel as envisioned by Iyer, travellers embark on a journey that transcends the ordinary and ushers them into the realm of boundless exploration—one that intertwines the external and internal, the unfamiliar and the known, and ultimately, the continuous evolution of the human spirit.

The concept of the “soul of travel” that Iyer proposes calls for a shift in perspective, encouraging us to explore with intention, to engage with authenticity, and to approach our travels as a transformative odyssey. It prompts us to be present not only in the places we visit but also within ourselves, inviting us to listen to our inner voices and engage with the world from a place of profound awareness.

In conclusion,

Pico Iyer’s insights on travel beckon us to embrace the soul of travel—a journey that extends far beyond the external voyage. It’s an invitation to embark on a path of self-discovery, cultural understanding, and personal growth. Through transformation, solitude, the concept of home, the impact of technology, the essence of presence, cultural immersion, and personal growth, Iyer’s thoughts serve as a guide for those seeking a deeper connection with the world and themselves.

As we navigate our own journeys, let us heed Iyer’s wisdom and delve into the layers of experience that travel offers. Let us remember that each encounter, each place, and each moment has the potential to shape us in ways both subtle and profound. Through the lens of Pico Iyer’s insights, we can transcend the notion of travel as a mere logistical endeavor and embrace it as a transformative passage—one that enriches our lives, expands our horizons, and awakens the soul to the beauty of the world and the richness of our own inner landscapes.


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Pico Iyer: You don’t have to travel far to find beauty

Posted: February 24, 2023 | Last updated: June 30, 2023

For more than 31 years, Siddharth Pico Raghavan Iyer, better known as Pico Iyer, has been regularly visiting New Camaldoli, a Benedictine hermitage along California’s Big Sur coastline, staying there sometimes for two days, often for up to three weeks. ‘I’ve stayed there I think 98 times,’ says the much-travelled essayist and author, in an exclusive interview with Friday, on the sidelines of the Sharjah International Book Fair late last year.

Ninety-eight times? But why? I ask, surprised that anyone would keep returning to spend inordinate spans of time in a place where newspapers, phones and internet are no-nos, and socialising while not banned is largely absent.

‘Why did I go there? First, because I felt that monks more than anybody else, are professionals in learning how to live, learning how to love and learning how to die – things all of us need to learn,’ he says.

While he has written quite a bit about his experiences during his sojourns to this monastery (and in others in Japan, Australia and England), the 65-year-old writer admits that one thing that has perhaps had the greatest impact on him is that ‘silence is my teacher.

‘I feel so much calmer when there’s silence; not just an absence of noise, but almost a physical, discreet, positive, distinct presence. The more I can unclutter my mind, the more it can be filled with beautiful things around me.’

The days he spent in silence and introspection, he says, ‘reminded me of the luxury of slowing down. And the fact that the fewer things there are in my head, the more I’m likely to be happy.’

Pico (his parents are said to have named him after the famed Italian Renaissance philosopher Pico della Mirandola of Italy) is the author of more than 15 books, almost all of them related to travel. (And one, interestingly, about stillness; we’ll come to that soon.)

A self-declared ‘global village on legs’, Pico was born in England to Indian parents, then immigrated with his family to California when very young, later studied at Eton and Oxford before marrying Hiroko Takeuchi, a Japanese.

When not crisscrossing the globe from Tibet to North Korea, Ethiopia to Kathmandu, and Zanzibar to California (where his mother has a house), he spends his time in Japan where he lives with Hiroko ‘in a tiny two-room apartment’ in Nara. (His The Lady and the Monk, was a memoir and a reflection of the bond he shares with Hiroko.)

A long-time essayist for Time magazine, Pico has received rave reviews for his books. While the Los Angeles Times said his works had an “exquisite personal blend of philosophy and engagement, inner quiet and worldly life” and labelled him “the rightful heir to Jan Morris, Paul Theroux, and company”, Outside magazine described him as “arguably our greatest living travel writer’’.

Although an avid traveller, he admits to discovering several splendid sights quite literally in his backyard after he was forced to hang up his travel boots, albeit temporarily, during the pandemic lockdown.

‘Yes, [the pandemic meant] much less travel and much more writing,’ he says, although he occasionally shuttled between California and Japan.

He travelled to a few more places. The author was in Antarctica just as the pandemic was breaking out; then in Zanzibar when the Omicron virus began going viral. ‘But [in the midst of it all] the great blessing I found was the wonders in my backyard which, like many of us, I had taken for granted.’

Despite spending a lot of time in his parents’ home in California, he realised he had never walked down the road that ran in front of the house. ‘So I started taking walks because I needed to get exercise. And I realised where my mother lives up in the hills, with the ocean on one side and mountains on the other, is as beautiful as almost any place on the planet, but I’d never thought of looking at it until recently.’

He continued his practice of going for walks when he returned to his apartment in Japan – his home (though he is unlikely to use that term) for the last 29 years. ‘Again, my wife and I never thought of walking five minutes down the main road,’ he says, a walk that would take them to bamboo forests and flowering cherry trees, murmuring rivulets, quaint little bridges and more.

‘So it was a reminder that you don’t have to travel far to find wonder and beauty. It reminded me of what I gain when I’m sitting still and why it’s wonderful to be able to travel again now.’


For an author who pretty much makes a living from travel writing, Pico, ironically, enjoys – even celebrates – stillness.

‘If you look at it superficially, the liberation of going to a monastery or going on any retreat is that you’re free of telephone, the internet, the TV. But I love going there not because of all the things that aren’t there (like those three), but really what is there. The fact that I wake up to the beauty around me – an ocean view, hills behind me, the sun falling in the garden, a rabbit scurrying across the garden… I watch them all transfixed,’ he says, taking a moment to look out the window behind him thoughtfully.

When it comes to views, he says his mother’s house is quite similar to the monastery. ‘But while there, I never thought of looking at the stars or watching a rabbit or just sitting still’.

In fact so taken up is Pico about the beauty of quietude that in his The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere, he describes stillness as “a way of falling in love with the world and everything in it’’.

Clearly, the benefits of remaining still long enough to learn more about oneself are immense – something philosophers for millennia have been telling anyone who paused long enough to listen to them.

Socrates, for instance, said that philosophy begins with wonder and wonder is rooted in stillness.

Live the actual moment. Only this actual moment is life, said the Vietnamese monk Thich Naht Hahn.

More recently, Deepak Chopra advised: ‘In the midst of movement and chaos, keep stillness inside of you.’

Practising stillness is something yoga practitioners have been doing for aeons to, among other things, ground themselves in the present. They perhaps realised that in many ways, bliss can be found in going nowhere but within ourselves.

Pico knows it only too well. Hurrying around trying to find happiness outside ourselves is akin to a person who, having lost a key in his living room, goes out into the street to look for it because there’s more light there, Pico once wrote in a blogpost.

‘If your car is broken, you don’t try to find ways to repaint its chassis; most of our problems – and therefore our solutions, our peace of mind – lie within,’ he says.

You enjoy travelling – and writing about it – so what led you to write a book about stillness? I ask.

Pico smiles as he mulls over the question for a moment.

‘One reason for that – and you will appreciate it as a writer – is that you’re spending most of your life sitting still,’ he says. ‘For every two weeks I spend in Antarctica, I spend probably two months in my little flat in Japan writing. So, at some level, writing is the least mobile and glamorous of professions; the process is mostly about sitting still.’

He admits that while it’s exciting to get the stimulation of movement, ‘we’re really only moved or transformed when we’re sitting still [reflecting] on a memory or engaging in some intimate conversation’.

While on the subject of stillness, I remind him of a line I enjoyed reading in his book The Autumn Light: ‘‘Autumn poses the question we all have to live with: How to hold on to the things we love even though we know that we and they are dying.’’

Pico smiles in acknowledgement, then in a rejoinder of sorts says: ‘There’s a line towards the end [of the book] in which I say the fact that nothing lasts is the reason that everything matters.

‘I wrote that just before the pandemic but I think the pandemic really brought that home to us– that we can’t count on anything. You and I can’t predict with confidence what’s going to happen tonight or even tomorrow. And precisely because of that uncertainty, we have to make the most of where we are right now.’

Pico believes it is important to give fully to everything that’s happening, especially to the people and things one loves, ‘because I don’t know how much I will last, how long those I love will last, and how long those places will last. And so suddenly we realise, sometimes too late, that we wish we had paid more attention to [something that we lost forever].’

To drive home his point, he recalls an incident that occurred while he was writing his first book, Video Nights in Kathmandu. ‘I was travelling across Tibet at the time when I heard somebody say, ‘it’s much better to dig one well that’s 60 foot deep, than 10 wells that are six-feet deep each. And I think that’s sort of the secret of attention. Put simply, I’d much rather have a rich, three-hour conversation with a friend than 30-minute conversations with six people.’


In a sense, it is all about the choices we make– whether to have a lot of very fleeting experiences every day, or a few that really enrich and, perhaps, transform us.

While on the topic of choices, I ask him about an essay he wrote on his travels in Cuba that details a Cuban who is desperate to go to the US to realise his dream of making it big. Wasn’t that man’s desire also about choices? I ask.

‘Yes,’ agrees Pico, recalling the incident that led to the essay.

It was the late 80s and Pico was staying in a room across the street from the University of Havana in Cuba. During his tours of the city he often met with the youth to get to know their views and opinions, and the country better.

One day, Pico met a young man who told him about his brother who had moved to the US several years ago.

‘My brother is in California. He lives in a mansion, with a swimming pool and tennis courts,’ he told me, says Pico. ‘Please, please can you take a letter to my brother on my behalf because I’m really hoping he can do something, anything, to take me from Cuba and get me to the land of the free.’

The man’s plea was not uncommon, recalls Pico, who would often get requests from Cubans to carry letters to the US and post it to their relatives who were settled there. ‘I used to send lots of these letters,’ recalls the author. ‘Some of the letters would come back to me with a stamp saying ‘Addressee not known’.

‘But for the very first time, I received a reply; from the brother of the Cuban who had told me he was desperate to visit the US.’

‘Dear Pico,’ the letter started. ‘I am so happy to hear from you. I think about my brother. I think about Havana all the time. I don’t know if he knows my circumstances here, or if you do, but I’m in San Quentin prison and I’m on death row. And I’m really, really hoping my brother in Cuba can do something, anything, to rescue me and get me back to Cuba. I miss him.’

Pico is silent for a moment, allowing me to grasp the import of the anecdote.

‘The two brothers,’ says the writer, ‘are separated by only 90 miles. Yet neither knew the first thing about the other’s circumstances and, more pointedly, each was looking to the other to be rescued.

‘The Cuban I had met who assumed his brother was living the high American life as he sees it from Havana, was actually in jail. And the person in jail was assuming that Havana was just the place he wanted to be in. ‘We say that we’re living in a small world, but in some ways, the distance is as great as I’ve ever been, sometimes greater.’

Pico says that a reason he wrote about the incident was because ‘it upended my assumptions about living in a small world. And it reminded me just how much we have to learn’.

Pico Iyer's most recent book is The Half Known Life: In Search of Paradise 

Pico Iyer: You don’t have to travel far to find beauty

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1 hr 13 min

Peak Moments & Insights from 2023 | Pico Iyer, Karen Walrond, & Vijay Gupta Good Life Project

  • Self-Improvement

What does it mean to live meaningfully? Journey with us as we revisit poignant moments from conversations on presence, curiosity, self-acceptance, integration, community, and the power of our stories. We'll dive into chats with Pico Iyer on living fully through presence, Karen Walrond on embracing change and aging with creativity, and violinist Vijay Gupta on building community beyond prestige and comfort. Their wisdom illuminates pathways to flourish through integrity, purpose, generosity, and joy. This is an invitation to blossom fully into who you're becoming, without apology or hesitation. Episode Transcript You can find Pico at: Website | Listen to Our Full-Length Convo with Pico You can find Karen at: Website | Instagram | Listen to Our Full-Length Convo with Karen You can find Vijay at: Website | Street Symphony | Listen to Our Full-Length Convo with Vijay Check out our offerings & partners:  My New Book SparkedMy New Podcast SPARKED. Visit Our Sponsor Page For Great Resources & Discount Codes Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.

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  • © Good Life Project 2016

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Why We Travel – Pico Iyer

pico iyer why we travel

Table of Contents

“Why We Travel” is an essay written by Pico Iyer that explores the motivations and benefits of travel. Iyer argues that travel is not simply a way to escape from the stresses of daily life, but rather a means to gain perspective and understanding about oneself and the world. Iyer draws on his own experiences as a world traveler, explaining that travel helps to break down cultural barriers and broaden one’s understanding of the world. He also suggests that travel can help individuals gain a better understanding of themselves and their place in the world, as it allows them to step outside of their familiar surroundings and see things from a new perspective. Additionally, Iyer contends that travel can help individuals develop empathy and compassion for others. He notes that through travel, individuals can witness the hardships and struggles of people in different parts of the world, and this can lead to a greater appreciation of the diversity and richness of human experience. Overall, Iyer’s essay argues that travel is a powerful and transformative experience that can help individuals grow and develop in numerous ways. He suggests that by stepping outside of our comfort zones and embracing the unknown, we can gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world around us.

Icebreakers on Why We Travel Std 12

Views on how traveling can be a hobby:.

1. Exploration: Traveling allows you to explore new cultures, landscapes, and lifestyles, turning it into a hobby of continuous discovery. 2. Adventure:For thrill-seekers, traveling offers a variety of adventurous activities, making it an exciting and adrenaline-pumping hobby. 3. Learning: Every new place provides an opportunity to learn about history, art, and different ways of life, turning traveling into an educational hobby. 4. Relaxation:Some consider traveling a hobby for relaxation, as it offers a break from routine, allowing individuals to unwind and rejuvenate. Benefits of Traveling:

– Teaches carefulness and caution. – Promotes organizational skills and preparation. – Encourages promptness and quick decision-making. Expectations When Traveling:

(a) Food should be delicious and available whenever hungry. (b) Immersive cultural experiences. (c) Safe and comfortable accommodation. (d) Opportunities for memorable adventures. Various Types of Travels:

  • Solo Travel: Embarking on journeys alone, promoting independence, self-discovery, and the freedom to explore at one’s own pace.
  • Group Travel: Travelling with friends, family, or organized groups, fostering shared experiences and creating lasting memories.
  • Adventure Travel: Catering to thrill-seekers, it involves activities like hiking, rock climbing, or extreme sports in exotic or challenging environments.
  • Cultural Travel: Focused on immersing oneself in the local culture, including visits to historical sites, museums, and participation in traditional activities.
  • Luxury Travel: Involves high-end accommodations, fine dining, and exclusive experiences, emphasizing comfort and indulgence.
  • Business Travel: Undertaken for work purposes, often involving meetings, conferences, and networking, with limited leisure time.
  • Backpacking: Traveling on a budget, staying in hostels, and prioritizing experiences over comfort, often associated with longer durations and extensive itineraries.
  • Educational Travel: Centered around learning experiences, such as language immersion programs, study abroad, or attending workshops and seminars.
  • Cruise Travel: Exploring various destinations while on a cruise ship, offering a combination of travel and onboard luxury amenities.
  • Ecotourism: Traveling responsibly to natural areas, promoting conservation and sustainable practices while enjoying the beauty of the environment.
  • Road Trip: Exploring by car, allowing for flexibility in destinations and the opportunity to discover hidden gems along the way.
  • Volunteer Travel: Combining travel with volunteer work, contributing to local communities and causes while experiencing a new culture.
  • Medical Tourism: Traveling for medical treatment or procedures, combining healthcare with leisure in different global locations.
  • Digital Nomad Travel: Working remotely while traveling, taking advantage of technology to explore different destinations while maintaining professional commitments.
  • Heritage Travel: Visiting ancestral or heritage sites, exploring family roots, and connecting with one’s cultural history.

Activity Set 1on Why We Travel

A1. Write down the views of George Santayana about travelling.

A2.Differentiate: (02).

Differentiate between Tourist and Traveller.

A3. Interpret: (02).

Interpret the statement, “whose riches are differently dispersed.”

A4. Personal Response: (02)

“Travelling broadens our perspective”. Do you agree with the view. Justify your answer with suitable examples.

A5. Language study: (02)

i. For seeing without feeling can obviously be uncaring. (Rewrite the sentence using the Infinitive form of the underlined word)

ii. We travel, initially to lose ourselves and we travel next to find ourselves. (Rewrite the sentence Using,” not only …. but also’)

iii. We travel to open our hearts. (Rewrite the sentence using the “Gerund form” of the underlined word)

A6. Vocabulary: (02)

Find out words from the extract which means the following.

i. Forced to ii. Difficult or unpleasant experience iii. Improper angle

Answers Activity Set 1

A1. Views of George Santayana about travelling:

George Santayana, a Spanish-American philosopher, believed that travelling is essential for self-discovery and personal growth. According to him, it is not only the destination that matters, but the journey itself. Santayana emphasized the importance of experiencing new cultures and lifestyles, as it helps individuals to broaden their perspectives and gain a better understanding of the world around them. He also believed that one should travel with an open mind and embrace the unknown, rather than trying to cling to familiar customs and beliefs.

A2. Differentiation between Tourist and Traveller:

A tourist is someone who travels for pleasure or leisure, often with a fixed itinerary and a limited amount of time. They tend to stick to popular tourist attractions and activities and may not necessarily engage with the local culture. On the other hand, a traveller is someone who seeks to immerse themselves in the culture of the places they visit. They may have a more flexible itinerary and are often open to new experiences and adventures. Travellers tend to be more curious and adventurous, seeking to explore off-the-beaten-path locations and learn about the local way of life.

A3. Interpretation of the statement, “whose riches are differently dispersed.”

The phrase “whose riches are differently dispersed” suggests that wealth is distributed unequally among different people and regions. It implies that some people or areas may have more economic resources than others. The statement may also be interpreted to mean that there are different types of wealth, not just financial wealth. For instance, one may have cultural or social wealth, which can be spread out in various ways.

A4. Personal response to the view, “Travelling broadens our perspective”:

I strongly agree with the view that travelling broadens our perspective. By travelling to new places, we are exposed to different cultures, customs, and ways of life. This exposure can help us gain a better understanding of the world and appreciate the diversity that exists. Travelling can also challenge our assumptions and biases, forcing us to think critically and question our beliefs. For example, I once travelled to a remote village in South America, where I lived with a host family for a few weeks. This experience not only allowed me to learn about their way of life but also taught me to appreciate the little things in life and to live with simplicity.

A5. Language study:

i. Seeing without feeling can obviously be uncaring. (Rewritten using the Infinitive form of the underlined word):

To see without feeling can obviously be uncaring.

ii. We travel, initially to lose ourselves and we travel next to find ourselves. (Rewritten using,” not only …. but also’):

We travel not only to lose ourselves initially but also to find ourselves.

iii. We travel to open our hearts. (Rewrite using the “Gerund form” of the underlined word): We travel for opening our hearts.

A6. Vocabulary:

i. Forced to – Compelled ii. Difficult or unpleasant experience – Ordeal iii. Improper angle – Oblique

ii. The first great of joy travelling is simply the luxury of leaving all my beliefs.(From the given options find out „Wh‟ question to get the underlined part as an answer.) a) What is the first great joy of travelling? b) What was the first great joy of travelling? c) What will be the first great joy of travelling? d) What is joy of first great travelling?

A6. Vocabulary: (02) Fill in the blanks with a suitable word from the given bracket and rewrite the sentence: (Ignorance, essence, solitude, compassion, assumptions)

Activity Set 2

Read the extract and do all the activities that follow: (12) But for the rest of us, the sovereign freedom of travelling comes from the fact that it whirls you around and turns you upside down, and stands everything you took for granted on its head. If a diploma can famously be a passport (to a journey through hard realism) a passport can be a diploma (for a crash course in cultural relativism). And the first lesson we learn on the road, whether we like it or not, is how provisional and provincial are the things we imagine to be universal. We travel, then, in part just to shake up our complacencies by seeing all the moral and political urgencies, the life-and-death dilemmas, that we seldom have to face at home. And we travel to fill in the gaps left by tomorrow‟s headlines. When you drive down the streets of Port-au-Prince, for example, where there is almost no paving your notions of the Internet and a “one world order” grow usefully revised. Travel is the best way we have of rescuing the humanity of places, and saving them from abstraction and ideology. And in the process, we also get saved from abstraction ourselves, and come to see how much we can bring to the places we visit, and how much we can become a kind of carrier pigeon – an anti-Federal Express, if you like – in transporting back and forth what every culture needs. I find that I always take Michael Jordan posters to Kyoto, and bring woven ikebana baskets back to California. But more significantly, we carry values and beliefs and news to the places we go, and in many parts of the world, we become walking video screens and living newspapers, the only channels that can take people out of the censored limits of their homelands. In closed or impoverished places, like Pagan or Lhasa or Havana, we are the eyes and ears of the people we meet, their only contact with the world outside and, very often, the closest, quite literally, they will ever come to Michael Jackson or Bill Clinton. Not the least of the challenges of travel, therefore, is learning how to import – and export – dreams with tenderness

State whether the following statements are True/ False i. According to the writer, we travel in part just to shake up our satisfaction that we seldom have to free at home. ii. We imagine that provisional and provincial things are universal. iii. The writer always brings woven ikebana baskets back to India. iv. We Carry values, beliefs and news to the place.

A2. Explain: (02) Explain the concept of cultural relativism. A3. Interpret: (02) Interpret the statement, “We are eyes and ears of the people.” A4. Personal Response (02) Do you agree with the views expressed by the writer? Justify your answer with suitable examples. A5. Language study: (02) i. Travel is the best way we have of rescuing the humanity of places. (Rewrite the sentence using the “Infinitive form” of the underlined word) OR (change the degree) i. We can become a kind of carrier Pigeon. (Rewrite the sentence using a modal auxiliary which indicates,” possibility”) A6. Vocabulary: (02) Find out words from the extract which mean the following. i. Regional ii. Confusion/double mind situation iii. Poverty stricken places iv. A set of ideas which form a basis for political economic system

Answers Activity Set 2

A1. State whether the following statements are True/ False: i. According to the writer, we travel in part just to shake up our satisfaction that we seldom have to free at home. True ii. We imagine that provisional and provincial things are universal. True iii. The writer always brings woven ikebana baskets back to India. False iv. We Carry values, beliefs and news to the place. True A2. Explain: The concept of cultural relativism is the idea that a person’s beliefs, values, and practices should be understood and interpreted in the context of their own culture, rather than being judged against the standards of another culture. It recognizes that different cultures have their own unique way of life, and what may be considered acceptable in one culture may not be in another. A3. Interpret: The statement “We are the eyes and ears of the people” means that when we travel to other places, we can act as a source of information and knowledge for the people we meet. We can share our experiences, beliefs, and values, and in turn, learn from their perspectives and experiences. This can help bridge the gap between different cultures and promote understanding and empathy. A4. Personal Response: Personal response may vary. One possible response could be: I agree with the views expressed by the writer. Traveling to different places has helped me broaden my perspective and understanding of different cultures. For example, when I traveled to Japan, I learned about their unique customs and values, such as the importance of harmony and respect in their society. This helped me appreciate and respect their culture, and also helped me reflect on my own beliefs and values. A5. Language study: i. To rescue the humanity of places, travel is the best way we have. ii. We can possibly become a kind of carrier pigeon. A6. Vocabulary: i. Provincial ii. Cognitive dissonance iii. Impoverished places iv. Ideology

Report Writing from New Question Bank

Brainstorming on Why We Travel Std 12 English

Read the first two paragraphs and discuss the need to travel.

Discussion on the Need to Travel: The first two paragraphs likely provide insights into the intrinsic value of travel, highlighting aspects such as personal growth, cultural enrichment, and the unique experiences that come from exploring different places. Traveling often broadens one’s perspective, fosters adaptability, and contributes to a deeper understanding of the world.

(A2) (i) Read the sentence ‘If a diploma can famously ………. in cultural relativism.’ Pick the sentence which gives the meaning of the above statement from the alternatives given below. (a) A diploma certificate can be used as a passport and a passport can be used as a diploma certificate. (b) If one has a diploma, he does not need a passport and if he has a passport, he does not need a diploma. ( c) One can acquire permission to travel to foreign countries for educational purposes based on her academic achievements and travelling to foreign countries enriches one the most regarding the knowledge and wisdom of the world. Write an email to your friends about your proposed trek. You can take help of the following points. You can keep your parents informed about it by adding them in BCC. • A trek in the forest of Kodaikanal • Time and duration • Type of trek (cycle/ motorbike/ walk) • Facilities provided • Last date for registration • Fees

Write an email to your friends about your proposed trek. You can take help of the following points. You can keep your parents informed about it by adding them in BCC. • A trek in the forest of Kodaikanal • Time and duration • Type of trek (cycle/ motorbike/ walk) • Facilities provided • Last date for registration • Fees To : [email protected]

BCC: [email protected]

Subject: Information about proposed treck Hey everyone, I hope this email finds you well! I am thrilled to share some exciting news with all of you. I’m planning a trek in the beautiful forests of Kodaikanal and would love for you to join me on this adventure! Here are the key details: Location: Kodaikanal Forest Time and Duration: The trek is scheduled for [Date] and will last [Number of Days]. It’s going to be an amazing escape into nature, filled with breathtaking views and unforgettable moments. Type of Trek: We have multiple options for the trek—whether you prefer cycling, motorbiking, or a classic walking experience, there’s something for everyone. Facilities Provided: We’ve got you covered! Expect well-planned routes, experienced guides, and all the necessary safety measures in place. It’s going to be a fantastic journey with plenty of opportunities to connect with nature. Last Date for Registration: To ensure everything is well-organized, the last date for registration is [Deadline]. Don’t miss out on this incredible experience—register before the deadline to secure your spot. Fees: The fees for the trek are 5000, which includes accommodation, meals. You can make the payment by Gpay,Phonepay. I’ve also taken the liberty of keeping my parents in the loop about this exciting venture. They’ll be receiving updates along the way. Feel free to reply to this email if you have any questions or need more information. Let’s make this trek an unforgettable experience together! Looking forward to embarking on this adventure with all of you. Best regards, Rahul Anil Bhumare

(ii) Prepare a list of the litterateurs and their quotations mentioned by the writer in the essay.

(iii) ‘The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new places but in seeing with new eyes.’ – Marcel Proust. Justify with the help of the text.

Marcel Proust Quotation “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new places but in seeing with new eyes.” implies that true exploration goes beyond physical locations and involves perceiving the world with a fresh perspective. It emphasizes a mindset shift rather than just visiting new places.

(iv) Read the third paragraph and find the difference between a tourist and a traveller as revealed through the complaints made by them.

Difference Between Tourist and Traveler

The third paragraph likely outlines distinctions between tourists and travelers based on the complaints mentioned. Tourists might focus on discomfort and inconveniences, while travelers seek deeper connections and understanding.

(v) Write four sentences with the help of the text conveying the fact that travelling brings together the various cultures of the different parts of the world.

Cultural Integration Through Travel Traveling bridges cultural gaps, bringing people from different parts of the world together. It fosters a global understanding by exposing individuals to diverse traditions. Through travel, various cultures intermingle, creating a rich tapestry of shared experiences. Exploring different parts of the world promotes cultural exchange and mutual appreciation.

(vi) By quoting Camus, the writer has stated that travelling emancipates us from circumstances and all the habits behind which we hide. Write in detail your views about that.

Camus’ Quote on Travel The writer, by quoting Camus, suggests that traveling liberates individuals from their habitual circumstances. This freedom allows for personal growth and a break from routine, enabling individuals to see beyond their usual confines and gain new perspectives.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do we travel?

People travel for various reasons, including exploration, cultural enrichment, relaxation, and adventure. Why traveling is important?

Traveling is important as it broadens perspectives, fosters personal growth, and allows for diverse experiences. Why did people start traveling?

Historically, people started traveling for survival, trade, and exploration. As societies evolved, travel became a means of connecting cultures and exchanging ideas. Why is everyone into traveling?

The popularity of travel is linked to a desire for new experiences, cultural diversity, and a break from routine. Social media also plays a role in fueling travel aspirations. How do we travel?

Traveling can be done by various means, such as planes, trains, cars, or even on foot, depending on the destination and personal preferences. How can I enjoy traveling? To enjoy traveling, be open-minded, embrace local culture, try new foods, and plan a balance between exploration and relaxation. Flexibility and a positive attitude enhance the travel experience.


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  1. Why We Travel by Pico Iyer Summary Explanation and Analysis

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  4. Pico Iyer Quote / We Travel Initially To Lose Ourselves And We Travel

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  6. Pico Iyer quote: We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel

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  1. Why We Travel

    Posted on March 18, 2000 Appear in Salon Why We Travel We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate.

  2. Why we travel: Pico Iyer on his transformational trip to Tibet

    Why we travel: Pico Iyer on his transformational trip to Tibet The author and memoirist recounts a powerful journey through Asia that culminated on the high plateau of Lhasa among prostrating pilgrims, in the shadow of the Potala Palace — the former winter palace of the Dalai Lamas. By Pico Iyer Published 2 Jul 2020, 10:00 BST

  3. Why We Travel By Pico Iyer Summary & Analysis • English Summary

    This chapter is written by Pico Iyer and addresses the question about why do humans travel. The writer delves into the reasons that make travelling a pleasurable activity. He quotes some great writers and also cites his own travel experiences. Travelling as a Liberating Experience

  4. Pico Iyer Has Traveled the World for 46 Years. Here's What Has Changed

    Journal Reports; Pico Iyer Has Traveled the World for 46 Years. Here's What Has Changed—and What Has Stayed the Same. So much of what I do today would have looked like science fiction when I ...

  5. Pico Iyer Shares His Secrets for Traveling Better and Relaxing More

    1. Think of travel as just the starting point. "Travel is the way we collect the sights that turn into insights when we're sitting still back at home. If we take an amazing 10-day trip to Bhutan, and if it's a rich trip, we'll probably spend the next 10 months or 10 years looking back on it, finding a place for it in our daily lives.

  6. Pico Iyer: How to travel more without going anywhere : NPR

    Pico Iyer is an essayist and author, best known for his travel writing. He has written some fifteen books, translated into twenty-three languages. His most recent, released in January of 2023, is ...

  7. Pico Iyer on the secret of immersive travel

    To record with wakeful precision the sight of a loved one asleep? That time in solitary, I suspect. It was Proust, I never forget, who reminded us that the point of every trip is not new sights but...

  8. Writer Pico Iyer On Why There's More to Travel Than Your Instagram Feed

    But, in reading the thoughts from travel writer Pico Iyer, we knew we had to run what he said in full. Here, why technology and a constant Internet connection don't always improve travel.

  9. Pico Iyer's "Why We Travel: A Internal Look at Why I Travel

    In Pico Iyer's article "Why We Travel", Iyer starts by diving right into the meat of the question by explaining why people do travel. While he lists multiple reasons that one would travel one that sticks out is, "We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate."

  10. The innerworld

    Pico Iyer Journeys. Innerworld; Outerworld; News; About Pico Iyer; Contact; The innerworld • Facebook Twitter. Why We Travel. Scattered thoughts from the road. Why We Travel; Travel Writing in America; The Shock of Arrival; The Photographer and the Philosopher; A Place I've Never Been; The Joy Of What's Fleeting. The beauty of what's going, gone.

  11. Book review: Pico Iyer's 'The Half Known Life' : NPR

    A mesmerizing collection of essays that vividly recalls sojourns to mostly contentious yet fabled realms, Pico Iyer's The Half Known Life upends the conventional travel genre by offering a...

  12. Meet the Writer: Pico Iyer

    Award-winning essayist and travel writer Pico Iyer has been a part of the National Geographic Traveler family since the magazine's earliest days. "He has a singular ability to capture both a ...

  13. Pico Iyer

    Siddharth Pico Raghavan Iyer (born 11 February 1957), known as Pico Iyer, is a British-born essayist and novelist known chiefly for his travel writing. He is the author of numerous books on crossing cultures including Video Night in Kathmandu, The Lady and the Monk and The Global Soul.

  14. An Interview with Pico Iyer, The Contemplative Traveler

    For writer Pico Iyer, travel is a spiritual experience that shakes up our usual certainties and connects us to a richer, vaster world. Iyer talks with editor-in-chief Melvin McLeod about his new book, The Half Known Life: In Search of Paradise, recently named as one of New York Times' " 100 Notable Books of 2023 ." Pico Iyer.

  15. Home Page

    Pico Iyer was born in Oxford, England in 1957. He won a King's Scholarship to Eton and then a Demyship to Magdalen College, Oxford, where he was awarded a Congratulatory Double First with the highest marks of any English Literature student in the university. In 1980 he became a Teaching Fellow at Harvard, where he received a second Master's ...

  16. Pico Iyer

    Pico Iyer - Why We Travel - Features - World Hum In a classic essay, PIco Iyer explores the reasons we leave our beliefs and certainties at home to travel the world with open eyes World Hum The best travel stories on the internet. Powered By Travel Channel Features Travel Stories Speaker's Corner Lists Travel Interviews Ask Rolf Travel Books

  17. Why I Travel: A Response to Iyer's Why We Travel

    In Pico Iyer's essay Why We Travel, he quite literally aims to answer why we travel by recounting his own experiences and relying on other writers to answer. He introduces the essay with a response to the title. "We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves." There is no one answer to why we travel.

  18. A Passionate Response to Pico Iyer's "Why We Travel"

    Travel writer Pico Iyer explores the motivations of wayfarers in his article "Why We Travel." To him, travel is about the enlightenment of an individual and ultimately those around them. I agree wholeheartedly. Iyer points out that "… one of the subtler beauties of travel is that it enables you to bring new eyes to the people you ...

  19. Analysis of Pico Iyer's Why We Travel

    Pico Iyer, a distinguished travel writer and essayist, delves into this notion, suggesting that beneath the act of journeying lies what he terms the "soul of travel." This concept encapsulates the profound impact that travel can have on our inner selves.

  20. Why We Travel by Pico Iyer Summary Explanation and Analysis

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  21. Pico Iyer: You don't have to travel far to find beauty

    For more than 31 years, Siddharth Pico Raghavan Iyer, better known as Pico Iyer, has been regularly visiting New Camaldoli, a Benedictine hermitage along California's Big Sur coastline, staying ...


    0:00 / 11:15 WHY WE TRAVEL BY PICO IYER |PART 1 | MAIN IDEAS English with Nayeem Sir 4.85K subscribers Subscribe 168 10K views 2 years ago SRINAGAR "Why we travel" by Pico Iyer is a travelogue...

  23. ‎Good Life Project: Peak Moments & Insights from 2023

    What does it mean to live meaningfully? Journey with us as we revisit poignant moments from conversations on presence, curiosity, self-acceptance, integration, community, and the power of our stories. We'll dive into chats with Pico Iyer on living fully through presence, Karen Walrond on embracing…

  24. Why We Travel

    Answers Activity Set 1. Brainstorming on Why We Travel Std 12 English. "Why We Travel" is an essay written by Pico Iyer that explores the motivations and benefits of travel. Iyer argues that travel is not simply a way to escape from the stresses of daily life, but rather a means to gain perspective and understanding about oneself and the world.

  25. Sohini on Instagram: "Few of us ever forget the connection between

    63 likes, 5 comments - awesohmness on December 8, 2023: "Few of us ever forget the connection between "travel" and "travail," and I know that I tr..." Sohini on Instagram: "Few of us ever forget the connection between "travel" and "travail," and I know that I travel in large part in search of hardship — both my own, which I ...