On Going On a Journey by William Hazlitt is a masterpiece essay on the adventure of travel and perks of traveling alone.
Table of Contents
Praise of a Journey
The writer begins with praise of a journey. He expresses delight in journeying alone with nature being his only companion. He hates being in the company of fellow travellers who like to chat and worry about the world when they travel. He loves his solitude and freedom.
A journey should be liberating oneself from the everyday world and its concerns. To remove oneself from the prison of company and anxieties one must become connected to nature. The only way to achieve such a union is through complete freedom of thought.
He enjoys the silent commentary of wildflowers or the music of flowing waters than constant repartee with a fellow human over worldly topics. Such freedom does not demand a confession of feelings in words or gestures.
He claims that when we are with others we should completely devote our attention to them and entertain their thoughts and opinions. However, when we are alone and travelling, we should just concentrate on our own thoughts and reflect on them.
We can either be alone or together, not both at the same time. We cannot talk and reflect at the same time. We cannot converse and have internal thoughts at the same time.
When one is with nature, he must lose all thoughts of collecting and analyzing information. One must experience and not judge or evaluate such experience. However, when we have the company of another person, we always have to communicate and express our experience into hasty words.
Then one has to make such information relevant to them, express it in a way they can understand. This creates tension and a need to satisfy other people’s anxiety. This way you can never truly immerse yourself in the natural environment around you.
The write praise Samuel Taylor Coleridge who could experience and narrate such experience at the same time, without flaws and corruption. He could instinctively translate his enjoyment into words. However, the writer admits his incapacity to do the same. He has to ponder and think for hours before he can put his thoughts on paper.
He says there is only one topic where it is good to have company on travel and that is regarding food and meals. However, even then the sheer enjoyment of a warm meal at the end of a taxing journey can truly be experienced alone.
Joy of Solitude
The writer believes all the forms of ecstasy that a journey offers can truly be enjoyed in solitude. One can be greedy in such a setting, allowing oneself to sing, dance and be free without being judged. The pure joy of delicious food and appetizing smells coming from a steaming pot of food should not be wasted over a cheap conversation.
He claims when you ignore your fellow travellers, you are ignoring your own grievances and worries. You are unidentifiable and almost invisible. You do not have to be the person everyone knows you to be. You can lose your very identity and with it your inhibitions, biases and preferences.
Hence, one is free to indulge in new thoughts and contemplate the metaphysical even. He recalls many musings he has had on lonely visits to an inn. He remembers his favourite spot which he finds enchanting and returns to all the time. These feelings he does not want to share with others who may not value it the same. He wants to enjoy such beauty and delight in isolation.
Travel Makes Memories
He goes on to discuss the unpredictable nature of one’s travel and experiences. A change of space can change our whole perspective altogether. We make new memories in place of old ones, new moments in place of the past ones.
There is a constant shifting of viewpoints and perspectives. When we are in a place, it may seem like the whole world and when we move to a different one, we find a new world entirely. Thus, we create and register an unending list of places and things. And when we return to old places, we remember and revisit those old memories of the same place.
When one is travelling alone, the journey becomes more important than the destination itself. It is more about how than where to.
He confesses that when he travels to foreign lands with a different language, he does like a familiar company. However, he claims he loved being in France where hardly anyone spoke English. He found to be liberating and enriching to be in a land of a different tongue.
Therefore, foreign travel can challenge our limitations and learn more about yourself. It takes you out of your comfort zone and helps you to grow as a human being. However, he claims that no matter how long and enjoyable the journey, it always ends at home.
Every person, no matter how much he enjoys travelling, yearns for a return to the homestead. In the end, if he could travel for life he would still find another life to find his way back home.