Walter Benjamin on Delighting your Way to Getting Lost When you Travel

Updated: Jul 24, 2019

Not to find one’s way in a city may well be uninteresting and banal. It requires ignorance – nothing more. But to lose oneself in a city – as one loses oneself in a forest – that calls for quite a different schooling. Walter Benjamin in “A Berlin Chronicle,” found in One-Way Street and Other Writings.

The thrill of traveling for some people is like the feeling one gets when it’s Christmas. However, for others, traveling can be daunting. The mix of emotions can leave us fumbling, demoralized, frustrated, discombobulated because for some, not knowing what to expect or stepping into the unfamiliar is as scary as our minds make it. In our world today, traveling has become popular, easy and efficient that to not travel because of fear of the unknown etc. may sound ridiculous to some people. Perhaps it’s wise if we to take a page out of few of our favorite writers, philosophers, literary geniuses and creators alike. 

Nevertheless, it’s fair to say that not everyone enjoys traveling and sometimes it takes more getting use to and the desire to explore. We live in a time where GPS instead of maps and compass dominate and are our best buddies where ever we go because they do work and the fact that we are able to actually get a visual of some of the places before we go becomes comforting. However, to Walter Benjamin, to really know a city, it’s necessary to get lost in it. Benjamin deeply believed in the vagrancy and power of spontaneity. He argued that, the unknown is where lies our greatest capacity for growth and self-discovery.

Hence, Benjamin trusted in surprises more than the familiar even though that sounds paradoxical, however, he understood that both knowledge and experience arise unexpectedly. In the same token, another great writer Rebecca Solnit, also explores this tender tango with the unknown in her sublime collection; A Field Guide to Getting Lost. Solnit writes in the opening of the essay: “Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark. That’s where the most important things come from, where you yourself came from, and where you will go.”

Moreover, Solnit, added that uncertainty is not an obstacle to living but a wellspring of life — of creative life, most importantly. So, if you have read our blog about; The 8 Scientifically Proven Health Benefits of Traveling Abroad, you should know by now one of those benefits is that traveling enhances our creativity. As eloquently described by Professor and author, Adam Galinksy at Columbia Business School who researched the concrete links between creativity and international travel,explains that, "foreign experiences increase both cognitive flexibility and depth and integrativeness of thought, the ability to make deep connections between disparate forms." This means that new sounds, sights and smells all spark the creativity synapses in the brain.

In Addition, the great Edgar Allan Poe, also argued that “in matters of philosophical discovery … it is the unforeseen upon which we must calculate most largely,” and considers the deliberate juxtaposition of the rational, methodical act of calculation with the ineffable, intangible nature of the unforeseen: How do you calculate upon the unforeseen? It seems to be an art of recognizing the role of the unforeseen, of keeping your balance amid surprises, of collaborating with chance, of recognizing that there are some essential mysteries in the world and thereby a limit to calculation, to plan, to control. To calculate on the unforeseen is perhaps exactly the paradoxical operation that life most requires of us.

Both Benjamin, Solnit, Poe and Galinsky see traveling as profoundly necessary for our wellbeing. Although, with the arrival of mass tourism, it’s important to strive o become more conscious about our impact. The 18th and 19th century   travelers were explorers, people who are somewhat heroic and adventurous, risk takers, and that’s why it’s important aspire become  more conscious, responsible travelers with an understanding of sustainability and community initiatives. 

Imagine living in a world where you can’t travel, or there are no planes? What will humanity look and feel like? Traveling is a magnificent activity we all ought to embark on - especially as a journey of self discovery, claiming new heights, an understanding and appreciation towards other cultures in the hopes of fostering dialogue and tolerance. 

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