In 1839, a young man from Massachusetts took a two-week boat trip down the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. The journey would form the basis of the 1849 book A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. Ostensibly a travel log, A Week served a far deeper purpose, allowing the author to explore a plethora of diverse topics from religion to industrialization. Published at the author’s own expense the book was a flop. But this particular author would eventually go on to greater things after spending a little time at a pond called Walden.
1830s America was the decade of the transcendentalists, a philosophical movement that emphasized subjective intuition over objective empiricism without fully opposing the latter. Generally speaking, the transcendentalists lamented the corruptive nature of society on the individual, and if you have been following this blog over the last two years, you may have noticed similar themes running throughout the weekly posts.
Indeed, the title of this website, The Travelingi, is based on one of transcendentalism’s most enduring metaphors, the “transparent eye-ball,” coined by the eminent Ralph Waldo Emerson in his essay Nature, “I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all.” Here Emerson attempts to use empiricism (sensory experience) to absorb and thus understand the underlying spirituality encoded in nature.
I myself am not a transcendentalist, although the movement has heavily influenced my world view, as I think it has most American’s whether they realize it or not. Self-reliance, a deep connection between spirituality and the natural world, and an innate belief that people as individuals are generally good are all concepts that most of us born in the States would see as positive values to hold.
This website was always meant to be a bit different than your typical travel blog. Like A Week, I was hoping to use travel to reflect on bigger questions. In particular, I was interested in exploring the role of culture and its corrupting influence on individuals.
Culture is a marvelous double edge sword. On the one hand, it is the glue that holds a society together, presenting us with, social norms that are, to paraphrase Hayek, general and certain. On the other hand, it is a conservative force that opposes change and attempts to mold the individual to its will. Through my travels, I have found that the stronger the culture, the more limited freedom of expression.
Culture, of course, is not some monolithic force that adheres to one country or region. Societies may conform to some overarching general norms while at the same time being guided by their own microcultures. Ultimately, if we drill down far enough, we come back to where we started: the individual.
I had no illusions that The Travelingi, the lowercase “i” being a stand-in for “eye” as a representation of the individual, would ever be successful. And in that my expectations have been met. This was never meant to be a profitable venture; rather, I just wanted to see what kind of interest I could generate. To help prime the pump, so to speak, I also contributed a few articles with some practical travel information as well.
Amazingly, it worked for a time. My readership, while modest, constantly grew, up until I reached about 800 unique users per month. But then around December, the trend reversed, and readership declined precipitously. It has since rebounded slightly, thanks to a photo essay and a rather important Greek ferry schedule.
But this left me wondering, do I care? The truth is that I don’t want to write about time tables or review restaurants and hotels. I don’t have any desire to clutter the web with photos of iconic buildings, or God forbid selfies. What I want to do is write critical travel essays on culture, religion, and nature.
I am fairly proud of the sheer bulk of writing that I have been able to crank out over the last two years, only missing one self-set Friday deadline do to a technical mistake with WordPress’ auto-post feature. It has not been easy. When I am not working, which is most of the time, I am out exploring. Just this year I have spent over a month in Mauritania, two weeks in Dakar, two weeks in Antalya Region of Turkey, two weeks in Athens, two weeks in Thessaloniki, two weeks in Sicily, a week in Malta, a week in Bari, a week in Lesbos, a week in the Black Forest, a week in Bonn, as well as several days in St. Louis (Senegal), Bologna, Hamburg, Kiel, Lubeck, and Leipzig. I have often felt that my schedule has led to most of what I write being done at the last minute. (I am writing this, for example, from Baden Baden on four hours of sleep.) There has been a number of times that I have posted an essay that I simply did not think was finished or at the very least needed some revision. In other words, I believe I can do better.
So in that spirit, I will no longer post on a regular schedule. Essays will be published when I have the time to fully flesh out my ideas out on paper. In practical terms, that means more writing like this or this.
I want to thank all of you who have accompanied me over the course of this journey, especially, those of you who have commented. I always appreciate engagement even if it happens to be criticism. If you have enjoyed my writing and the cultural analysis that goes with it, then please do subscribe to the mailing list in the upper right-hand corner if you haven’t done so already, to keep apprised of the latest developments at The Travelingi. Until next time, safe travels and no regrets!