Travel and The Good Life

Travel and The Good Life Travel and The Good Life

My wife and I were recently driving along one of our customary routes that we travel routinely. But this time, on a whim, my wife suggested we stop at a little café that we always pass by. We have often said, “We should go there sometime.” But sometime never comes.

But on this day, it did. For some reason we decided to stop, to break our normal routines and visit a place we have driven by countless times. It turned out to be a beautiful experience. And it certainly wasn’t a remote or exotic place. It was on one of our most well-traveled paths. But the difference was in attitude.

It was a luxury, not because it was expensive or exclusive, or flashy or famous. It was a pleasant place, warm and inviting, and it served excellent cappuccino. It wasn’t fancy. It was modest, but cozy and friendly. We were treated well and made to feel welcome. What made it a luxury was that we broke out of our self-imposed sense of servitude and allowed ourselves to be free. We tweaked our mindset just a little bit, and allowed ourselves to do something just for fun, just to enjoy life.

I’ve had similar experiences countless times on trips, and those are the things you remember and cherish, not necessarily the points listed in travel brochures. It could be a wine tasting or a cooking lesson, but it might as easily be just a walk along some winding streets, or some time sitting in the town square watching the people go about their affairs. It’s something you allow yourself against all your inhibitions that preclude simple enjoyment.

Normally I keep a pretty tight rein on myself. I’ve always been restrained about allowing myself to enjoy pleasures that I think may be self-indulgent. I’m busy practically all the time. I remind myself of the rude businessman in The Little Prince: “I have so much to do! I am concerned with matters of consequence. I don’t amuse myself with balderdash.”

Matters of consequence! Indeed! But that changes too as one goes through the cycles of life. In hindsight some of the things I have given priority to I now see as errors. I hope to do better in the future. I find that as I get older, life challenges the beliefs I have structured my life upon. Life is short, and it’s not only about business. Doesn’t it make sense to try to fit in some time to experience some of the good things in life while we can?

I think that little adjustment in mindset when you take a vacation is more important than the place you go. That’s the real key to the art of travel.

Travel and The Good LifeAs we were sitting in the café enjoying the view and sipping our cappuccinos, the words came to mind, “The Good Life.” The phrase brings to mind the finest rooms with oak paneling, crystal chandeliers, finely crafted woodwork, velvet, rich textures and colors, all the trappings of luxury. But we weren’t in a place like that. I realized that it surely means different things to different people.

After we left the café, the phrase kept turning in my head. So, I did what any normal person would do, I googled it. Google proudly proclaimed that it had produced more than 8 billion results in 1.05 seconds. I started skimming through them, and I discovered quickly that my hunch had been correct. There are probably as many meanings attributed to that phrase as there are human beings.

And I guess that makes sense, because there is nothing more important to each person than to try to find out what The Good Life will be for that individual life.

I was a little taken back to find that Merriam-Webster listed its first definition of the phrase as “the kind of life that people with a lot of money are able to have.” It struck me as a little crass, but it’s undeniable that many would agree with that definition. There’s no doubt that money makes all kinds of good things available. And not having enough money can be crippling to the soul. As George Orwell discovered, poverty is not the simple life as it is often romanticized to be, but is extraordinarily complicated. On the other hand, I agree that money cannot buy happiness. There’s no doubt that it greases the wheels of life, but it is not money alone that creates The Good Life. It takes something more. Merriam-Webster’s second definition is: “a happy and enjoyable life.” That’s a little closer to my feeling about it. But what makes one person happy is not necessarily what makes another person happy.

Plato and his mentor Socrates defined The Good Life in terms of virtue. The Good Life is a moral life, a life of reasonable restraint and fulfillment of civic duty. Plato believed it was better to be assaulted than to be an assaulter. He believed there were consequences for bad behavior, if not in this life, in the afterlife. Then Aristotle came along and decided that The Good Life would be to develop to the highest degree possible the faculty that is unique to human beings, which he defined as reason, rationality. Then came Epicurus, who asserted that The Good Life was one of pleasure. But pleasure can come from making other people happy. So even that is complicated. My definition would probably include a little of all of those.

I’ve grown up believing in the virtue of work and service to others. This has caused me to take a narrow pathway and eschew many of the pleasures of life. That may be a virtue when practiced to some extent, but it can go too far.

I have now come to believe that some of the things I may have dismissed as self-indulgent should not be dismissed on that basis. It’s caused me to restrain myself from doing things that I probably should have done, that would have harmed no one, and probably even spread some good in the world. As I get older and better appreciate the preciousness of life, I acknowledge that for some unknown reason I have been given the gift of life, and increasingly I understand what a great gift it is. So, if that is the case, then isn’t it a bit ungrateful to push away all the good things of life and keep your nose to the grindstone?

At least once in a while, it’s good to let loose, enjoy some of the wonderful things that we are the benefactors of as human beings. It’s good to receive life’s gifts graciously. At least that’s how I feel now at this stage of life.

When I hear the phrase The Good Life something specific comes to my mind. It’s enjoying the best that life has to offer. It’s not necessarily expensive luxuries, though that could be part of it. I still believe that the very best things in life are free. The air you breathe, the beauty of the autumn landscape, and your time – those are not commodities for purchase. Most of the best things come not from being rich, but from having discernment, or just being open to receiving them.

For me, The Good Life would have to include travel. And I believe travel would be high on most people’s lists. But it’s not just going from place to place. It’s something more. Perhaps The Good Life is a description of the way to travel, an approach to travel that elevates you from a tourist to a true connoisseur of travel.

Your Humble Reporter,

Colin Treadwell

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