Broadening Horizons

This summer has been incredible, taking me from sea and sunshine in an untouched Turkish fishing village, to a weekend of wellie-wearing, musical madness at my first ever festival; from the golden calm of the annual family-and-friends holiday in France, to backpacking in the unbelievably hot, unbelievably beautiful Spanish region of Andalucia. The colourful jigsaw pieces that have comprised my summer have made me think about the different reasons we have for going away, for travelling and why they are of significance for us.

Mythological heroes went on quests to prove themselves to their gods; medieval pilgrims traversed a perilous, politically fraught Europe to worship at the shrine, and explorers boldly went where no man had gone before for the sake of king, country and discovery. Travelling has always been something formative, but it was not until the vogue for the Grand Tour in the eighteenth century, that travelling became less of a means to an end, and rather the end itself.

The Grand Tour was seen as an extension of Oxbridge education; a rite of passage for wealthy young men, allowing them to take in the natural and artistic delights of Europe, to learn about Empire and the roots of civilisation. The Grand Tour was adopted by the American nouveau-riche, and became more of an excuse to drift aimlessly around Europe on the social scene, than a life-changing journey. Despite this the Grand Tour introduces the idea that with travel, exposure to other cultures and new sights, we can expand our mental horizons as well as our physical ones, importantly, at a stage in life when we are informed, but not yet fully formed.

The Grand Tour today takes its more variable shape in the form of the Gap Year, another brilliant English rite of passage. Freshers, get used to hearing the words “Did you have a gap year?” at least once a day for the next two months, and get very used to hearing “Thailand” or “India” in reply. Just as the Grand Tour lost its originality and spontaneity, so has the gap year become more predictable; individually no less special as an experience, but less unique and more standardised. Is it just a fad, or do we genuinely want to discover where we travel through, and can that still help us discover truths about ourselves?

I did have a gap year, it was beautiful. I lived in Rome, learnt Italian and travelled around parts of Italy, not the most adventurous or exotic choice but I came away enriched in many ways. It was hard at first to find my feet in a strange city, and try to make friends in another language, but there were the rewards of learning the ways of the crazy Italian capital, communicating with its inhabitants, and absorbing its history and art. The hardest bit was leaving and coming home again. But then, as Tolkien’s Bilbo Baggins entitles his self-defining journey, The Hobbit or There and Back Again, it is the return that is of significance. In literature’s greatest journey The Odyssey, Odysseus’ quest is for his home; the achievement of his journey lies in the wisdom and personal experience he brings back with him.

Travelling is important as it allows us to experiment with our identity – something Odysseus was very good at – putting us into new roles outside our comfort zone. Coming to university is in many ways a continuation of the travelling experience, and I’m not just saying that in consolation for any one who didn’t have a gap year! By surrounding ourselves with different people and places we are adding to the sum of our experience, the total of ourselves. One of the best things about university is that it allows us to do this all the time, and if life at Warwick ever threatens to be dull, trust me, there’s always the morning train home from a night out in Birmingham!

In the words of one of the world’s most renowned travellers Jack Kerouac: “Life is the road”.


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