Above all is enjoyment with no utilitarian objective, which it is the main business of both travel and education to increase as they can.
Freya Stark is celebrated as one of the most outstanding travellers and travel writers of the 20th century.
Born in Paris at the end of the 19th century, Stark volunteered during the First World War and began her adventurous solo travels in her 30s.
By 1931 she had made three journeys into Iran, parts of which had never been visited by Westerners. Stark was awarded the Royal Geographical Society’s Back Award in 1933 for those explorations which were also published in 1934 as The Valleys of the Assassins.
Stark continued her travels during the 1930s and after the Second World War, chiefly around the Middle East, Turkey and Afghanistan.
In the essay Stark describes the importance of travel which, for her, was comparable to the ecstasy of love, although travel was “less costly and almost equally precious in the end.” For Stark, though, travel surpassed love in one respect:
And there is this about love: that its memory is not enough; for the soul retracts if it does not go on loving, whereas to have travelled once, however long ago – provided it was real and not bogus travel – is enough.
Good days are to be gathered like sunshine in grapes, to be trodden and bottled into wine and kept for age to sip at ease beside his fire. If the traveller has vintaged well he need trouble to wander no longer; the ruby moments glow in his glass at will. He can still feel the spring in his step, and the wind on his face, though he sit in shelter: unless perhaps the sight of a long road winding, or the singing of the telegraph wires, or the wild duck in their wedges, or horses’ hooves that clatter into distance, or the wayside stream – all with their many voices persuade him to try just one more journey before the pleasant world comes to an end.
That is not say to say that travel is something to be acquired or possessed like a souvenir. What matters is how one travels, to ensure it is real and not bogus; and to make travel real, one must have a genuine horizon:
There is no travelling without a horizon. This is, if you come to think of it, just what the bogus traveller lacks. He has made himself a world without a skyline. His rooms are booked in Paris, Cairo, Melbourne San Francisco, New York his routes are planned his days are scheduled: he has blotted out, with every touch of his organization, that blue rim that stands between the known world and the unknown For the rest, the chief thing the traveller carries about with him is himself. The places he visits are incidental.
Real, as opposed to bogus, travel does not require us to pack up and head off into the deserts and jungles.
Although Stark considered that every good journey ought to contain “some measure of exploration”, she considered that a short trip, some effort of our own and a little imagination were sufficient, provided the traveller maintained awareness of their horizon beyond which the “world is new.”
Travelling was therefore as much a state of mind as it was a physical and geographical challenge and, despite being an intrepid explorer, this thought led Stark to wonder whether some of “the fairest journeys have been made by those who never left their houses.”
Despite this, there is no substitute for the real experience of travel and it was through travel that Stark thought people of different races and cultures might reach a common understanding, in spite of those differences:
Travel is necessary to an understanding of men…Such delicate goods as justice, love and honour, courtesy, and indeed all the things we care for, are valid everywhere; but they are variously moulded and often differently handled, and sometimes nearly unrecognizable if you meet them in a foreign land; and the art of learning fundamental common values is perhaps the greatest gain of travel to those who wish to live at ease among their fellows.
A number of Freya Stark’s travel books are available to download for free from the Internet Archive, here. Unfortunately, Perseus in the Wind is not among them which is still in print and available at Amazon and elsewhere.