The problem with travel is you can’t leave yourself behind

Seneca (letter 104) credits Scocrates with this insight:

Socrates is reported to have replied, when a certain person complained of having received no benefit from his travels: “It serves you right!  You travelled in your own company!!” Oh what a blessing it would be for some men to wander away from themselves! As it is, they cause themselves vexation, worry, demoralization, and fear! What profit is there in crossing the sea and in going from one city to another?  If you would escape your troubles, you need not another place but another personality.

I’m a reluctant traveller myself, so Seneca’s critique really hit home:

What benefit has travel of itself ever been able to give anyone?  No restraint upon pleasure, no bridling of desire, no checking of bad temper, no crushing of the wild assaults of passion, no opportunity to rid the soul of evil. Travelling cannot give us judgment, or shake off our errors; it merely holds our attention for a moment by a certain novelty, as children pause to wonder at something unfamiliar.


There will be no benefit to you in this hurrying to and fro; for you are travelling with your emotions and are followed by your afflictions.

The real solution to all this anguish is not travel but philsophy:

We ought rather to spend our time in study, and to cultivate those who are masters of wisdom, learning something which has been investigated, but not settled. By this means the mind can be relieved of a most wretched serfdom, and won over to freedom.

Philosophy holds out a much higher promise than the fleeting relief of travel. By making the mind “fully master of itself”, philosophy allows us to “find seclusion even in the midst of business“.

The only harbour safe from the seething storms of this life is scorn of the future, a firm stand, a readiness to receive Fortune’s missiles full in the breast, neither skulking nor turning the back.

The letter is worth reading in full.