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An Intro to Travel: Around the World in 180 Days

Sam Leslie

As the well-fitted caravel cut through the undulating currents, the flag of a square cross proudly waved atop the mast. Underneath the Order of Christ flag stood Vasco de Gama, an explorer celebrated for reaching India by sea, but in this story he is not there just yet. A young sailor with an unyielding pitch yelled, “Land, Land.” The anxious crew gathered and stared: to the east. Upon reaching this land, what is now South Africa, while the crew scattered, Vasco sat. He was “eager to know where [he] was.” However, waiting and looking around can be a troubling way of living.

That which waits usually sees. Vasco de Gama has his first encounter with an African man, who looked “thunderstruck.” Acknowledging, Vasco understood that he along with the man he looked at had never been in such an “extreme” situation. Centuries of history, movement, and experience coalesced at this moment; a bridge, a monument to the human race was readily prepared. Instead a barrier emerged, “He could not understand us, nor we him / Who seemed wilder than Polyphemus.” As the bud dies, ignorance blooms. Polyphemus refers to a Greek myth known to be a man-eating cyclops. Vasco de Gama dared not climb the cultural barrier, so he insulted this stranger. He touted gold “the supreme metal of civilization” and left, never to see or stop again. Portugal continued, trumpeting civilization, while colonizing the world. It seemed that the original call for “Land, Land” had echoed across centuries of history. In striking similarity, discovery and travel, whether its merits, goals, and results, have not changed. Humanity has stared at the wall to the most simple way of discovering: human interaction. 


Not only has the march of discovery not changed, it has been decompartmentalized to serve an often foreign source. During the height of imperial England, English voyages sought to confirm western supremacy. Alexander Kinglake, an Englishman traveling in the near East during the early 19th century, wanted to observe “the splendour and havoc of the East.” His book, Eothon catalogs his travels. The “havoc” he observed was an amalgamation of adjectives including, “sad, lesser, infernal, and vagrant,” used to describe the East. There is the havoc of the “unparcelled Earth,” which will be reduced to “a state of mere usefulness” by civilization. Civilization will strip those that sought the chaos of unlabelled Earth from their traveling, forcing people to be “trained and tried, and matched and ran” by civilization. Travel will serve to civilize. Within this new construct, Kinglake is a founding example. As he walks, Kinglake transports himself into a new “MODE OF LIFE” where everything is the same as England, except the absence of civilization. With an extended period of living and the absence of England, Kinglake looks inward, positing that traveling is a time to mold your character. Eventually,Kinglake finds himself alone traveling to Suez. In his loneliness, Kinglake arrogantly announced, “I was here in this African desert, and I myself, and no other, had charge of my life.” While he may control his life, this control strips him of experience and interaction. Ironically, Kinglake’s loneliness moment, devoid of contact, represents the civilizing peak. 


Only a few decades later, in 1869, the “unparcelled Earth,” the Isthmus of Suez, divided into the Suez Canal. A year later, the British empire could traverse across India via train from Bombay to Calcutta. These changes resulted in a bet. Phileas Fogg, the protagonist of Jules Verne’s classical work Around the World in Eighty Days, was the bettor. While a fictional novel, the book is an insightful window into the British 19th century traveling mindset. Fogg’s decision to bet on a eighty day round trip seems to be in stark opposition to his life experiences. He is described to be a recluse often ensnared in the nearest British newspaper. Verne, even coyly suggests that “He must have traveled everywhere, at least in the spirit” through the newspaper.  His love for newspapers informs his ever-shrinking worldview. He asserts that, “The world has grown smaller, since a man can now go around it ten times more quickly than a hundred years ago.” After hedging a bet with friends, he magnanimously declared, “The unforeseen does not exist,” suggesting he’s already seen the world. Later, Fogg believes that going around the world will be an “unattainable project.” What then may seem to be a potentially eye-opening experience for Fogg’s unsociable and conceited British personality, in actuality becomes a journey of confirmation. He travels in a state of utmost ignorance and disinterest of the unknown. He does not want to change. Andrew Martin an English novelist describes this experience, 

Since the world is already codified, fully converted to cartography, [Fogg] doesn't even bother to observe and restricts himself to reading train timetables....it is simply a matter of racing against the clock and tracing a circumference.


Fogg represents a new disability caused by the degradation of travel: blindness. Travel is not even a character building exercise. His circumvention of the world is really a circumvention of the British empire. When he does face a non-British counterpart he refers to them as “monkeys” and “savages,”  and he quickly returns to the newspaper, a source of ignorance. Ultimately, Fogg does get back in time; however, it doesn’t seem like he went anywhere. Verne even casually says, “Phileas Fogg was not traveling, but only describing a circumference.” He is the prototypical industrial man: productive and individualistic, following the natural rotation of the Earth. Now, blindness is natural. He is not traveling but merely existing.

Jules Verne’s book Around the World in Eight Days, considered classical fiction.

It is quite evident that Fogg suffered from a belief that the newspaper in front of him could trump the potential experiences surrounding him. It cannot. Edward Said, in his famous work Orientalism, describes this failure: “It seems a common human failing to prefer the schematic authority of a text to the disorientations of direct encounters with the human.” The failure to draw upon human experiences has affected all facets of literature, history, diplomacy, and other disciplines in the humanities. In textbooks, passages are drawn upon fact and forget human voices. Western travel fetishes food and nature but often neglects humans and culture. 


Not all is doom and gloom: writing can in fact uphold human experiences. However, this writing requires centering human voices. In the metaphorical academy, which produces writing and scholarly work, Edward Said argues that, “[our duty] should therefore be the migrant or traveler.” The academy offers a “joint discovery of self and other,” which can transform “what might be conflict, or contest, or assertion into reconciliation, mutuality, recognition, and creative interaction.” Truly, discovering, searching for the stories of others, can manifest the greatest of goods. 


Through careful investigation of the evolution of travel, its shortcomings, and the untapped potential of human interaction, I’ll move to model my discoveries. I am beginning an Around the World in 180 Days series for Talk Diplomacy (yes, I might need an extra 100 days to look around). This series aims to travel across the world and tell stories in the human perspective. Unlike Fogg or Kinglake, this is not an individual exercise; it is not a race or circumnavigation; it is a journey. Traveling will not be for some foreign source but humanity. I plan to travel across the continents starting in Minneapolis, MN. I hedge my bet on returning in half a year!

 
  1. All of the information from this paragraph was taken from Luis de Camões’ The Lusiads. 

  2. The Lusiads

  3. Camões, The Lusíads, 103.

  4. Ibid

  5. Alexander William Kinglake, Eothen, comp. Les Bowler (London, n.d.), 1, accessed October 26, 2023, https://www.gutenberg.org/files/43684/43684-h/43684-h.htm, 1. 

  6. Kinglake, Eothen, 129.

  7. Kinglake, Eothen, 239.

  8. Jules Verne and George M. Towle, Around the World in Eighty Days (Charlottesville, Va.: University of Virginia Library, 1993), 3.

  9. Verne and Towle, Around the World, 18.

  10. Sinnema, "Around the World," 21.

  11. Sinnema, "Around the World," 22.

  12. Peter W. Sinnema, "Around the World without a Gaze: Englishness and the Press in Jules Verne," Victorian Periodicals Review 36, no. 2 (2003): http://www.jstor.org/stable/20083927.

  13. Sinnema, "Around the World," 141.

  14. Sinnema, "Around the World," 67.

  15. Edward W. Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, 1979), 93.

  16. Edward W. Said, "The Potentate and the Traveler, by Edward W. Said (1994)," Rolf Potts, last modified September 24, 2020, accessed October 29, 2023, https://rolfpotts.com/the-potentate-and-the-traveler/.

  17. Said, "The Potentate," Rolf Potts.

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