Travel Lessons From Dante

Written by Hank Martin in Travel Tips

When I think of Dante I think of hell.  His vivid, grotesque imagery in the Inferno, such


scenes as people's souls on fire, or being slashed to bits by swords, make me cringe still today.  His epic poem, divided into 3 parts of 33 cantos each, was written sometime in the early 1300's, and has seen

Humans are moving creatures.
unparalleled popularity compared to other italian literature on the world platform.  In fact, in comparison to most works of literature, not only is The Divine Comedy taught in university English classes around the world, but it has also been a source of inspiration for famous artists since its conception.  Dante's Divine Comedy is praised for its depiction of the afterlife, and, for its focus on spirituality, can be considered a must read.  But, while Dante does have some valuable lessons for us regarding good and evil, punishment and paradise, he also provides insight into the world of travel.  These are some of the lessons we're going to focus on today.

Running gives direction

In the Inferno Dante is lost in a dark woods and visited by Virgil.  At this point in the story Dante is down and out, questioning his identity and self-worth. Stuck in a depressed, wandering state, he accepts Virgil's proposition of a journey and the chance to remove himself from the rut that is his life.  He begins to understand the virtue of running, or the need to run from everything you know in order to reorganize and develop your life.

For Dante, travel is the opportunity to discover a new self.  All who run are searching for something, whether it be the most amazing view in the world, a different perspective on life, or new exotic cuisine.  Travelers yearn for something more or different than the present, and seek some aspect of life that is malnourished or missing within themselves.  The desire to travel may be spurred by the constant need for the new, or the physiological thrill of seeing and experiencing beauty.  Or, it may be an escape, a chance to recreate yourself in a place where no one knows anything about you.  Travel connects us with the unknown, an unknown we want but usually can't define before encountering it.  For Dante, in opening himself to the new and unexpected he searches for his identity through travel, and discovers some life lessons that help find peace within himself. He makes his greatest contribution to humanity only after he runs away from the status quo of his life and seeks to broaden his perspective of the world.

A good travel partner, or new friend, can change your life.

Humans live a social life, and loneliness scares us.  Like darkness, or the quiet, we've taken something that generations before us have found comfort in and become scared of it.  Dante starts his journey alone and is forced to encounter his lack of direction at the beginning of the story, but then receives Virgil's guidance through the rest of book one and two, and then from the love of his life, Beatrice, in book three.  Dante spends time within himself reflecting on all of his experiences, but he also relies on others to help him through.  When you travel, a good friend can provide an understanding mind to share in your joys and frustrations.  New friends you meet provide directions, tips, and off-the beaten path recommendations that can make a trip extraordinary.  Others help us grow by giving insight into their perspective, their culture, their world.  They take us out of our own dark woods and show us the light.

Dante travels from Hell to Paradise

Although I hope your travels won't be hell, I know that if you travel long enough you'll miss a flight, show up at an overbooked hotel or hostel at three AM, or get robbed by someone.  If you travel long enough bad things will happen, but persistence will eventually bring you to paradise.  Dante could have backed out at anytime.  He could have seen people getting torn apart by the devil, or cut to shreds by demons and said, I want no more part of this; however, he stuck it out, and in the end, made it to Paradise.  Travel is a lot like this, minus the demons cutting you and the devil tearing you apart.  Life is a collection of all the good and bad moments we experience, and sometimes the dark moments turn bright.  Sometimes not, but, like Dante was at the end, the bad can bring out the best in us.  The hells you experience when traveling build your character; they give you patience, fortitude, tough skin, and insight into the world.  These are traits that can get you a promotion if you stop traveling someday and settle down, help you raise a kid, build a business, or deal with people.

The uncomfortable makes us grow

Humans are moving creatures. Life is movement, and without movement there is no existence. But, moving can be an uncomfortable process. We see things we'd rather not see, experience population overcrowding, starvation, and poverty. We get swindled at a restaurant, or taken for a ride by a man who claims to be a "friend."  Travel shows us these things, and puts life in perspective. Sometimes it takes seeing a man with his eyes sewn shut to the world and searching for forgiveness, like Dante saw, to make you question your own life. For Dante, this questioning came in purgatory when he went through the terrace of the prideful. He realized excessive pride was also a downfall of his. Now while your revelations may arise from something much less spiritual, such as a man on the side of the road, or a random conversation to another passenger in the same train belly as you, or walking the Great Wall of China, your insight can be just as powerful.

We all have a little Dante in us, a part of us in love with adventure and the quest for answers. It's the reason The Divine Comedy has endured through the ages. We see in Dante a man struggling with understanding the world around him. This is a struggle any traveler can sympathize with.


Hank Martin

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Traveling for a world education and writing about the life lessons learned.

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