The great travel writer Pico Iyer wrote an essay for Salon.com many years ago that is one of the best discussions about why we travel that I’ve seen. http://www.salon.com/travel/feature/2000/03/18/why
He says, “We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And, we travel, in essence to become young fools again—to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more.”
It strikes me that you could substitute the word “read” for travel in that paragraph and the meaning would be the same. When we “escape with a good book,” we read to lose ourselves and sometimes find ourselves along the way just like someone who is wandering the streets and alleyways of a foreign country. Most of us can’t live the life of a travel writer, a vagabond, or an independently wealthy aristocrat on the grand tour of Europe ala the characters that populate the works of Edith Wharton or Henry James. But we can go there in a book.
However, the best of all worlds is to combine the two. Ever since I was in grade school, I loved to read about the places we were going on family vacations. Reading Esther Forbes’s “Johnny Tremain” before a trip to Boston made the visit come alive for me. Ditto for Robert McCloskey’s “Make Way for Ducklings,” which I read with my children before a trip to Boston where we waddled across the street to the Public Garden following the path of Mack, Jack, Kack, Quack and the other ducklings.
That might be the best part—becoming young fools again.