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Searching for an inspirational travel quote? Quotes about travelling can motivate us, intrigue us and make us laugh. They also drive me crazy. This is why it’s time to reveal the truth about famous travel quotes and the logic (or lack thereof) behind them.
Inspirational travel quotes
Like many other people stricken with wanderlust, particularly travel bloggers, I’ve spent years combing over travel quotes, seeking inspiration and life lessons from their lofty wisdom. Then I realized I was revering a lot of quotes about travelling that didn’t make sense, or were misattributed or that contradicted other famous travel quotes I was also trying to revere at the same time. That’s when my head started to hurt.
Sometimes I agree with quotes about travelling in principle, but if I actually tried to apply these nuggets of perception to my life I’d have to find the joy in cancelled flights, getting lost in dark allies or getting ripped off by unscrupulous taxi drivers. Not for me, thanks.
No more worshipping the travel quote
It gets worse. If I treated every top travel quote as gospel I’d be convinced I was an enlightened being just because I’ve been on the road. So I say enough of blindly worshipping the travel quote. Let’s give some of the most famous quotes and sayings a jaded once-over and see what happens when we look at their raw naked truth.
Why do we like travel quotes anyway?
Travel quotes are addictive. Some are witty, some are mind-expanding and some downright cranky (I like those ones the best). Funny travel quotes make great entertainment (thanks, Mark Twain!) while the most self-important inspirational quotes inspire a great big yawn.
Some, like the one by David Bowie above, are so good they give me the icy chills, especially as we really don’t know where he’s gone. (But I bet it’s somewhere exciting.)
If we look at travel quotes as a whole, however, as the Noah’s Arc of travel quotes, you might start to notice how they whirl and splinter and crash into each other in midair. (That’s my attempted literary way of saying they can be airy fairy, contradictory or attributed to someone who never said them at all.)
Quotes about the journey
Let’s start with one of the most popular genre of travelling quotes: the quote about The Journey. And please, when you speak of The Journey, use a hushed and respectful tone because, you know, you’re not just getting in the car and driving down the I-95, you’re on a Life Adventure.
Here’s one of the best-known quotes with travel as the subject:
The journey not the arrival matters.
Attributed to TS Eliot, this well-known travel quote is also attributed to Leonard Woolf (Virginia Woolf’s husband), who wrote an autobiography using that title, and to the 16th-century French philosopher Montaigne, who said something vaguely similar. Its exact origin is anyone’s guess, but it was someone with an ear for pithy sayings.
Here’s another catchy quote about The Journey:
It’s good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters in the end.
This one is attributed to Ernest Hemingway, but hold on. It was more likely Ursula K Le Guin, the sci-fi and fantasy writer (who I always mix up with Ursula Andress, the 60s-era sex symbol who roase out of the sea in a white bikini in the James Bond flick Dr. No).
Travel is about the journey?
Whoever wrote the above quotes, however, does it matter? They can still be inspirational. But, I mean, really? Travel is all about the journey? In a big picture way, maybe. Or if we’re talking about life being the journey and death being the end, then I say let’s prolong the trip as long as possible.
On the other hand, when my flight to New York was cancelled the other day (not to mention on the return trip too) and I was eating an overpriced airport salad that was 90% spinach with two walnuts and a kale shred, while panicking about my bags sailing off to who-knows-where, I thought: If it’s the journey that counts, travel sucks.
Have these people never sat in a middle seat in economy beside a man who hasn’t showered for a week? Or struggled onto a bus while hoisting a purse, an oversized carry-on and a suitcase filled with too many pairs of shoes? Sometimes The Journey is a downer and you just want to get there.
A quote about The Journey I should probably learn from
Probably grumpy travellers such as I should take more heed of this travel quote by Babs Hoffman, who was an infielder for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in 1951 and 52.
Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and enjoy the journey.
But what about being lost on a mountain in Slovakia? (True story.) And being pickpocketed in Piccadily Circus? (Also true, but I caught him.) Can’t I worry then? And what if you do drive into a pothole so big it’s more like a sinkhole and it swallows your car and you can’t get out?
Let’s face it. Potholes can be dangerous and so can The Journey. We don’t have to love every second of it.
A travel quote I can get behind
Before you start thinking I hate every inspirational quote about The Journey, let me add that I do like this short travel quote by Robert Louis Stevenson.
For my part I travel not to go anywhere but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.
It’s the word ‘go’ that gets my blood going. It’s the idea of the ‘go,’ which can be journey, escape and destination all wrapped up into one. (Sadly, that toilet paper ad about it being ‘all about the go’ kind of ruined the image for me, but I’m getting past it.)
Quotes about blazing a new trail
Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.
This quote is widely attributed to Ralf Waldo Emerson but was more likely the poet Muriel Strode.
So about that new path. In theory the idea of straying off the beaten trail makes sense. Otherwise we’d all be at the Eiffel Tower. But in today’s world, what does leaving a trail mean? Shouldn’t we keep to some sort of established path so that we don’t trample more of our fragile environment? Shouldn’t we be leaving as little an imprint as possible?
In fact, maybe even leaving footprints are too much. Maybe we should just send in a drone so we don’t leave a mark on the ground at all and stop traveling altogether. (Kidding! Even drones are invasive.)
Travel quotes about meeting people
A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.
Much as I admire Tim Cahill, who wrote this, and think Jaguars Ripped my Flesh is the best title of a travel book ever, this is clearly written by an outgoing friendly person and not by an introvert. Some of the most gratifying trips I’ve taken have been ones where I talk to nobody, meet nobody and relate to no one at all. Instead, I might have a nice quiet relationship with a creaky old cathedral or a tree.
I’m aware this says more about the sorry state of my personality than about Tim Cahill’s quote, but it’s my essay about travel quotes, not his. (Sorry, Tim!)
When the trip is a character in your personal story
We do not take a trip, trips take us — John Steinbeck
This is often misquoted as “People don’t take trips, trips take people.” While this is a lovely thought, if I didn’t actually get myself out the door, I doubt a beach in Thailand would come and pick me up or buy me an air ticket.
Contradictory travel quotes about The Self
This brings me to the fact that many travel quotes say completely the opposite of what other ones say. Can we really be inspired by all of them? Nowhere is this more apparent when it comes to the elusive Self so many of us are searching for.
Let’s begin with this one by Marty Rubin, the late author of The Boiled Frog Syndrome.
Travel doesn’t become adventure until you leave yourself behind.
This is a captivating thought because life is an adventure, and stepping outside of our prejudices and our preconceived notions of how the world should behave is when things really start to rock … but wait. Don’t we travel to find ourselves rather than to leave ourselves behind? I’m sure there are some inspirational travel quotes about that … oh, yes. Here’s one by David Mitchell, a British writer based in Japan:
Travel far enough, you meet yourself.
Or here’s a different take from the award-winning English author, Neil Gaiman:
Wherever you go, you take yourself with you.
But now I’m confused. If you take yourself with you when you go on a journey, haven’t you already met yourself? Maybe this next quote by the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie will clear things up.
I think you travel to search and you come back home to find yourself there.
So now we have Yourself being someone you will meet on a trip, plus someone you take with you but also someone who is still at home. This brings me to conclude that ‘Yourself’ doesn’t know where the hell it is, and you don’t know either.
The ‘travel is good but getting home is better’ school of thought
Since we’re on the topic of home, there are a number of travel quotes about the joy of The Return, including this one from George Moore, an Irish novelist born in the 19th century.
A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.
And let’s not forget one of the most famous travel quotes of all time, from the inimitable Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.
“There’s no place like home.”
Okay, I get what they’re saying. I’m not completely thick. These quotes are teaching us that what you learn on your metaphorical voyage helps you to grow into the type of person that appreciates what you left behind. Honestly, though, sometimes I’d just rather be in the South of France.
Quotes about travel making us better people
Hugely influential on modern fiction, Gustave Flaubert was the 19th-century French novelist behind the scandalous bestseller, Madame Bovary. A firm believer in the benefits of travel, he wrote:
Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.
I hate to disagree with this master of style, but isn’t this travel quote a best-case scenario? Travel should make us more empathetic and less self centred. It doesn’t always work this way. Sometimes travel makes us unbearably smug, from the jet-setter mentality of “Oh, you haven’t eaten at Osteria Francescana in Modena yet? It was voted the best in the world,” to a backpacker’s smirk when you confess you haven’t visited the rainbow island of Hormuz in Iran.
With all due respect, I will counter Flaubert’s quote with a quote by Joe Abercrombie, a British fantasy fiction writer.
Travel brings wisdom only to the wise. It renders the ignorant more ignorant than ever.
Clearly, while I fall into that second ‘ignorant’ category … at least I’m aware of it. Maybe on my next trip I’ll have an epiphany and become learned.
And since I’m on a quest to be learned, whether it’s by sifting through an endless array of quotes about travelling or getting out and taking a ‘road less travelled’ myself, I’ll end with an inspirational quote by Mark Twain, who may be the funniest travel writer ever to tramp abroad. And who also wrote A Tramp Abroad, which should be required reading for anyone who has wanderlust in their soul.
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.