Travel is amazing. It broadens the mind, gives you a sense of perspective and is the ultimate expression of freedom. Hooray for travel, and for more people being able to do it. But those inspirational travel quotes that people share can be really freaking annoying.
I understand the need to share these sentiments. Travel IS amazing (if you’ll excuse the platitude). And a lot of people want to share the joy and thrill of travel with others. Me too – I’ve personally spent over a decade pestering friends to destitute themselves and wreck their futures in favour of climbing volcanoes and other mind-expanding nonsense.
But there’s also something self-glorifying and narcissistic about travel quotes, and the sharing of them. Something that ignores what a privilege it is and focusses on how great you are for doing it.
“If you think travel’s amazing, you want to see me!”
So here are ten examples of annoying travel quotes. If you like travel quotes you’re probably going to hate me for this.
Sorry (not sorry) (well, okay, maybe just a bit).
I should note that it’s not my intention to throw shade on any of the authors or other quoted folk, most of whom probably didn’t ask to be quoted in the first place. I’m clearly just envious. I deliberately speak in witty aphorisms any time I see anyone with a pen, but no fucker ever writes them down.
1. “Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by.” –Robert Frost
I get why someone would share this – they feel they bucked the trend and did something different. It can take strength and courage to leave everything behind and go exploring.
But firstly the other road is not that poorly travelled. Going to Bolivia and taking forced-perspective photos of the Salar de Uyuni is a lot of fun, but it hardly makes you a pioneer.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, this poem probably isn’t about what you think it’s about. It’s actually about regret (rather than just going to marginally less touristic places than most people).
The underlying thing here seems to be the desire to feel special. We all think we’re special (when in fact only I am). But surely one of the most important lessons of adulthood is how important it is to be humble. Or at least to appear humble, even if you think you’re the best thing since the Gore-Tex travel banjo.
As for the meaning, the Paris Review calls it ‘the most misread poem in America’, so there’s no shame if you got it wrong. But now you know and I’ve broken it for you. Sorry about that.
2. “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” — Saint Augustine
If I was being generous, I’d say you can read this more than one way, and that the real comparison it encourages is between well-travelled and not-so-well-travelled versions of yourself. Also that it encourages you to travel and therefore broaden your horizons.
But I’m not being generous. I’m writing a blog post about annoying travel quotes. And, as Lee Carter of Global Goose says of this particular quote, “This isn’t inspiration, this is gloating.”
3. “Not all those who wander are lost.” — J.R.R. Tolkein
It’s true that people who haven’t travelled sometimes do make judgements about those that don’t: “Look at you travelling all the time – you clearly don’t know what you’re doing! Why haven’t you committed yourself to a lifetime of resentful tedium? I’ve got every day for the next twenty years accounted for. Whilst you’re like a boat without a rudder!”
This is clearly nonsense. There is no one way to live your life. As is often pointed out, we’re all just winging it.
At the same time, maybe serial long-term travel really is an admission that you don’t know what the hell else to do with your life. Maybe your first trip was so mind-expanding that it left you unable to deal with the mundanities of the real world (I can certainly put my hand up for that one). And maybe, like a lot of people, you really are one of the wanderers that are, well, just a little bit lost.
And you know what? That’s fine. Indeed, if you had life all worked out, then how boring would that be?
Just please don’t pretend that being a serial long-term traveller makes you all wise and mysterious like frigging Aragorn.
4. “A man of ordinary talent will always be ordinary, whether he travels or not; but a man of superior talent will go to pieces if he remains forever in the same place.” — Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Oh, pray, Wolfgang – to whom might you being referring?
To be fair, Mozart did have a claim to being reasonably talented. But this (admittedly de-contextualised) quote just makes him sound like a bit of a self-aggrandising travel-tosser.
I should add that I’ve never actually seen this quote shared anyway, so I’m kind of raging against nothing here.
5. “I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” – Mary Anne Radmacher
Sounds like Mary Anne has had a life-changing experience – and good for her. I can certainly relate to it, as travel changed the hell out of me. Maybe it changed the hell out of you, too. Once again – hooray for travel!
Unfortunately, in the same way I’ve heard it said that the “Baby on board” signs actually meant “I’ve got a baby!!”, sharing this quote screams out “I’ve been to the other side of the world!!” but with added “I’ve totally changed as a person and everything, too, but I’m completely humble and almost slightly melancholic about it.”
It’s just a shame that going to the other side of the world didn’t change you into someone that doesn’t share special-snowflake travel quotes.
6. “Too often I would hear men boast of the miles covered that day, rarely of what they had seen.” – Louis L’Amour
Louise L’Amour, you have clearly never read a travel blog.
Actually this quote is not annoying, it’s just a sign of how things have changed. I know this is completely hypocritical given that I myself write about travel all the time (and you’re reading this on a blog called ‘Wandering Desk’), but frankly, I yearn to hear someone merely boasting of the miles they’ve covered.
Mind you, if I do want to hear that, I can just check my Facebook feed any given day for all the GPS-tracked running activity.
I think I may be alienating a large proportion of my friends with this post.
7. “I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.” — Susan Sontag
Great punchline — it’s like a Steven Wright one liner. And yes, it’s full of ambition, curiosity and the sense that the world is simultaneously both incomprehensibly large, and yet also travelably small.
Unfortunately, it also sounds self-indulgent as heck. Travel isn’t about broadening your horizons or any of that bullshit — it’s about ticking countries off on a list.
First one to do them all wins!
The originator of the quote — Susan Sontag — lived in Sarajevo during the siege, which is pretty hardcore, so she gets some leeway. Even if one day it turns out she was doing it purely to tick off a list entitled ‘Cities I’ve Lived In During A Siege’.
8. “A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” — Tim Cahill
This is a good one to quote if you accidentally get trapped in a hedonistic daze.
“I may have spent 57 consecutive days tubing in Vang Vieng but you want to see how many new Facebook friends I’ve got.”
(On a side note, I’ve heard Vang Vieng is cleaning up its act now).
The estimable Mr. Cahill is coming from a good place here. He’s talking about focussing on the human experience rather than being a travel boast. But torn from its original mooring and placed in the modern context of social media, isn’t it just another form of competitive travelling?
Hey – maybe a journey is best measured in countries!
Or Instagram likes!
9. “Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.”– Paul Theroux.
Oh please, we’re not still rallying under the ‘travellers are totally different (and completely superior) to tourists’ banner, are we?
“I’m a traveller, not a tourist. Just because I go to foreign countries on a temporary basis, take selfies in front of landmarks and confine my cultural integration to getting wasted on the local tipple doesn’t mean anything.”
I mean, of course there are distinctions in the way we travel. A lot of people do experience foreign countries in a deeper way. And, for sure, going away independently for a year is a different experience to going away on a package holiday for two weeks.
But there’s just so much cultural superiority in trumpeting this, and it’s not such a clear distinction anyway.
I’ve even heard of people who were unhappy ticking the ‘tourist’ box on the immigration form, presumably wishing for a ‘just totally out there doing my own thing’ box. In other words, it’s that special snowflake thing again. I’m not some mere tourist! How dare you!
(PS – Noun: tourist – Someone who travels for pleasure.)
10. “It is not down in any map; true places never are.” – Herman Melville
Oh fuck off.
All that said, just share what you like. It’s only a travel quote. It’s hardly worth getting upset (or writing a blog post) about.
Did I include your favourite quote? Are you angry with me? Perhaps you have a quote that mocks people that mock travel quotes? Tell me all about it below.
An excellent read Sir.
I totally agree with all the things you said and I get annoyed by this too.