You don’t need to read great travel literature to get inspired. Here are three travel quotes that prove adventure is universal.
It’s impossible to scroll through your Instagram feed without encountering, embedded between bacon brunches and downward-dogging millennials, amaro-filtered landscapes backgrounding provocative travel quotes in white sans-serif font. They say a picture’s worth a thousand words—but pictures can be ambiguous.
Language, however, allows for precision and eloquence. While travel photos of faraway places may itch the feet, wanderlust proverbs goad the mind to embark upon its own journey, questing not only for “what” and “where,” but also “why.”
Below are three travel quotes I’ve found especially poignant—or at least deserving of a retweet.
“Not all those who wander are lost.” – J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Arguably the most famed (and certainly the most tattooed) sentiment of wanderlust originated within the poem “All That is Gold Does Not Glitter.” Frequently misinterpreted as referring to nomads seeking adventure for its own sake, this line actually denotes a specific group of characters within the legendarium known as Rangers who are trackers and warriors protecting their territories from evil.
Nevertheless, the quote has been adopted as the unofficial backpacker motto and adorns hostel dorms and blog posts the (e-)world over. When read non-contextually, it epitomizes this stereotype: one who yearns to explore and experience, not necessarily to achieve anything in particular, but rather to enjoy the grander sensations of excitement, novelty and freedom.
Many non-backpackers—indeed, the majority of people—want stability, and are searching explicitly for somewhere to nest. “Not all those who wander are lost” is the traveller’s response to those who incorrectly assume he just hasn’t yet found that tangible thing for which he’s looking.
“Man cannot discover new oceans until he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” – André Gide*
*This quote is frequently misattributed to Christopher Columbus, but as Abraham Lincoln once said, “You can’t trust everything you read on the Internet.”
Before setting out into the world, a backpacker must let go in three ways. On a physical level, she must relinquish comforts and conveniences such as a fridge full of food, a closet full of clothes and a bathroom not full of… well, you get the idea. It’s challenging to whittle down the essentials to what fits in a backpack and make do without everything else—even the most die-hard travellers confess to occasionally craving a fresh-sheeted, fluffy pillowed, superfluously blanketed bed that’s theirs and theirs alone.
Emotionally, she must abandon her known world. The places, people, cultures and situations she’ll encounter will seem alien in ways she likely hasn’t expected. She has to therefore surrender to fate and self-reliance, blindly trusting that the outcome will be positive due to the (over-)simplified fact that most people who travel enjoy themselves most people come home in the airplane’s cabin as opposed to its cargo hold. If life is full of surprises, then travellers faithfully subscribe to the theory that the majority of them are good ones.
Mentally, she must release her preconceived ideas regarding the world (both standalone and in relation to herself). As a certain primetime-television FBI agent is notorious for saying, “The truth is out there.” Yet it is not necessarily the truth our archetypal backpacker wants to accept, as it may be tragic or frightening or contradictory to what she thought she knew. However, an open mind—complemented by a curious spirit—may be a traveller’s most valuable asset.
“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson, The Silverado Squatters
This line is featured in Stevenson’s travel memoir, presented as a series of short stories that chronicle the Scotsman’s 1880 honeymoon in Napa Valley, California. It’s harmonious with the same concept of open-mindedness and a willingness to have one’s ideas proven wrong. To bluntly rephrase: No matter where he goes or what he encounters, it’s always the traveller who’s the weirdo. As many philosophers have argued, right/wrong and good/bad are dictated by the majority—something most people take for granted when on the victorious side. When a backpacker suddenly finds himself the odd one out, he is forced to reconsider and challenge what he previously took for granted.
That said, it’s of course okay for the backpacker to (perhaps silently, at least respectfully) disagree with general practice. After all, for him to unquestionably accept his host culture’s decorum as superior just because “they’ve always done things this way” would be as ignorant as deafly clinging to his own. Instead, this quote highlights perspective and the importance of examination through a variety of angles—a practice that the act of travel thrusts upon its participants in no subtle manner. After all, a big part of the backpacker experience is accepting humility when faced with the enormity of that which one does not know.
There have been many wise words written about travel over the millennia—more than I could fit in one article. So whether you’re an avid backpacker setting out on your next adventure or an armchair traveller seeking inspiration in your social media feed, stay tuned in April for part two of this column.