The Tao of Travel

Quito, Ecuador

One of my favorite travel books is Paul Theroux’s The Tao of Travel. When my favorite travel writer writes on the subject of travel literature, the result is nothing less than armchair satori. Take the following quote from his The Old Patagonia Express (1979), my first introduction to South America:

Travel is at its best a solitary enterprise: to see, to examine, to assess, you have to be alone and unencumbered. Other people can mislead you: they crowd your meandering impressions with their own; if they are companionable they obstruct your view, and if they are boring they corrupt the silence with non sequiturs, shattering your concentration with, “Oh, look, it’s raining” and “You see a lot of trees here.

It is hard to see clearly or to think straight in the company of other people. What is required is the lucidity of loneliness to capture that vision which, however banal, seems in your private mood to be special and worthy of interest.

Theroux’s book is full of such gems, such as this one from Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad (1869):

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness and many of our people need it sorely on those accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.

Here is a poetic contribution from Rudyard Kipling (“The Winners”:

Down to Gehenna or up to the Throne,
He travels the fastest who travels alone.


In Virginibus Puerisque, Robert Louis Stevenson imparts this wisdom:

Little do ye know your own blessedness; for to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labor.

As I return to this book, which I do often, I just want to set out for somewhere, anywhere. Well, maybe not Cleveland. Been there, done that!