5 Popular Travel Quotes Folks Need to Stop Using

I haven’t been writing for long but I’m already tired of seeing the same travel quotes on Pinterest, Tumblr and popular blogs. The addition of gorgeous scenery, a cool typeface or eye candy only serves as a distraction from the glaringly flawed soundbite.

It may seem as if I’m picking on an easy target but hear me out. I know that, at its best, travel can be enriching and eye-opening. I don’t think one needs to drop famous names to validate his/her choices, but other people don’t share the same view. In their haste to “inspire” others, however, they commit some serious errors. They often don’t realise that the line doesn’t mean what they think it does, or that the attributed person never even said it! 

There are many popular sayings about travel that do not make good choices, but these are the worst:

Wrongly-attributed travel quotes

‘Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.’

Mark Twain hasn’t stopped flipping in his grave ever since writers and bloggers started attributing this to him. Come on, does it sound like something that came from the early 20th Century? It’s actually something H. Jackson Brown Jr.’s mother wrote in P.S. I Love You. Poor Mrs Brown’s name doesn’t lend the quote the same cachet, however.

travel quotes about tall ships
Tall ships in Auckland Harbour

While we’re on this topic…

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Travel quotes they never said

‘The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.’

This quote was first attributed to St Augustine of Hippo, a Doctor and early Father of the Church, in Select Proverbs of All Nations. It’s been repeated far more often than diligent people would like.

The truth is, he never wrote anything remotely like this. Ask yourself, why would a man of God write about something as profane as travel?

For the record, Augustine ventured as far as Milan from his home in present-day Algeria. However, he never left the Roman Empire. In today’s terms, he was only a domestic tourist – hardly the sort of person “wanderlusters” aspire to be.

Hitting the road? These songs are on my road trip playlist

Quotes that are taken out of context

‘Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less travelled by, and it has made all the difference.’

Here is the full text of Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Note that both roads were equally attractive and the writer spent a lot of time making his mind up. Frost was clearly writing about indecision. That line now seems very different, doesn’t it?

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See: When travel ambitions and the law collide

Quotes that are plain wrong

‘Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these 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.’

Now, Mark Twain genuinely wrote this in Innocents Abroad. However, he gives travel far more credit for shaping people’s attitudes than it probably deserves. It takes a humble personality and an open mind to breed that sort of understanding. You cannot ram it down someone’s throat by taking them out of the country.

I’ve seen frequent holidaymakers remain their arrogant, insular selves, whining about how much they miss home and how things are better back there. If only they’d shut up, consider that people do things differently elsewhere for a reason and appreciate the moment.

Twain’s quote also suggests that the privileged have a monopoly on the aforementioned virtues. Some of the most hospitable people I’ve met make just enough money for the occasional holiday in a nearby city, but they constantly enrich themselves by getting to know the foreign visitors in their midst.

Quotes that mean sweet F.A.

‘Be a traveller, not a tourist.’

Tourists don’t know where they’ve been,’ goes another line that Paul Theroux probably didn’t write, but what does that even mean? Unless one grew up in a community and internalised its knowledge and values, he/she will always be an outsider.

It was only since the last century that the word ‘tourist’ has been used to refer to people who take in as many sights as possible while surrounding themselves with the comforts of home. Since when did having the luxury of time and a greater appetite for risk become a valid reason to look down on them? Most of us don’t stick around very long in one place anyway, and we have more in common with tourists than many of us would like to admit.

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Don’t be too quick to declare yourself a traveller to all and sundry either. Many people don’t realise that the term has long had negative connotations in some circles.

You may say that I’m probably missing the point of these travel quotes, but I haven’t. I know people use them to inspire others to venture beyond their comfort zones. Good intentions do not excuse anyone from doing their homework, however.

If you take only one thing away from this post, let it be this: Have a little more conviction to express your thoughts in your own voice. Otherwise, here is a soundbite that you are welcome to attribute to me:

‘Just get off your arse and do it.’