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Inspirational Quotes About Travel and Exploration

One of the oldest files on my computer is a collection of quotes that I've been adding to since my youth. Back then, I opened a Notepad document and pasted several favorite quotes. Since then it has grown by the hundreds, covering such subjects as motivation, contentment, philosophy, love, and travel. Although, you could say that all of these subjects share a possible relation to travel. It has the potential to be a voyage both to unknown parts of the world and to unknown parts of yourself. Or to assail your Facebook friend's feeds with a stream of selfies at luxurious resorts so that they know how successful and important you are. Yeah! Go you!

Statue of explorer Amerigo Vespucci at the Uffizi in Florence, Italy.
Amerigo Vespucci statue at the Uffizi gallery in Florence, Italy. An Italian explorer and cartographer, Vespucci joined expeditionary voyages to the New World, and in 1502 demonstrated that Christopher Columbus had not sailed to Asia but to a fourth continent. That continent became known as the Americas, a derivation of "Americus", the Latinized version of Vespucci's first name.

In the process of putting together a brief list of quotes that I find motivating for a travel lifestyle, I realized that misattribution is even more common than I suspected. Nearly half the quotes I researched were either misattributed or unsourced. And so, not wanting to misquote anyone's words, here's a very brief list that I feel confident about.

I can't think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can't read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can't even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.

– Bill Bryson

Bryson's quote from Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe humorously underscores one of the most exciting aspects of travel. Childhood is full of new experiences, but as we grow, our corner of the world tends to feel smaller and predictable. Travel has the ability to instantly strip that familiarity away and return our curiosity to a place of bewilderment and discovery.

Adventure, yeah. I guess that's what you call it when everybody comes back alive.

– Mercedes Lackey

This great line from Spirits White as Lightning makes my own adventures feel pretty dull, and you're probably on the wrong website if that's the level of thrills you're looking for, but I sure do love the quote!

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.

– Mark Twain

Twain's observation from The Innocents Abroad is something many an author has noted: the effect travel has on one's world view. Often what we think we know of other peoples, cultures, religions, and customs comes from a place of inexperience, or second-hand experience at best. Or as John le Carré put it in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, "A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world." That quote comes from a slightly different context, but it's still very relevant.

Maya Angelou also echoed Twain's thoughts, if not as optimistically, writing in Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now, "Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try to understand each other, we may even become friends."

I will not follow where the path may lead, but I will go where there is no path, and I will leave a trail.

– Muriel Strode

Consistently misattributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, the famous quote about blazing one's own path is actually from Strode's 1903 poem called Wind-Wafted Wild Flowers. If only people would stop following the path of misattributions...

If you don't know where you're going, any road'll take you there.

– George Harrison

This line features in George Harrison's Any Road song, which roughly paraphrases an encounter between Alice and the Cheshire Cat in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
"I don't much care where–" said Alice.
"Then it doesn't matter which way you go," said the Cat.
"–so long as I get SOMEWHERE," Alice added as an explanation.
"Oh, you're sure to do that," said the Cat, "if you only walk long enough."

Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.

– Terry Pratchett

Pratchett, writing in A Hat Full of Sky, describes the fresh perspective gained through the experience of exploration in a way that is reminiscent of T.S. Eliot's famous lines from Four Quartets in which he says "We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."

Own only what you can always carry with you: know languages, know countries, know people. Let your memory be your travel bag.

– Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn

Although Solzhenitsyn's quote from The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956 was talking about how to survive the harsh conditions of a Soviet labor camp, some out-of-context-quoters have found it also serves as an unintended endorsement for traveling light. Indeed, it's golden advice if you think that traveling broke is a legitimate lifestyle. However, even for the responsible traveler there is good reason to travel light. It can truly make the journey more enjoyable. That's one of the reasons that I travel with just one bag.

We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.

– Anonymous

An anonymous antimetabole probably derived from similar expressions over the years. Similar promotional wording from Edward J. Stieglitz for his health book The Second Forty Years reads, "The important thing to you is not how many years in your life, but how much life in your years!"

And then there is the most dangerous risk of all – the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet that you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later.

– Randy Komisar

As another saying goes, "Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone." Let's be real though, freedom does have a financial cost for most people, and it's easier to make statements about following your dreams from a position of stability that often doesn't reflect the average person's situation. However, unhappiness also has a cost, so we have to find a balance somewhere.

If you're young and you want to see the world without neglecting your education or bankrupting yourself, there may be options for travel that you're not aware of. I also wrote an article about real ways to make money online that can help you put aside extra money for a travel fund or even work while traveling.

Take only memories, leave nothing but footprints.

– Chief Seattle

Supposedly said by Seattle, chief of the Duwamish and Suquamish tribes. The American city of Seattle, Washington was named in his honor. His plea reminds us to live in harmony with nature, leaving what we find for the next generation. Bringing back only photographs will suffice.

As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.

– Wilfred Arlan Peterson

Exploration can be both physical and mental, of far away places and not-so-far corners of the mind. Years before I decided to radically change my lifestyle, I was practicing changing my perspective and the way I respond to setbacks and obstacles. The idea to travel indefinitely was an extension of that mindset.

Peterson wasn't a neuroscientist, but his quote above from The Art of Living, Day by Day: Three Hundred and Sixty-five Thoughts, Ideas, Ideals, Experiences, Adventures, Inspirations, to Enrich Your Life reflects what is now known of neuroplasticity; your thought habits have the potential to create new brain pathways and neurons, allowing the brain to adjust its response to situations that you may have responded very differently to before. Peterson also demonstrates why a book's contents should be contained in the pages and not on the cover.

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

– Unknown

Often misattributed to Saint Augustine, but found nowhere in his writings. A similar phrasing by Fougeret de Monbron in Le Cosmopolite reads, "The universe is a sort of book, whose first page one has read when one has seen only one's own country."

It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.

– Ursula K. Le Guin

It's a sentiment that has been repeated a million times in as many variations, but Le Guin's take on it from The Left Hand of Darkness, often misattributed to Ernest Hemingway, puts a poetic spin on the age-old truism.

Travel isn't always pretty. It isn't always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that's okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.

– Anthony Bourdain

When I was younger I remember how while talking to several long-term travelers, one of which was a cousin, my attention was drawn to their eyes. There was something different. Experience, perhaps? It was as noticeable as the eyes of a child who has been exposed to trauma. Maybe it was partially trauma as well that I saw in their eyes, or an awareness of it. An awareness of dark places in the world that are not illuminated by the vanity of our daily social media feeds. As Bourdain says, travel really can be ugly. Not all experiences are planned or desired, but they do happen, and they do change you. Like the time that a passenger on one of my flights, upon landing, vomited what looked like liquid natto pouring from the equivalent of 3 stomachs. Dark places.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

– Lao Tzu

Have you ever considered an undertaking only to change your mind in the end because it seemed overwhelming? Even the greatest tasks aren't insurmountable when broken down into smaller tasks. A single step is easy, and what is a journey but many steps? In my experience, the first step in almost any undertaking is actually the most difficult, because it's often more of a mental challenge than a question of ability. Everything after that becomes easier. Kind of like getting out of bed in the morning.

Not all those who wander are lost.

– J.R.R. Tolkien

Probably one of the most Instagrammed travel quotes of all time, appropriated from a short poem Tolkien penned about Strider for his fantasy novel The Lord of the Rings. The poem in full reads:

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes, a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.