The Best Inspirational Travel Quotes

As an inveterate quotation-hoarder, I am always on the lookout for concise yet powerful expressions of wit and wisdom related to travel. Here are ten of my favorites, followed by a couple comments on why I find them so memorable and meaningful…

10. “We are sad at home and blame the weather and the ugliness of the buildings, but on the tropical island we learn… that the state of the skies and the appearance of our dwellings can never on their own underwrite our joy nor condemn us to misery.” – Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel. Travel is many things– mind-altering, exciting, challenging– but it is not a panacea. Those who travel abroad because they’re unhappy at home will find that travel does not cure all of life’s ills.

9. “When one is traveling, one must expect to spend a certain amount of money foolishly.” – Robertson Davies, as quoted by Chuck Thompson in Smile When You’re Lying. It happens. Whether it’s indulging at the hotel mini-bar or being ripped off by an unscrupulous taxi driver, people often see their money evaporate at alarming rates when they’re traveling. Expect it, and most importantly, budget for it.

8. “Very many people spend money in ways quite different from those that their natural tastes would enjoin, merely because the respect of their neighbors depends upon their possession of a good car and their ability to give good dinners. As a matter of fact, any man who can obviously afford a car but genuinely prefers travels or a good library will in the end be much more respected than if he behaved exactly like everyone else.” – Bertrand Russell, The Conquest of Happiness, as quoted in Rolf Potts’ Vagabonding. A reminder that it’s your money and your life: do with it what you want. Every dollar spent at home is a dollar that can’t be spent abroad.

7. “There are two things to do in Juneau, drink and get drunk.” – Chuck Thompson, quoting a friend, in Smile When You’re Lying. It isn’t just Juneau; there are only two things to do in a lot of places. Not every travel destination is a winner, and sometimes you’re left in the middle of nowhere splitting a bottle of booze with a friend. Still, there are worse ways to spend an evening, or a week.

6. “Sublime places repeat in grand terms a lesson that ordinary life typically teaches viciously: that the universe is mightier than we are, that we are frail and temporary and have no alternative but to accept limitations on our will; that we must bow to necessities greater than ourselves.” – Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel. In our normal, workaday lives, the experience of being “humbled” is often an embarrassing or upsetting one. But standing in the midst of Angkor Wat or Machu Picchu, we are happy, ecstatic even, to be humbled. It’s a great, great feeling.

5. “You must kill ten hours to make two hours live. What you must be careful of is not to kill ALL the hours, ALL the years.” – Charles Bukowski, The Captain is Out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken Over the Ship.
The most powerful force in most people’s working lives is inertia: we do what we do because it’s what we’ve always done. But surrendering one’s life to inertia is a tragic mistake.

4. “As for the idea of a native country, that is to say, of a certain bit of ground traced out on a map and separated from others by a red or blue line: no. My native country is for me the country that I love, that is, the one that makes me dream, that makes me feel well. I am as much Chinese as French, and I don’t rejoice about our victories over the Arabs because I’m saddened by their defeats.” – Gustave Flaubert, in a letter to Louise Colet, The Letters of Gustave Flaubert: 1830-1857. As true today as it was when Flaubert wrote it in 1846, travel provides a window into the lives of the oft-derided Others: illegal immigrants, people from the Middle East, Asian factory workers who “steal” American jobs. Travel reminds us of what shouldn’t need reminding: these are people too.

3. “The fool, with all his other faults, has this also: he is always getting ready to live.” – Epicurus. Couldn’t have said it better myself. If not now, when?

2. “We have a new joke on the reservation: ‘What is cultural deprivation?’ Answer: ‘Being an upper-middle class white kid living in a split-level suburban home with a color TV.'” – John Fire Lame Deer, Lame Deer: Seeker of Visions. Ouch. Okay, this one hits a little too close to home. Still, it’s a reminder that there’s a hell of a lot more to life than watching TV and clicking aimlessly on the internet. A whole world awaits.

1. “Often I feel I go to some distant region of the world to be reminded of who I really am… Stripped of your ordinary surroundings, your friends, your daily routines, your refrigerator full of your food, your closet full of your clothes, you are forced into direct experience. Such direct experience inevitably makes you aware of who it is that is having the experience. That’s not always comfortable, but it is always invigorating.” – Michael Crichton, Travels, as quoted in Rolf Potts’ Vagabonding.
I can’t tell you how often that final sentence pops into my mind whenever I’m hanging on for dear life during some insane taxi ride, or arriving in a new town after midnight. No, travel isn’t always comfortable, but it’s always, always invigorating.

Got a favorite travel quotation of your own? Share it in the Comments.

What’s the worst part of going on vacation?

According to some psychologists, it might be the part when you’re actually on vacation.

A slew of recent studies have found that people are less happy while vacationing than they are while planning and remembering their trips. A study from 1997 analyzed survey results from people who went on several different trips – including a vacation to Europe and a three-week bicycle trip in California – and found that “the respondents were least happy about the vacation while they were taking it.” Drake Bennett of has more:

Beforehand, they looked forward to it with eager anticipation, and within a few days of returning, they remembered it fondly. But while on it, they found themselves bogged down by the disappointments and logistical headaches of actually going somewhere and doing something, and the pressure they felt to be enjoying themselves.

A more recent study from the Netherlands found that people reported being in better moods just before their vacations than at any other point.

On reflection, these studies (and the many others like them) seem to comport with our general experiences. As travelers, we love the feeling of endless possibility that comes with planning a trip. We like to imagine that our moods, attitudes, and hobbies will be completely different in, say, Barbados than at home in Akron, Ohio. Alain de Botton addressed this familiar feeling in his 2002 book The Art of Travel:

…I had never tried to stare at a picture of Barbados for any length of time. Had I laid one on a table and forced myself to look at it exclusively for twenty-five minutes, my mind and body would naturally have migrated towards a range of extrinsic concerns, and I might thereby have gained a more accurate sense of how little the place in which I stood had the power to influence what travelled through my mind.

Botton continues, with what is perhaps my favorite passage from the book:

We are sad at home and blame the weather and the ugliness of the buildings, but on the tropical island we learn… that the state of the skies and the appearance of our dwellings can never on their own underwrite our joy nor condemn us to misery.

Of course, when our trip abroad has come to an end, we return home and tell our friends of the wonderful, life-altering experiences we’ve just had. We forget all about the taxi driver who ripped us off, the time we got food poisoning, and the dingy hotels where we stayed. Because we only remember the best parts of our trip – wonderful food, friendly locals, beautiful scenery – we perhaps don’t have an entirely accurate recollection of what we’ve just experienced.

But so what if we remember our vacation as better than it actually was? We should be so lucky in our normal, workaday lives to forget the minor slights and inconveniences and remember the highlights. When the trip is over, after all, memories are all we’ve got.

For more, check out Drake Bennett’s recent article “The best vacation ever.”