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Friday, March 20, 2009

Travel quotes and the power of words to inspire us to move

So what is it that's so inspiring about travel quotes? About reading profound snippets of writing plucked from novels, memoirs and diaries that have already been repeated countless times? And taken out of context too. Picture this: a tired travel editor, half listening to the banalities of backpacker conversation, and wishing he was down the beach surfing instead of reading copy submitted by his writers, is suddenly engaged and inspired to travel again - by reading great travel quotes! Like these: "People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home." (Dagobert D. Runes) and “To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.” (Freya Stark); “Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.”(Paul Theroux); “There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” and “For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” (both by Robert Louis Stevenson). And this one from the comments following the post from one of the readers, Cedric Pieterse: "When you get back from your travels, and tell your friends of all the interesting people you have met in obscure bars and hostels. Only to realise after years of travel, you are the guy they talk about." Somehow I don't think Cedric was the first person to say that, but anyway... now, I didn't go trawling through Brave New World's archives this morning to find these '50 Most Inspiring Travel Quotes of All Time', compiled by travel writer Lola Akinmade, rather they found me... a link to the story was forwarded to me by a friend who obviously things I need to get inspired. But the fact that these tidbits did get me thinking has indeed got me thinking... about the ability of words to inspire us. And in this case, to inspire us to travel. I've been noticing a lot of travel quotes being tweeped on Twitter too. And Twitter's 140-character requirement is the perfect vehicle for sharing quotes, right? So how is it that 12, 14 or 16 words or so, taken out of their original context, can have such power and work such magic? What do you think? Do quotes work to inspire you? Or do you just read them, shrug them off and think "not bloody Robert Louis Stevenson again!" I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Pictured? More people sitting around a fountain, like they have nothing better to do... this time in Krakov, Poland. See my last post.


Anonymous said...

I think you might have said it when you said about Cedric not being the first to say that. I think the sentiments and even some of the actual quotes might not have quite 'belonged' to the writers. You know how that goes (or rather went, it's trickier to get away with it these days). I actually think it's surprising considering how much has been written about travel, how few fascinating quotes there are, or rather that I can recall... probably a third of those quotes were quite familiar to me, and the others I hadn't heard.

The Twitter thing is interesting. I haven't had reason to use it yet really. I don't love it, I confess, and I think one of the reasons is that it is sooo in the moment. I know this is one of the advantages of it too, but I need time to mull over and think about things... I don't always want an immediate moment of discussion. I think, for instance, if there was a wonderful quote on twitter that captured a moment in travel, the chances of it disappearing forever are pretty high.

I really like reading quotes, but I have to say I don't think they inspire me... I tend to see the uncontextualised quote as something that I either connect with or not (in that way it probably really IS like Twitter). I was struck by how many of the quotes were blokes... not very surprising, but it did make me think if there is anything in that. I remember having a conversation with both you and Terry in 1999 I think it was, about how much I hated reading those bloke travel writers that just whinge all the time and think that it's travel writing to be complaining. I think I told you I got turned off reading bloke writers. Then I discovered that the women who were writing (that I had access to at the time) were largely middle-class, middle-aged women who were also whinging about the same stuff eh? So... I decided that it had more to do with flexibility than gender, and also discovered that I don't consider all travel writing equally.

Nowadays quotes are often handy for me in sorting through some of this stuff with travel writers, to see if... and this is my huge thing that always decides whether I read a writer or not... whether the writer is ethnocentric or not. The only exception would be The Devi's Cup bloke, cos he is so tragically stupid, that you can't help reading him. Funny! Though I've gotten into trouble with mates for recommending the book and forgetting to tell people that I recommended it cos he's a bloody tool and it's a funny read.

So... yes, quotes... handy yes, inspiring, sometimes.
But none of it replaces some really beautiful narrative for me. The Freya Stark one is a lot like the post that you did the other day about thinking of where you are, and in that way it probably had the strongest resonance, because I've been thinking about that a lot since I read your blog on it.


Anonymous said...

i love quotes, in small doses. too much and my mind wanders, wishing i was somewhere else. yet some ring true (RLS's, for sure) i'll take a tiny bit and be happy, and think...

i love twitter but i can't keep up, for sure. it is like being overwhelmed by the internet - you need to draw a line somewhere, and head outside instead.

nice read today - thanks!

Rachel Cotterill said...

Quoting is useful when someone else has put your thoughts into words for you, in a nicer form than you could aspire to achieve for yourself! :) I'm not one to sit and read books of quotations, but if I hear something which something strikes a chord, I will quote it later when I want to make that particular point. There is one I often quote, which I heard from Billy Connolly: "There's no such thing as bad weather, just unsuitable clothes."

Anonymous said...

I love quotes too. They definitely inspire me to travel, among other things, and I tend to share quotes on twitter rather often.

Anonymous said...

I twwet has hell! :) Love it!

Been to Portugal anyone?
Visit my country here

Anonymous said...

aaah, my favourite is listed first. I still believe Twain's “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness” is one of the most insightful quotes about travel ever. I doubt I've met a traveller whose mind wasn't broadened in some way.

Lara Dunston said...

Hi Sandy - once again, thanks so much for your thoughtful response - lots of insightful and inspiring stuff there! You know I think Twitter will become as ubiquitous as Facebook and simply one of the tools some people choose to use to communicate. I would like to use it more to be honest, but I just don't have time to do anything other than write at the moment, sadly. I find Freya Stark a fascinating and inspiring woman actually - one of the last great travellers - what a complex character she was.

Hi Jessie - I agree, Twitter can be overwhelming if you let it. I just dip in and out every now and again. As I might when I get online to do a bit of browsing. But some people seem to be addicted I notice. I look at the times that they've sent out tweeps, and I wonder when they're *not* using it.

Hi Erica - yeah, I've noticed a lot of people sharing quotes on Twitter. You see, that's something I find really fascinating...

Hi Toni - Yes, I have been to Portugal. You should have left your site under my last post so i remember to check it out and add it my links, but I'll try to make a note.

Hi Mark - you're so right!

Thanks for your comments everyone! Much appreciated!

Fly Girl said...

I rather like travel quotes, especially the ones on twitter. There was a run of Anais Nin yesterday that I found inspiring. I don't know if it's just the best writers that seem to be quoted but I've yet to come across one that makes me roll my eyes.