What’s the longest you’ve ever been away from home?
If you spent months or even years of several hours per day sitting under palm trees on tropical beaches, sand between your toes, sipping coconuts and working in a more relaxed way, how might that change your perspective on life?
And what about extended time spent with wildly different cultures than those you grew up with?
Unless you’ve done it, I guess it’s tough to say. But I can assure you that the results are positive.
As of recently, the longest I’ve spent away from home is 2 years and 2 months. After being a guest in Southeast Asia For so long, coming back to my home turf was pretty surreal. And that’s understating it, believe me.
Especially as I hit the ceaseless churn of London prior to my arrival among the splendour of the Scottish Highlands where I soaked in the gloriously familiar countryside scenery while freezing my f***ing balls off.
You get mighty used to basking in that tropical warmth after a couple of years.
Naturally, I learned a great deal in the past 2 years or more. Perspectives have broadened, new opportunities have opened and my life has been considerably enriched overall.
And that got me wondering…
How similar have my experiences been to other travellers? So, I took the time to dig out some famous quotes.
It’s easy to publish a profound-sounding paragraph and slap a name at the bottom to make it appear legit.
Instead, I decided to include a short synopsis of who these people are and a link to their Wikipedia page should you have the urge to dig into their past a little deeper.
Let’s get into it.
1. “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
Who said this, anyway? St. Augustine of Hippo was an early Christian theologian and philosopher born in 354 A.D. He’s thought to have heavily influenced modern Christianity. He’s nothing to do with hippopotami. (Wikipedia page)
I chose Southeast Asia partially because it’s so cost-effective but also because it’s so different to the United Kingdom.
After so intimately experiencing several different cultures in countries like Thailand and China, I feel like I’ve read more of the book.
And I know that’s something I’ll be grateful for when I’m lying on my deathbed.
2. “There are no foreign lands. It is the traveller only who is foreign.”
Who said this, anyway? Robert Louis Stevenson was a Scottish novelist, essayist, poet and travel writer. He was born in 1850 and is one of the most translated authors ever. (Wikipedia page)
Ol’ Mr. Louis Stevenson should have added “especially if you go to Asia and have blonde hair and blue eyes.”
While in Asia, you’re often referred to as a “foreigner”, occasionally receiving the more granular distinction of “European” or “American”.
Get used to being stared at. A lot.
It’s kind of uncomfortable at first, but it forces you to get more comfortable in your own skin. And that’s something most people can benefit from.
3. “The use of traveling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.”
Who said this, anyway? Samuel Johnson was a literary critic, essayist, poet, moralist, editor and biographer. He was born in 1784 and is considered one of the greatest literary minds in history. (Wikipedia page)
There’s no substitute for first-hand experience, especially in poorer developing countries. I grew up in a pretty poor family and have always had a somewhat “counterculture” view of the world.
But even for someone without a spoilt or sheltered life, sitting down in a shanty home with a family who’ve chipped together enough money to buy a single bottle of wine on a special occasion is a mighty humbling experience.
You know there’s real poverty in the world. Experiencing it first hand is something else.
4. “People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home.”
Who said this, anyway? Dagobert D. Runes was a philosopher and author from the early 1900s, born in 1902. He was the editor of two eminent publications of the time: The Modern Thinker and The Current Digest (Wikipedia page)
Sure, some people might like Android smartphones. And yes, it’s hard not to hold it against them. But really, we’re all pretty much the same.
I feel like a lot of other “foreigners” I met travelling would have benefited from knowing this Dagobert D. Runes quote. There are plenty of cantankerous old bastards (not to say that all old people cantankerous; I have a dear friend who’s 72) who treated the locals with particular disdain.
They ignored the fact that a minimal amount of respect and brief smile could significantly enhance their experience. And ignored the possibility for growth.
I felt sorry for them.
5. “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”
Who said this, anyway? Henry Miller was an American author Born in 1891 and who made a name for himself by breaking conventional literary forms. (Wikipedia page)
Well said, Henry Miller. That’s what this is all about.
6. “To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.”
Who said this, anyway? Freya Stark was a British explorer and travel writer born in 1893 and who wrote over 25 books after vagabonding in the Middle East (Wikipedia page)
The first room I had by myself when travelling was in Thailand. It was a very large, kinda stylish concrete space above a Muay Thai boxing gym overlooking the perfect tropical island ocean.
Here’s the Instagram view from the window. (If you like, you can follow me here)
Okay, the power lines and telegraph poles rule it out as a potential postcard submission. But I loved waking up in that room every morning.
By myself, on the other side of the planet from rainy London, and with nothing but adventures ahead.
I was excited to go to sleep so I could wake up in this enormous bed with an amazing day in a tropical island ahead.
If you’re scared about the idea, don’t worry, it’s incredible. Just ask Freya Stark.
7. “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Who said this, anyway? Mark Twain Was an American author and humorist who won considerable acclaim for his satire in both prose and speech. (Wikipedia page)
As I said earlier, this is something that I’ll know I always be so glad I did. And I’m only 3 years into it so far. Many adventures to go.
This has to be one of Mark Twain’s best quotes. Let me know yours in the comments.
8. “Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.”
Who said this, anyway? Paul Theroux was an award-winning American author born in 1941 who had several of his works turned into feature films (Wikipedia page)
When you stay somewhere for months, you can get to know the people who live there, the local food and the culture. If you do, you can’t help but pity the poor hapless “foreigner” tourists wandering around.
You should feel some kind of connection with them, but actually you don’t because you’ve developed a stronger connection with the local community.
Hopefully, the tourists actually get some time out on the beach to enjoy themselves. But I can’t help but wonder if Paul Theroux might be on to something here.
9. “All the pathos and irony of leaving one’s youth behind is thus implicit in every joyous moment of travel: one knows that the first joy can never be recovered, and the wise traveler learns not to repeat successes but tries new places all the time.”
Who said this, anyway? Paul Fussell was an author, literary historian and university professor born in 1924. He was a World War II veteran and held several prominent faculty positions throughout his career. (Wikipedia page)
I love this one because it was so very tempting to go back to places I loved. Hong Kong was one of my favourite places to stay and I made a couple of particularly good friends.
Consequently, it was super tempting to go back there for a few weeks, paying $100 dollars for an exit to the Philippines instead of $1,000 to get home.
But, time is ticking away. I’m not getting any younger and there are a lot of other countries to see. So it was kind of gratifying to find this quote, because I knew I’d made the right decision.
10. “Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.”
Who said this, anyway? Mary Ritter Beard was an American historian, archivist and lifelong advocate of social justice through education and women’s rights movements (Wikipedia page)
This one is pretty much at the core of why I started Freedomlancers. The change went deep, and it strips away the unnecessary stuff. It helps you more authentically express who you are.
The Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, said, that “to attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, subtract things every day.”
World travel results in a whole lot of subtraction. And, to my mind, this alone should be enough for you to book a one-way ticket.
11. “To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.”
Who said this, anyway? Bill Bryson is a bestselling American author contributing largely to science and English. He was also a Chancellor for the UK’s Durham University. (Wikipedia page)
I really like this quote and it reminded me of an interview with Tim Ferris the author of vagabonding, Rolf Potts (you can find it here). They discussed the idea that when you travel, it puts you straight into the position of a five-year-old all over again.
You don’t know the language, you don’t know how to get what you want from your environment, and everything’s a novelty you’re brought back to that infant state for the first time.
That in itself is a gift rarely on offer to adults stuck in a 9-to-5 they hate.
12. “If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.”
Who said this, anyway? James Michener was a prolific American author born in 1907 and who wrote more than 40 books. He was known for his meticulous research skill and several of his works were adapted into feature films (Wikipedia page)
Couldn’t agree more, Mr Michener. Booking a ticket is one thing, but stepping outside of your comfort zone will improve your results considerably.
The temptation to avoid diving into barbecued chicken intestines or partially-developed duck foetus-in-an-eggshell (nope, not kidding) will deepen your understanding of a culture.
Push yourself, and you’ll be glad you did.
13. “Wandering re-establishes the original harmony which once existed between man and the universe.”
Who said this, anyway? Anatole France was a French novelist, journalist and poet born in 1844. He was renowned for his ironic and sceptical view of the world and won a Nobel prize for literature in 1921 (Wikipedia page)
Anyone who’s lived in a major city will get this quote.
By the time you’re ensnared by societal expectations, have a mortgage, have been forced into a job you don’t particularly want and are dealing with all the BS of social cliques (and that’s really just scratching the surface), any kind of harmony you might expect with nature has long since evaporated.
Taking time out to travel is a powerful tool to re-establish that connection. And in many cases, it’s a connection you never even realise you lost.
14. “What you’ve done becomes the judge of what you’re going to do – especially in other people’s minds. When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.”
Who said this, anyway? William Least-Heat Moon is an author historian and travel writer with many bestselling books under his belt. (Wikipedia page)
Anyone consciously growing as a person will know the truth in this one. It isn’t applicable to all, but it was true for me and stands true for many travellers I’ve met on the road.
It’s much more convenient for people if you don’t break the mould of how they see you. Especially if that mould has been skewed or even outright falsified just to make them feel better about their own bullshit.
Family members and even some “friends” can be desperate to subtly drag you down to where you used to be. It’s typically to make them feel better about the fact that you’re growing, and they’re not.
Constantly changing your environment gives you time to reassess where you’ve been and where you’re going. You can interact with the world in a way that doesn’t force old perceptions back on you, creating some kind of forced feedback loop that necessitates you stagnate along with some of the people around you.
It’s not about reinventing yourself. It’s about expressing yourself authentically without other people’s hang-ups holding you back.
15. “The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.”
Who said this, anyway? G. K. Chesterton was a writer, poet, lay theologian, philosopher, journalist, orator, biographer and art critic born in 1874 (Wikipedia page)
Finally, we come back to the point in hand.
After setting foot back in the UK for the first time in a long time, I genuinely felt like a foreigner on my own home turf. It was a surreal experience, I can assure you.
Also, and as a bonus quote, remember that Roman Stoic philosopher born in 4 BC, Seneca the Younger, said that “travel and change of place impart new vigour to the mind.”
It’s weird at first. But it’s incredibly invigorating and, right now, I can’t wait to hit the road again in a few weeks.