I once met a girl named Courtney while I was travelling through Nicaragua. She was tall and rail thin, her body covered in tattoos. From Seattle originally, we met on a volcano-boarding tour just outside of Léon, a small colonial city where all the buildings were painted dark pinks and greens and blues. We’d spent the day climbing the volcano Cerro Negro and then riding on sleds down the side of it, hurtling ourselves down the soft black ash.
“I just got this one before I left for Central America… look.” She instructed me to pull down the back of her t-shirt, revealing sprawling script across her shoulders. I recognized the words; it was a travel quote.
“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”
I had heard the travel quote a few times before, seen it on a mug or read it on a blog. This was before it became one of the most popular travel quotes splashed across the internet, found on thousands of Pinterest boards, the text always written over the image of a pristine beach or a young woman standing on a mountaintop, her blonde hair blowing in the wind (ahem… see above).
“Oh cool, that’s a good one,” I said back, because I didn’t know what else to say. We were sitting at the base of the volcano now, drinking cold bottles of water after a hot and adrenaline-filled day. The conversation took its usual course, and we chatted about our past travels, about our future travels, and about the things we’d always wanted to do.
“I’m travelling by bus and boat from Belize to Brazil,” I told her. “I just… I just love travelling. It’s so exciting, you know?”
“Oh, I know, it really is. I mean, we just boarded down a goddamn volcano in Nicaragua!” she laughed.
“How crazy is that!” I laughed back. “Definitely one to remember. I feel so lucky to be here.”
“Don’t sell yourself short,” Courtney responded, wiping her forehead with the back of her hand. “I mean, luck didn’t get you here, your wanderlust and your determination did. I hate it when people call me lucky… I worked damn hard to get where I am right now. Hey, look!” she pointed to her left, where a green iguana sat lazing in the sun, its eyes closed.
Though the conversation turned to something else, I thought of Courtney’s words later, and again when I saw her in the hostel, her maxi dress revealing the tattooed quote on her back. I liked her – she was adventurous and easy to be around – but I felt distant from her, too.
I agreed that it had taken hard work and determination to get me where I was, but I also thought it took quite a healthy dose of luck.
I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately – about travelling and privilege and the incredible fortune to be able to follow my dreams. My good friend Oneika wrote a brilliant post last week called “Stop Pretending Everyone Can Travel“, which I believe is a must-read (and which definitely inspired this post).
(And while I’m fully aware you don’t have to be “rich” to travel, this video seemed fitting. Thanks to Anna who reminded me that it exists!)
Back when I was in South America, I took some Spanish lessons in Guatemala and Bolivia. While I’ve sadly forgotten a lot of it by now, at that point I was fluent enough that I could carry on conversations in topics beyond my favourite colour or how many brothers and sisters I have.
One of the people I talked with most about these advanced topics was my Spanish teacher, Maria, who I studied with in Sucre. Though it was more than three years ago, I remember having a conversation about that very quote: The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page. For the sake of this post, let’s assume that the definition of travel is indeed a traditional one from a tourist’s standpoint: to go on an adventure or holiday, the main purpose of which is pleasure.
“I don’t like the quote,” Maria told me one day. We had been discussing my life thus far, and I had explained how I had just spent the better half of the past decade travelling. She had brought up the quote, as another student who was backpacking through Bolivia had told her about it.
“I don’t get to travel very often; I’ve never even been to Chile. I am one of those people who might only read one page in life. But you know what?” she laughed. “I like my page. I have a good job and a wonderful family. I am not sick or struggling. We all have different paths in life. Just because I don’t travel doesn’t mean I’m not happy.”
I’ve talked about this before – the danger of someone else’s dream. We don’t all want to travel, and to imply that not wanting to do so means you’re any less of a person is, in my opinion, elitist and pretentious.
Not only that, I believe the quote crosses over into dangerous territory when one thinks about it on a deeper sociological, political, and economical level. The quote is basically saying that those who don’t travel are closed off or inexperienced, perhaps implying a lower level of education or worldliness.
And last time I checked, most forms of travel were pretty damn expensive, even on a budget. Most of the world can’t afford to travel for pleasure – even if they really, really want to. It’s not always as easy as following the tips for saving money even I’ve recommended on this blog; most people in the world don’t spend money on extravagant things like cocktails and brunch in the first place, so saying that you’ll be able to save a lot if only you cut these things out of your life is a bit of a moot point for people in that situation.
A lot of people – if they’re even able to obtain a passport – cannot travel as freely as those of us with, in my case, a Canadian passport. Travelling is easy for me to do – I can book a trip to Prague this weekend if I feel like it, because I know I have the savings to do it and I won’t require a visa to go. I also don’t have any dependents nor do I have a physical or mental disability that may limit the way I travel. Most of the world does not have this luxury.
Don’t get me wrong – I regularly write posts that encourage people to travel, and I really do believe it is one of the most amazing things on so many levels. If it were up to me, every single person on this beautiful planet of ours would be able to do whatever the hell they wanted to do, but I’m well aware that’s not the case.
All I’m saying is that it’s important to remember that those of us who can indeed travel and/or know that it’s a possibility – those of us who are allowed to entertain even the mere wisps of wanderlust – are pretty damn lucky in the first place.
Of course, it also take a lot of hard work and determination to actualize those dreams; I’m not saying that my Canadian passport and my middle-class background automatically meant that I was able to do all of the travelling I’ve done, but they certainly gave me a leg-up. If I had been born to a poor family in an under-developed country, there’s no way my life would have unfolded the way that it has.
And so I think back to Courtney, and to all the other travellers I’ve met who have so adamantly told me how they hated that word – lucky – equating it to winning the lottery or something beyond personal control. But I am lucky. Very few people can just give everything up and go travelling the world, knowing that, if it didn’t work out, there’d still be options waiting at home.
That’s what my privilege gives me: it has given me another way out. Not once in my life have I thought that all would be lost. Instead, I’ve been taught that if I worked hard enough I could accomplish anything, and, in the back of mind, I’ve also always known that if I failed miserably I could stay with my parents for a while until I got back on my feet. The fact that I even had the option to work to save money (meaning I was able to put aside part of my paycheque for something other than rent or food or medical bills) makes me one of the lucky ones, too.
Many people – people whose countries I’ve visited – will live lives of poverty and hardship, will work their entire lives for somebody else’s profit. I was born a healthy, white, able-bodied, cis-gendered, heterosexual, middle-class woman with a Canadian passport, making me one of the most privileged people in the world. If that isn’t winning the lottery, I don’t know what is.
So no offence to the author of the travel quote, but I’m not the biggest fan of their words. The world is a book… and each of us has our own story, each of us will read that book differently. I’m never going to forget how amazing my book has been so far, and how lucky I’ve been to choose how it’s been written in the first place.
Once again, I’d like to thank Oneika for writing such an honest and intelligent article. Sections of this post come directly from the book I’ve just written, and she inspired me to post them on the blog, too.
What do you think of this quote? Are there any others that you don’t particularly like?
So not too long ago I was listening to StoryCorps on NPR. They were interviewing this 11-year-old boy who suffers from seizures, yet maintains this innate, all-encompassing drive to learn and to thrive. It’s crazy — he spoke with a wisdom that made it sound like I was listening to a wise monk or a meditation guru, not a kid.
When asked what keeps him up at night, he responded, “Well, you know, I think about what it would be like to go to the edge of the universe and look out” and that it must be incomprehensible. And then later in the interview, he was talking about going through depression and anger, but then he realized that “there’s a galaxy of experiences.” And all of this is kind of how I view the world. There’s a galaxy of experiences, of ways to learn, and not a single one of us is equipped to judge — especially not from a perch of privileged superiority — how others do it.
All this is to say, nice post! 🙂
Wow, that is such a beautiful story, thank you so much for sharing. I love that – a galaxy of experiences. Thanks, Katie!
Ah, totally agree!! Sometimes those quotes lose their potency when they are regurgitated so regularly, but I really love the way you took it apart and showed that travel is all of the above: choice, ambition, hard work, and yes, a dose of luck. 🙂
I agree – it takes a combination of all of those things and more! Thanks for the comment, Amy.
I wrote a post once called On Why You Should Travel. Or Not. because I agree – everyone has a different story in their book. For some people, living a stationary or conventional lifestyle is really satisfying and makes them really happy. If you can know what’s right for you in any given moment, that’s the real key.
(The post is here –> mishvoinmotion.com/why-travel/)
Totally agree with you, Michelle! Thanks for your input.
Great post! After reading Oneika’s post last week and now this, I’ve been thinking a lot about my own judgments about people who don’t travel. I think I get soooooo excited about traveling and immersing myself into different cultures, that I don’t stop and think that truly, not everyone can do this. These two posts have “set me straight”, and my entire mindset has now changed. Thanks to you and Oneika, I’ll just live my book and let others live their book, even though it’s just one page. Maybe our books all have a different number of pages anyway 🙂
I like that – that our books all have a different number of pages. 🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Sheryl-Ann… and thanks for commenting!
The reason I’ve come to value that quote so highly is because I’ve learned that ‘travel’ does not really require you to cross continents, span oceans or even climb literal mountains. You can be a traveler within your own city, neighborhood and even within the walls of your own home. All it requires in an explorer’s heart. The boarders you cross can be geographical if you want, but ultimately its your mindset that establishes boundaries. Its the seeking of the new that gets you to different locations. One of the most courageous explorers I’ve known barely left his hometown, but challenged himself to learn beyond what he was handed. His example led me to challenge my own limitations. I became an explorer long before I applied for a passport.
Most quotes that become well known tend to take on a life/meaning beyond their original intent. While Augustine likely did intend his readers to contemplate visiting new lands, he was also an enthusiastic explorer of thoughts and a challenger of traditional ideas. Its not such a stretch to consider his words to also reflect the grand adventure of soul searching, even within the pages of a book.
All really good points, Amy. I suppose my issue with it is I imagine most people do not think of it in this way, instead defining travel in the traditional sense of the word, i.e. to get up and leave one’s hometown for the sake of pleasure. I’m still not sure if the quote is fair, though, even if we apply the definition you’ve given it – “seeking the new” and/or “soul-searching”. I believe that those are still often luxuries in this world.
I just discovered that Saint Augustine is probably not responsible for this quote anyway, so there you go.
So many times yes! I don’t particularly hate that quote nor do I like it much, but there’s another one that’s almost the same but even more blatant: ”Of all the books in the world, the best stories are found between the pages of a passport”. Gosh, do I hate that. I sort of also feel sad for those people whose only ambition in life is to travel. I mean sure, travelling is my favourite hobby and I would literally live on cold noodles just to be able to afford to do it (and have done so… oops), but travel shouldn’t be the only good thing about your life and your only interest. That’s a very one-sided life. You might read the whole book but what about all the other books 😀
I do get your friend Courtney too, though. Most people who get to travel the world are incredibly lucky to be from surroundings that encourage that kind of a lifestyle, but at the same time from then on we all make our own luck, and most travellers would definitely not be on the road either without lots of hard work.
I get what she was saying, too… but I think it’s a combination of things, and that luck is almost always one of them. 🙂
Thanks a lot for your comment and input Elina, I really appreciate it!
I hate that quote as well. You are not alone! The privilege is intrinsically linked to the core meaning of this quote and I feel it is very disrespectful to abide by it. For most people, travel is a conscious choice they have been working hard towards but for some it simply isn’t an option. Let’s not forget that.
Thanks for your comment, Marie! I’m glad you liked the post. Yes, let’s never forget that – travel is indeed a privilege.
Thank you so much for writing this. When I was attending a liberal arts college paid for by my parents, or living rent-free as s teacher in Korea thanks to that degree, I loved travel blogs! And had a mentality that more Americans and westerners needed to travel, that it was far more attainable than we knew, etc.
But now, as a near-30 nonprofit employee living in a low-ish income neighborhood in a quickly-gentrifying American city, I have a very different perspective on my own privilege and that of the other white, uppermiddleclass people I’ve spent most of my life around. I’ve realized how unaware of privilege and inequality many people are and that translates into ignorance about many people. Not only can many people in developing countries not afford to travel, or get a passport that allows entry to many places, but your average working -class American can’t either – not long-term international travel anyway. Like you said, cutting out brunch & cocktails is meaningless advice for the majority of people whose lives’ opportunities have enabled them to only live paycheck to paycheck. It is amazing to me how many educated, liberal-leaning younger people have no understanding of this.
I still believe that living abroad and experiencing other cultures was a formative thing for me and I feel incredibly grateful to have been able to do that, and still hope to see as much of the world as I can in my lifetime; it is a priority for me, as much as my finances will permit it. But I understand that even choosing to fisnncisoky prioritize a non-necessity in life is a huge and rare privilege and that’s the perspective I wsnt gone able to travel with in the future.
That’s a really astute and meaningful comment, Melissa, and I really appreciate you sharing that here. I totally agree with you – I thought travel was far more attainable when I was younger, simply because I didn’t have the life experience to show me otherwise. I agree that many people are unaware of their privilege and that there is indeed inequality everywhere we look… just yesterday I read an article about a mother here in the UK who had to feed four kids on a budget of £40 a week. Meanwhile, I just dropped £300 on flights to Spain for my mother and I yesterday, and though it will cause a dent in my paycheque, I’m still able to do it.
Thanks again for your comment, I’m really happy you wrote it and shared your experience here!
I meant “financially prioritize!” – 🙂
I understood! 😉
I absolutely love you Brenna!
You are so down to earth and kind. That’s one thing that I have always felt reading your posts : your kindness! You take the time to think of others, to put yourself in their shoes and you also inspire !
that’s pretty amazing, and I just really loved this post which I think is a very important one!
Aw, thank you very much, Emy! You are so sweet. I am going to be in Paris this spring so I hope that we can meet up!
I love that same quote… but I understand what you’re saying. I think it depends on how you view it. I consider myself extraordinarily lucky (yes, that word!) to have a book with so many pages in it. I understand not everyone can travel, and I would never claim that mine is the only path in life or that you can’t be fulfilled by staying in one place. But, to me, this quote sums up the joy of travelling and how my life has been enriched by the experiences I’ve been lucky enough to have. It makes me smile and feel blessed. So… we’ll have to agree to differ!
I totally understand, Jill! I think if you think about it on an individual level, I get why it would mean so much to you. Thanks for sharing your opinion here!
I really love this article. Privilege seems to be a big topic of discussion lately and this hits the nail on the head regarding travel. I realize when I go to another country, I may come across people who will not have the ability (or even the want) to travel to my country. I feel a bit guilty when spending time in their space for fun, when they might not have that option.
I really don’t like the posts that say “IT’S EASY!” because for some people, it’s not. For some people, they can’t just go out and get an extra job, or put away any money on a weekly basis because they are already living paycheck to paycheck.
I think it’s good that people are starting to see outside their situations and realize that travel is a privilege, not a regular part of life.
Yes, privilege is really a big topic these days, and I’m so glad for it. I recognise that I am one of the most privileged people alive, and I never want to take that for granted or forget how many doors have been opened for me as a middle-class Canadian. Thanks a lot for you comment, Caitlin, it’s really insightful!
It’s easy to get “offended” when someone attributes success or exciting travels to “luck”, but this is a great reminder that while it’s not a 100% random, mystical force that gives us the ability to travel – we should certainly be mindful of the ways in which we are fortunate and privileged, which do factor into our abilities to travel freely. Thanks so much for the post 🙂
Absolutely! Thanks so much for your comment Brooke, I really appreciate it.
I totally agree! When I first started travelling and saw that quote I loved it but a few years later I went to post it on my Facebook and I thought it was actually quite insulting to my friends and family who haven’t travelled and actually don’t want to and are happy with that!
And in terms of the being ‘lucky’, it depends who I’m around. I definitely consider myself lucky to travel when I go to Asia and see people in worse economic situation than me and if I was talking to a local in Asia I would whole heartedly agree I was lucky but when I was at work at home surrounded by people my age who had the same education as me and were being paid the same wage as me I didn’t like it when they said I was lucky because generally I could afford to travel because I’d worked hard, had 2 jobs at times and saved whereas they had just brought a car or just wasted their money so it depends what situation im in but I also know I’m lucky to have a home to go back to if all else fails and I know that not everyone has that even in this country!
Great post 🙂
Thanks for your comment and your input, Ellie! It’s certainly important to remember that there’s a lot of poverty in this world, even in so-called “rich” countries like the UK or Canada.
Yes!!! Thanks for yet another great post!
This reminds me of when I visited Cuba back in 2007. I got talking to our interpreter one day, and she told me about how much she wanted to travel and see the world. She was young. She was ambitious. She was curious. But she was also Cuban and could not get permission from the government to leave.
I remember feeling a bit guilty for having an American passport and being able to travel so easily. Looking back, though, I don’t think we necessarily need to feel guilty. However, I do believe that it is necessary for us to: 1) recognize that we are in a very privileged position, and 2) be grateful for the opportunities we have.
Sure, hard work does play a role. But at the end of the day, the ability to travel is truly a gift.
Thank you very much, Danny, and thank you for sharing your thoughts! I 100% agree with your last line: the ability to travel is indeed a gift, and what a beautiful one at that.
Beautiful post Brenna. There seems to be an awakening in the Travel Blogging community lately with more bloggers from privileged backgrounds, which is the vast majority, realising how lucky they are to have the lifestyles that they do. Recognising that privilege exists is the first step in perhaps changing the industry and I would be happy to read more posts like this from bloggers rather than the ‘Anyone can travel’ crap that has been churned out for so long
I’ve noticed that awakening, too, and I’m so glad for it! I believe that every traveller and/or travel blogger should be having these conversations about privilege.
There are a lot of dumb travel quotes out there, but that quote has always stood out to me as (one of) the worst. What confuses me most about people who use that quote is that they often also mention the wise, vaguely mystical locals they meet along the way. “The people of X-developing country just understand how to live good lives and what happiness really means, you know?”
Just how did they get all of this transcendent wisdom if they have only read one page of the metaphorical book? If you’re going to act smugly superior, at least be consistent about it…
Ugh, I hate that, too. I see it so often, especially on Instagram. Thanks for the comment, Melanie!
I always get a very know-it-all vibe from that particular quote, which is off-putting. On a very basic level, it’s a bit silly to assume that travel experience immediately equals great world perspective, too. I’ve definitely had conversations with people who’ve done long trips places and say things like, “Oh, I hated X country, the nightlife was boring/the people were rude etc.” (Obviously everyone values different experiences from travel, but returning home with sweeping stereotypes, yuck.) The conversation about privilege is so important and timely. Just the fact that I’m sitting in my warm apartment typing this at night after dinner out with friends says A LOT about how good I have it, and I try to remember that as often as I can.
Also, *insert incredibly cheesy Paige/page joke that I’m too tired to come up with here* 🙂
Thanks so much for your comment, Paige! Yes, I wrote this post from my warm flat… I have it very, very good indeed, and I try to always acknowledge that and be grateful for it.
I’m also against sweeping stereotypes, which is why I avoid saying things like, “I’d never go back” or “I hate that place”. So much of an experience is circumstantial!!
So very true, Brenna. I *am* lucky to have been born in the UK, and to have had all these automatic privileges. I didn’t ‘earn’ it – I was just lucky enough to be born in the ‘right place,’ to the ‘right’ set of people so to speak. If the circumstances were different, perhaps travel wouldn’t have been part of the agenda – or, even if I really wanted it to be, it may have not even been an option.
I agree, Andrea! I always think about how lucky I am to have been born Canadian.
Quotes like that are up there with posts about how I should quit my job to travel the world, somehow implying that the way I live my life is wrong. I have a full-time job, and I save as much of my money as I can to go on two or three big trips a year, along with smaller journeys around India on long weekends and holidays. Would I love to have the freedom to travel full-time? Sure, who wouldn’t? But do I think quitting my job and living out of a backpack – or suitcase – is the right course for me? No, I don’t. I like having a home to come back to. I like having a network of friends I can call upon whenever I like. I like the smell of my clothes when they come out of my washing machine. Does this mean I’m not “living” as much as someone who lives entirely on the road, who is “reading every page of life”? I don’t think so.
I love your comment about how each of us will read our stories differently. I am indeed lucky — I was born into a middle-class family and raised in the US, so I have the freedom to travel pretty much wherever I want. I also have an OCI card, so I can return to India whenever I like and have the opportunity to work here without having to jump through hoops. I have worked hard in school and in my jobs to create a life for myself, but I would not be where I am today without the support system I have and the opportunities I have been granted in my life. I, too, loved Oneika’s post and am thankful every day for the circumstances of my birth and life. And I am always grateful when my story overlaps with others who feel the same way.
That was a bit of a rambling response, but it’s all to say yes, I agree, wholeheartedly. Here’s to making our own stories, however we like. xx
I totally understand where you’re coming from, Veena – I’m very much in the same position. I mean, it would be incredible to travel more than I already do, but I’m so thankful for what I have, and I believe I’m living a very happy and fulfilled life. Thank you so much for sharing your story here, and for such a thoughtful comment!
I think our luck extends about as far as our country and perhaps circumstances of birth (good health being high on the list). Everything else is the result of drive and willingness to sacrifice.
I read somewhere once that the difference between “poor” people and people who are successful (by societal measure) is that the successful people implicitly believe that they an do or be anything they want and the poor people don’t. Having been that “successful” person for decades now I’d agree. I work hard for my money and my travel vacations. There’s little “luck” involved, but lots of sacrifice. I decided as a teenager that the life I want can’t be achieved if I breed, so there have been (and won’t be) no kids in my life. I play with my friends kids and hand them back when it’s time to go home. I don’t own lots of expensive “stuff”, but I do travel.
Anyway .. life is too short to get worked up over a travel quote. 🙂
Yes, but that luck – the “country and circumstances of birth” as you put it – makes a HUGE difference, I believe sometimes even more so than just drive and willingness to sacrifice. Let us never forget our privilege; the fact that we can even imagine travelling puts us in a fortunate position. And I have to disagree with your claim that “poor” people (quotation marks yours) aren’t successful simply because they don’t believe they can be successful – I think that is a very harmful statement to make. If I was born a poor woman in an under-developed country, there’s no way I could have travelled the way I have.
This issue is far bigger than a travel quote, and I think it’s imperative that MORE of us get worked up about it.
Those pretentious travelling quotes get on my nerves too. Reminds me of this College Humor sketch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=.
I think you mean this one? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WZk1WHJ_fwo
I’m going to add it to the post – I forgot about it! Such a great sketch that’s both funny and thought-provoking.
To be honest I haven’t thought that deeply about this quote. I can see why people would think everyone should travel, especially because we are such a mobile species now and the darker sides of suffering and challenges are hidden from the view of most people. When something comes easy to one person, they often think it should then come easy to someone else.
But I very often remind myself to be grateful for the great opportunities I have to travel and choose a way of life that works for me. And I wonder how I can pay back my debt of gratitude as someone free to travel. I think something as simple as knowing and acknowledging that not everyone can travel or wants to, is a great step forward.
Yes, I agree – it’s so important to be grateful, and sometimes it’s as simple as just acknowledging privilege, you’re right! Thanks for the comment, Nina.
Some wonderful points here, and a problem I actually have with a lot of quotes that assume if you don’t ever do (x), you’re somehow less a person or haven’t experienced enough. We have to remember that opportunities like travelling can’t happen to everyone, but everyone does have worthy experiences. So it’s important to appreciate what you can do in life.
Yep, I totally agree! Thanks for your comment, Jordan.
I always thought that I wasn’t lucky for leading a life of travel and that I had made it for myself but reading this from a different perspective really has changed the way I view the topic about being lucky enough to have a life of travel.
Another great post. Always enjoy reading. Thank you
Thank you very much for sharing that, Louise! I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog. 🙂
I know how lucky I am. Born into middle class Australia opens doors that are not on the horizon for another person born in a poor country. I thank my lucky stars every day. As you say we have been given a leg up in the first place which gives us an even playing field upon which to build our dreams by hard work. It is impossible for some who have to work very hard all their lives and not even reach our starting point.
Thanks for your comment, Jan! I thank my lucky stars every day, too.
I love this! You know my thoughts on the subject. We are SOOO lucky to be able to travel and I am grateful every day for the opportunities life has given me. I know not everyone is as fortunate.
Beautifully written as always! 🙂 xx
Thank you so much, Helen! I’m glad you liked the post. 🙂 xx
I appreciate this because it’s easy to get caught up in the idea that you need to travel more. I feel that pressure so much sometimes and I’m not even sure why. And then when I finally get to go on the big trip to SE Asia, the pressure to have it be AMAZING so that I’m reading that metaphorical book can be daunting. In reality while sledding down an ash volcano in Nicaragua sounds cool, very cool, is someone less of a person because they are unable to have that experience and instead put energy into being the best trial attorney for indigent persons they can be?? I don’t know but I struggle HARD with this stuff and there are lots of messages out there saying life is only good if you’re traveling and having these specific experiences and that rhetoric isn’t true and leads to issues. Sorry to spill all this out when you don’t know me! It’s just difficult because obviously one thing isn’t right for everyone, but there’s a lot of pressure saying something should be the right thing to have a fulfilling life. And in the end this is totally, 1000%, a problem of privilege. Because what is really hard is wondering how you’re going to pay your water bill, or your rent, or how you’ll eat next week, and not being a white educated person who the world will automatically help. Now that’s hard, I imagine.
Yes to this whole post. I don’t think I have anything else to add or say, except that it is very well written and something I think about often. My goal, as one of the lucky ones, is to help make travel accessible to others who are interested, whether that be financially or just talking them through the steps to getting a passport. Again, love this post. Great job.
Thank you so much, LaMesha, I’m so glad that you enjoyed it/agreed!
Oh, and that’s an amazing goal to have 🙂
After reading this, I am REALLY glad that I never ended up getting any travel quote tattoos while being abroad( I debated on a few but could never find the right one)! I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on this Bren. xoxo
You what I still want to get… 😉 I’m glad you liked the article, Zalie! xo
Thank you Brenna (and Oneika!) for articulating something I’ve been thinking about quite a bit recently. I used to love reading travel blogs and following travellers on social media, but now I only follow a handful of people because of the pervasiveness of this kind of attitude (it seems especially common on Instagram, for some reason!). I love to travel, and I do believe it can educate and open minds, but it’s not a necessity; some of the most clever and knowledgeable people I’ve met haven’t travelled extensively (out of choice or otherwise), and conversely, I’ve met some well-travelled people who are painfully close-minded. As you’ve said, the view that one needs to travel to have an understanding of the world is elitist, and I also find it quite conceited, not to mention insulting.
This is why your blog has remained among the few I still read: you’ve never seemed to take anything for granted, and I like that you acknowledge that a different style of travelling doesn’t make someone less of a traveller. Plus, you’re a great writer – I hope to read your book someday!
I consider myself very lucky too. Yes my partner and I are living the life we dreamt of. Yes we travel for a large portion of every year and we structured our life this year. We created a trajectory and have sculpted our lives. But yet, the part we can’t control, like what family you were born into, where you were born, what opportunities you were offered up and how much of a loving family you or I, or any of us have. A lot of life has to go with LUCK or call it positive energy, or karma, all of which are merely words describing the same thing.
Hell yeah we are lucky!!
You raise far too many great points for me to touch on them all. I appreciate how thoughtful and honest you are. I, too, have trouble with the quote and with any assumption that people are somehow missing out if they don’t live the way I do.
I am new to the blogging game, and often struggle with what I want to say. What I should say. How not to sound like a pompous, privileged ass. I travel with my Canadian passport, my white skin, my middle class background, and a good bit of luck. I try not to take any of that for granted.
We each have our own books. Different number of pages. Some have more illustrations than others. I’m a slow reader (literally and figuratively). I travel differently than many others. It’s not a better way; it’s a different way. It would also be more than a little wrong-minded for me to poo-poo the travel experiences of those who go the 30 cities in 30 days route. I try to respect everyone’s preferences. This post is a good reminder.
Thanks for the blog. Interesting perspective. I too had read that quote many times and liked it. But you have opened my eyes to a different way of looking at it. Thanks
It reminded me when the Windjammer Barefoot ship the Poly I had sailed on returned to the harbor in Aruba. Shortly after we docked a huge elaborate yacht sailed into the harbor and anchored near us. We were standing on the stern of our ship drooling over the toys aboard this newcomer. Someone in the group said ” Can you even imagine that lifestyle? ” I threw this back at the group ” keep in mind most of the world can’t imagine our lifestyle, we just finished a week’s sail and will return to our US and Canadian homes and jobs. ”
It did put it in perspective. As we checked further we discovered it was Steve Jobs’s Yacht.
[…] it possible for me to enjoy a bento box in Ushiku, other than me working and saving money. Here is a wonderful post by the brilliant Brenna, and another one by the blogger Oneika. I will perhaps write a bit […]
Great, well-written post. I know that you mention it in your post and that it goes hand-in-hand with money and luck but I think we really shouldn’t under-estimate the importance of how limited most people’s free time is. Most people, even those who have great incomes, simply can’t take time off to backpack through Asia. It’s all very well doing it on a budget but there’s nothing much you can do about a 10-day vacation contract, short of quitting your job. I think you’re so right to point out that there’s a danger of encouraging people to travel turning into condescension about making certain life choices. Anyway, it’s pretty much everything you said already! Great blog 🙂
Thank you very much for your comment! I agree, not everyone has a lot of time to travel.
I’ve always hated those kinds of quotes because the majority of them seem so loaded with judgements and privilege. I think most people who hold privilege rarely are aware or knowledge this. I’ve had conversations with people while travelling who don’t have the chance to travel because they are supporting the majority of their extended family, because of poverty, because the belong to minorities who are not recognised by their governments so they can not leave. I know people from my home country who are single parents, who are struggling with mental health issues therefore they can not hold a job down or people who are barely getting by on the money that is left over after paying rent. I also know people who spend their time volunteering for human rights issues one or more days a week which cuts into a travel budget. I saw a comment here by someone that states that being driven and hardworking is what lets people have the same chances as others but I disagree. There are many structural factors that give others a much larger head start than others. Marginalisation is alive and well in countries that are western, especially in Australia. I find that those who say you just need to work harder tend to have inherited a lot of privilege. I have met people that travel and who are rude, culturally inappropriate and people that complain about petty things not being how they are back home. So I also don’t agree that all people who travel learn or grow from their experiences. So they may have stamps in their passports but their minds can also be small. I don’t know where i’m going with this rant but i’m glad you wrote this.
[…] My Most Hated Travel Quote at This Battered Suitcase […]
Maybe the goal shouldn’t be to “read all the pages” but to fully enjoy and learn the pages that you have access to, whether that be one or many. I know that I’m indeed lucky to have been able to travel as I have and every destination has had an impact on me.
I HATE this quote too! I mean, imagine someone said, “life is a book, and those who don’t have children only read one page” or “life is a book, and those who don’t climb the corporate ladder only read one page” or “life is a book, and those who don’t have a shit ton of money in the bank only read onepage.” It is so patronising and makes the assumption that travel should be everyone’s desire in life. Like you, I also think that everyone’s book is different and we shouldn’t put people down who don’t want to travel. Thanks for sharing your thoughts as they really resonated with me!
I know, I was thinking of that, too… imagine someone said, “Life is a book, and those who don’t attend university read only a page.” Patronising indeed! Thanks for your input, I’m glad that you liked the post! 🙂
I follow your stories and follow your blog on most of the social media channels. When this article popped up on FB fees, I quietly bookmarked it. I am so glad that this is the best thing I have read today. As travelers, we ought to accept that with lot of hard work, determination and luck we aren’t born in a war torn country or the world’s most poor country or whatever the heck the mass media calls it. Kudos.
“The world is a book… and each of us has our own story, each of us will read that book differently” – I love this! Not everyone has the desire to travel and you know what, that is completely ok. Everyone has different dreams in life – mine is to travel but not sell everything I own, pack up and wander the world. I am quite happy with my 3-4 weeks ‘vacation’ a year where I go a different place each time.
That is my story 🙂
That sound wonderful, Sarah! Thank you for your comment. 🙂
Every person writes a chapter, not a page in life’s book.
Every person offers something.
[…] My Most Hated Travel Quote […]
Loved this story! Ugh. I love Tolkien´s work and have read his books many many times (most of them I think) but I am seriously fed up with “not all those who wander are lost”…I mean…yeah, so what…are you Elendil´s heir or something??
Ha ha!! I have definitely seen that quote a lot, too…
I may have commented before, but I reread this tonight and felt like commenting. I agree with you. You definitely have privilege if you can afford to travel, some luck, and a lot of hard work. I get to travel so much because all I do is workout (currently my gym membership is free at my university), work 45 hours a week, save, and pretty much never buy things that aren’t essential (I splurge on good running shoes because I have bad feet and a half marathon addiction). Traveling is a big part of who I am. But I am constantly digging around on the internet, digging for the best deals and pouring hours of hard work into it. But that’s just not appealing for some people. I have a wonderful friend who likes to compete in beauty pageants. That’s not my style, but she’s learned so much from it and it’s her passion, her satisfaction. I have other friends who care more about school than I do (I’m grateful for the opportunity and love to learn, I just can’t maintain things in the traditional school-you are here to write notes and take a test to show you learned-method). Everyone is different, everyone has a great story.
This is a really good post and I have to agree with you on the fact that we are partially lucky for being able to travel, that’s undeniable.
And although traveling can change your views on the world and make you more aware, teach you news skills etc. I also believe it can ruin you, it all comes down to how you travel and what is your purpose.
Because traveling only means going from point A to B, what you do there is what really matters.
So, answering your question: all quotes like: “to travel is to live” “we travel for life not to escape us” they all make it seem like there is nothing worth doing besides traveling…
Anyway this is a really good topic and I might even write about it on my own blog! Thanks for the inspiration and good job on your blog ???? Subscribed!!
[…] researching for this article I also came across this great article by This Battered Suitcase. It’s about the quote “The World is a book, and those who […]
You just reminded me how lucky I am!
I left my home town, Saint Petersburg, when I was 16 and came to Halifax to study at uni – by myself.
Have been here for almost 7 years and am now getting ready to move to Europe (and saying ‘f. it’ to waiting for getting Canadian citizenship 😀 too long of a process and I Really want to be closer to my family.. as well as a bunch of travel destinations). While it’s been tough at times and there’s definitely been some hard work done on my side, simply being able to go study abroad or consider such a possibility is in fact a privilege I sometimes forget about.
*also, came across couple people with US or Canadian citizenships who traveled to teach English somewhere and treated it as a given.. Just the fact that you can go to another country and have a job sort of ready for you.. excuse my jealousy! 😛 Glad to come across someone who does not take these opportunities for granted 🙂
Preach! I agree. The tide seems to be turning and there’s more realisation that this is the case
THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR WRITING THIS. I have always had the exact same sentiments, and I gag each time I scroll my Pinterest feed ? I am so happy to know I am not alone! The feeling’s mutual ?
Ah, agree!! Sometimes those quotes lose their potency when they are regurgitated so regularly, but I really love the way you took it apart and showed that travel is all of the above: choice, ambition, hard work, and yes, a dose of luck. ?
The quote reminds of those motivational speakers that preach anybody can follow their dream if they only pulled themselves up by there bootstraps. Who’s going clean the shit out of your plugged toilet Dickwad?