The Tao of Travel: Enlightenments from Lives on the Road

by Paul Theroux

A philosophical guidebook and collection of insights celebrating the joy of travel, chosen by eminent travel writer Paul Theroux

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN-13/ EAN: 9780547737379
  • ISBN-10: 0547737378
  • Pages: 304
  • Publication Date: 07/24/2012
  • Carton Quantity: 24

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About the Book
About the Author
  • About the Book
    “A book to be plundered and raided.” — New York Times Book Review

    “A portal into a world of timeless travel literature curated by one of the greatest travel writers of our day.” — USA Today

    Paul Theroux celebrates fifty years of wandering the globe in this collection of the best writing from the books that have shaped him as a reader and a traveler. Part philosophical guide, part miscellany, part reminiscence, The Tao of Travel contains excerpts from the best of Theroux’s own work interspersed with selections from travelers both familiar and unexpected:

    Vladimir Nabokov         Eudora Welty
    Evelyn Waugh          James Baldwin
    Charles Dickens         Pico Iyer
    Henry David Thoreau         Anton Chekhov
    Mark Twain         John McPhee
    Freya Stark         Ernest Hemingway
    Graham Greene         and many others

    “Dazzling . . . Like someone panning for gold, Theroux reread hundreds of travel classics and modern works, shaking out the nuggets.” — San Francisco Chronicle

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  • About the Author
  • Excerpts

    The Importance of Elsewhere

    As a child, yearning to leave home and go far away, the image in my
    mind was of flight — my little self hurrying off alone. The word “travel”
    did not occur to me, nor did the word “transformation,” which was my
    unspoken but enduring wish. I wanted to find a new self in a distant
    place, and new things to care about. The importance of elsewhere was
    something I took on faith. Elsewhere was the place I wanted to be. Too
    young to go, I read about elsewheres, fantasizing about my freedom.
    Books were my road. And then, when I was old enough to go, the roads
    I traveled became the obsessive subject in my own books. Eventually I
    saw that the most passionate travelers have always also been passionate
    readers and writers. And that is how this book came about.
     The wish to travel seems to me characteristically human: the desire
    to move, to satisfy your curiosity or ease your fears, to change the circumstances
    of your life, to be a stranger, to make a friend, to experience
    an exotic landscape, to risk the unknown, to bear witness to the consequences,
    tragic or comic, of people possessed by the narcissism of minor
    differences. Chekhov said, “If you’re afraid of loneliness, don’t marry.”
    I would say, if you’re afraid of loneliness, don’t travel. The literature of
    travel shows the effects of solitude, sometimes mournful, more often enriching,
    now and then unexpectedly spiritual.
     All my traveling life I have been asked the maddening and oversimplifying
    question “What is your favorite travel book?” How to answer it? I
    have been on the road for almost fifty years and writing about my travels
    for more than forty years. One of the first books my father read to me
    at bedtime when I was small was Donn Fendler: Lost on a Mountain in
    Maine. This 1930s as-told-to account described how a twelve-year-old
    boy survived eight days on Mount Katahdin. Donn suffered, but he made
    it out of the Maine woods. The book taught me lessons in wilderness
    survival, including the basic one: “Always follow a river or a creek in the
    direction the water is flowing.” I have read many travel books since, and
    I have made journeys on every continent except Antarctica, which I have
    recounted in eight books and hundreds of essays. I have felt renewed
    inspiration in the thought of little Donn making it safely down the high
     The travel narrative is the oldest in the world, the story the wanderer
    tells to the folk gathered around the fire after his or her return from a
    journey. “This is what I saw” — news from the wider world; the odd, the
    strange, the shocking, tales of beasts or of other people. “They’re just
    like us!” or “They’re not like us at all!” The traveler’s tale is always in the
    nature of a report. And it is the origin of narrative fiction too, the traveler
    enlivening a dozing group with invented details, embroidering on experience.
    It’s how the first novel in English got written. Daniel Defoe based
    Robinson Crusoe on the actual experience of the castaway Alexander Selkirk,
    though he enlarged the story, turning Selkirk’s four and a half years
    on a remote Pacific Island into twenty-eight years on a Caribbean island,
    adding Friday, the cannibals, and tropical exotica.
    The storyteller’s intention is always to hold the listener with a glittering
    eye and riveting tale. I think of the travel writer as idealized in the
    lines of the ghost of Hamlet’s father at the beginning of the play:

      I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
      Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,
      Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,
      Thy knotted and combined locks to part
      And each particular hair to stand on end

     But most are anecdotal, amusing, instructional, farcical, boastful,
    mock-heroic, occasionally hair-raising, warnings to the curious, or else
    they ring bells like mad and seem familiar. At their best, they are examples
    of what is most human in travel.
     In the course of my wandering life, travel has changed, not only in
    speed and efficiency, but because of the altered circumstances of the
    world — much of it connected and known. This conceit of Internetinspired
    omniscience has produced the arrogant delusion that the physical
    effort of travel is superfluous. Yet there are many parts of the world
    that are little known and worth visiting, and there was a time in my traveling
    when some parts of the earth offered any traveler the Columbus or
    Crusoe thrill of discovery.
     As an adult traveling alone in remote and cut-off places, I learned a
    great deal about the world and myself: the strangeness, the joy, the liberation
    and truth of travel, the way loneliness — such a trial at home — is
    the condition of a traveler. But in travel, as Philip Larkin says in his poem
    “The Importance of Elsewhere,” strangeness makes sense.
     Travel in dreams, for Freud, symbolized death. That the journey — an
    essay into the unknown — can be risky, even fatal, was a natural conclusion
    for Freud to reach, since he suffered from self-diagnosed Reiseangst,
    travel anxiety. He was so fearful of missing a train that he appeared at
    railway stations two hours ahead of time, and when the train appeared at
    the platform he usually panicked. He wrote in Introductory Lectures on
    Psycho-Analysis, “Dying is replaced in dreams by departure, by a train
     This has not been my experience; I associate my happiest traveling
    days with sitting on trains. Some travel is more of a nuisance than a
    hardship, but travel is always a mental challenge, and even at its most
    difficult, travel can be an enlightenment.
     The joy of travel, and reading about it, is the theme of this collection —
    and perhaps the misery too; but even remembered misery can produce
    lyrical nostalgia. As I was rereading some of the books quoted here I
    realized how dated they were, and how important as historical documents
    — the dramas as well as the romance of an earlier time. Yet a lot of
    the old-fangledness of travel ended very recently.
     This book of insights, a distillation of travelers’ visions and pleasures,
    observations from my work and others’, is based on many decades of
    my reading travel books and traveling the earth. It is also intended as a
    guidebook, a how-to, a miscellany, a vade mecum, a reading list, a reminiscence.
    And because the notion of travel is often a metaphor for living
    a life, many travelers, expressing a simple notion of a trip, have written
    something accidentally philosophical, even metaphysical. In the spirit of
    Buddha’s dictum “You cannot travel the path before you have become the
    path itself,” I hope that this collection shows, in its approaches to travel,
    ways of living and thinking too.

  • Reviews
    A "determinedly personal collection of travel appreciation."
    -Kirkus Reviews

    A "diverting meditation on passages from his own and other writers' works. [T]he strongest pieces descry a tangible place through a discerning eye and pungent sensibility..."
    -Publishers Weekly

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