What are your rules and rituals for travel? Paul Theroux, author of The Tao of Travel: Enlightenment From Lives on the Road, sits down with Peter to share the essential philosophies for life-changing travel.
Peter Greenberg: Not only is The Tao of Travel full of information, it’s one of your most entertaining and enlightening reads. I laughed a lot.
Paul Theroux: Thank you. It’s not your ordinary grandfather’s anthology. It’s a personal anthology. It’s all the books about travel that I’ve loved, travel facts, travel food, great ordeals, long trips, and feats of travel. I suppose there’s also travel advice to a certain degree. It’s everything I love about travel.
PG: I love the information on odd items that travelers insisted on carrying with them. What are some examples?
PT: Some people want to bring a gun or a knife. Others want to bring a rubber bathmat, or ceiling wax, or garlic, or curry powder. It’s amazing what people bring as a talisman. Sometimes it can also be useful. I used to bring Tabasco sauce, because if the food is disgusting, you can put Tabasco sauce on it and it tastes slightly better.
PG: I bring a talisman of sorts. I found it standing in line to go through immigration at Heathrow Airport in London. Discarded on the floor was this little fabric rabbit that was missing an arm. I couldn’t let it sit there so I picked it up and adopted it. Now it travels with me everywhere in the world.
PT: It probably accounts for your success. Beyond good luck charms, you must bring a book. I find it very hard to travel without a book––any good book––because there’s so much waiting and delay in travel. Having a book is a wonderful thing.
PG: One of the things that I loved about your book is that it reminded me so much of Somerset Maugham’sA Writer’s Notebook. Not many people know about this book. It’s out of print but you can still get it. The book was just Maugham’s observations. Every time he traveled somewhere, he’d record his thoughts. Sometimes it was a sentence or a paragraph; once in a while he’d go for two or three pages. No matter where you open up the book, there’s something in there you’re going to appreciate, learn from and maybe even apply. I feel the same way about your book.
PT: Oh that’s great. That’s a tao–it’s not a guide book or a manual. It’s a book to amuse and enlighten.
PG: You have a list of what you call the Essential Tao of Travel which starts with a no-brainer: Leave home.
PT: Leave home, some people don’t get that. There’s still kids living in their mother’s basement going bald, blogging away. Get out of the basement, stop blogging. Or go blog somewhere else. Go to Abu Dhabi and blog. Go to Las Vegas and blog.
Traveling alone? Don’t miss our Solo Travel section.
PG: On your list, there’s a frightening concept for some people, which I embrace whole-heartedly: Don’t just leave home, go alone.
PT: Go alone if you’re really traveling. If you just want a week’s vacation, go with your spouse. If you want to discover something about yourself, go alone. Traveling alone, even for a short period of time, let’s you discover a lot about yourself and the world.
PG: Knowing you well, I don’t ask “Where is Paul and his wife, Sheila?” I say “Where is Paul?” because I know you’re traveling alone a lot.
PT: If you’re writing about a place, it’s really helpful to be alone because you use the whole day. It’s a whole enterprise and there’s a lot to remember.
PG: Also on your list is a no-brainer that gets complicated when you think about all the stuff we schlep: Travel light.
Get inspiration for traveling light: Traveling Around The World, Without Luggage: Rolf Potts.
PT: Traveling light is really helpful. All these rules––leave home; go alone; travel light; bring a book––are related to actual travel. It’s travel that’s going to change your life. Not tourism or a vacation. If you’re serious about going somewhere, it might entail hardship or difficulty.
PG: You don’t just say bring a book, you get very specific. You say read a novel that has absolutely no relation to the place you’re actually in.
PT: It’s a way of leaving the place. It relieves your mind. If you’re in a place that’s very difficult, you could lose yourself in a book. A book becomes your friend and you begin to inhabit the book. A novel is a great relief as is reading it in a different context. Imagine reading Moby Dick in Africa. It doesn’t have to be Moby Dick, it could be just any great book.
PG: Last but not least, keep a journal. You do this better than anybody.
PT: Keep a journal and keep it every day. If you don’t, you forget things. In travel, your impressions come thick and fast, so you really have to write every day. At the end, the accumulated wisdom and impressions that you have from a trip are amazing. They’re usable and they’re life-changing in some cases.
PG: Of course, the accumulated wisdom, or at least part of it, comes from mistakes you’ve made.
PT: Often that’s the case. You make a mistake; you learn something.
By Peter Greenberg for Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio.
Related Articles on PeterGreenberg.com:
- Traveling Around The World, Without Luggage: Rolf Potts
- Grateful Traveler: Traveling Solo But Never Alone
- A Single Woman Finds Love In Paris Cooking Schools
- Grateful Traveler series
- Solo Travel section
- Radio Show With Paul Theroux From Aria Hotel, Las Vegas
- Previous Theroux Interview: Foxwoods & Train Travel Deals