Buddha Never Said That: The Truth Behind Travel QuotesIf you do a search for travel quotes, you will find the same 100 quotes copied and pasted from here to the Timbuktu of the internet. With everyone copying and pasting from each other in this global game of telephone, errors have slipped in and been repeated thousands of times. Thanks to social sites like Pinterest, Tumblr, and Twitter a single error can be retweeted, repinned, and reblogged into a thousand errors in a matter of seconds. Just like those fake news stories that one gullible friend of yours keeps posting on Facebook, some of the most famous travel quotes are even entirely fabricated.

If you’ve spent any amount of time browsing travel blogs, one much-loved travel quote you’ve no doubt seen is,

It is better to travel well than to arrive.” — Buddha

A lovely sentiment indeed, but the trouble is…Buddha never said that. But it sounds like something he might have said, so most people never question it, just copying and pasting away in a blissful trance of fortune cookie wisdom. In this digital era where the quaint tradition of fact checking has become all but a faint memory, many of these quotes have even found their way into print.

Another famous quote that you’ve probably seen somewhere is attributed to Saint Augustine.

The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.

The Truth Behind Travel Quotes

Again, we have a very lovely sentiment, but unfortunately Saint Augustine never uttered these words. In fact, Saint Augustine was not much of a fan of traveling for pleasure at all, regarding the inquisitive observation that tourists practice as a sin. Can you imagine how surprised he would be to learn that in this day and age he is now being hailed as a champion of travel with 2,670,000 search results for this misattributed quote?

If you try to find out exactly where many of the most circulated travel quotes are actually from, you’re going to have a tough time too. “The journey not the arrival matters,” is something supposedly uttered by T.S. Elliot…somewhere. Try to figure out where he said it though and you will hit dead end after dead end, because he didn’t.

Even the quotes that are more-or-less real are often modified. Take for instance this oft-repeated one, “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” — Henry Miller. Pretty close, but what Henry Miller actually said in his book, Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch was, “One’s destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things.” Sure — these quotes are pretty similar, and you might even argue that the meaning hasn’t been changed…but what good is a quote at all if you’re modifying what the author actually said, even if only by a few words?

Perhaps most dubious among all the quotes are the ones attributed to ambiguous sources like this one, “He who does not travel does not know the value of men.” — Moorish Proverb

Try to find a source for it and you’ll find yourself stuck in yet another infinite loop, with hundreds of blogs and even articles in the mainstream media sharing the admittedly very wise sounding quote, but not a single one listing a source for the so-called “Moorish Proverb”.

In the end, does it really matter if a quote is real? The world won’t end if these people didn’t say any of these things. On the other hand, quotes are all about sharing wisdom and timeless knowledge. If we’re willing to accept wisdom from anywhere and anyone, we’d all do just as well to start including fortune cookie wisdom in our favorite quotes lists… unfortunately, from what I’ve found, it looks like that’s already the case.

(We’ve combed through the best travel books around, in search of some genuine travel quotes. Check out our favorites here!)


4 Responses

  1. Harvey (H-Bomb's Worldwide Karaoke)

    Interesting and thought-provoking post.

    Yes, it matters when a travel blogger (or anyone else on the internet) passes along a fake quote — just as it matters when any other falsehood or inaccuracy is propagated. From the standpoint of the person publishing the quote, accuracy should certainly matter if they want to retain credibility among their followers. If I see that someone was sloppy or didn’t adequately fact-check something that they posted, anything else they write will become less authoritative to me. A blogger who wants to be taken seriously as a journalist needs to hold himself to the same standards as a professional journalistic organisation.

    An ancillary point here: Writers should be original! If a quote has already made the rounds over and over, you’re probably not adding much value if you become the 543,675th person to tweet it.

    • Nick

      Thanks for adding your voice Harvey. I agree with you and unfortunately, I see more and more journalistic organizations heading in the same direction and even citing web-sources that have never been fact checked. As far as journalistic integrity goes, faking a quote isn’t quite up there with faking a photo from a warzone, but the ease with which these fake quotes spread like wildfire is a good indicator of the larger problem.

      The audience plays a part in all this too though. We’ve become a single serving culture looking for brief and immediate gratification. People are no longer willing to wait for the Sunday paper or for a monthly magazine — they want everything summed up neatly into 140 characters. Most people never pause to consider that what they’re pinning or tweeting may not be true – the bigger burden is of course on the content creators, but I think the consumer needs to be more cautious too.

      I’m 100% behind the opinion that content should be original. Unfortunately the success of sites which do nothing but share regurgitated content like “The 10 funniest photos of girls” or “20 of the Craziest Travel Destinations” do get a very positive response from their visitors who don’t want to take the time to read a long treatise. Even the print media has had to all but do away with investigative journalism in favor of giving the consumer more juicy gossip and celebrity news. Fortunately, there’s still a place for the folks producing unique stuff!

  2. Colin

    If you don’t quote your sources stating a quote is false how do we know that’s true?

    • Nick

      Interesting question Colin. The main point of this article though, is that writers of any kind – be they credentialed journalists or bloggers, should be doing their own verification of sources, rather than relying on what they read second-hand on a list copied from another list copied from a thousand lists before that, each of them slightly changing a word or two here and there. Verifying the source of a quote should be an easy task for anyone, because for the most part, they come from books, which anyone can and should read, especially if they’re going to quote from them. With the advent of the internet, many books are available in digital form and can be quickly searched in a matter of seconds. If an author supposedly said something, proving that he did should be an easy matter. If a quote by a well known author or person exists only on the internet and can’t be attributed to a specific work, it should be considered suspicious at the very least and shouldn’t be included in a list of quotes. There are enough inspirational people out there saying inspirational things that resorting to made-up quotes shouldn’t be necessary.

      For those who don’t want to dig into the history of these quotes themselves, but still want proof that the quotes aren’t authentic…

      The most probable source for the misattributed Buddha quote is likely this one, “to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive,” from Eldorado by Robert Louis Stevenson (1878)

      It’s impossible to know at what point someone decided that it would sound cooler if Buddha said this, but one person got the ball rolling and before long this quote was everywhere.

      As for the supposed Saint Augustine quote, as I’ve mentioned, Saint Augustine was not too fond of travel – a few real quotes of his illustrate this very well:

      “He to whom foreign travel is sweet, loves not his country: if his country is sweet, travel is bitter; if travel is bitter, all the day there is trouble.” Exposition on Psalm 86, paragraph 10

      “What disasters are suffered by those who travel by land or sea! What man can go out of his own house without being exposed on all hands to unforeseen accidents?” The City of God [Book XXII], chapter 22, paragraph 3

      The quote, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” is likely derived from the work of a much later writer who wrote:

      “The universe is a sort of book, whose first page one has read when one has seen only one’s own country.” which was written by Charles-Louis Fougeret de Monbron in 1753.

      As for the T.S. Elliot quote, his work is readily available and this quote simply does not exist in any of it, although it is a nice sentiment.

      The bottom line to consider is that if something has been written by someone, there should be a verifiable record of it. There’s nothing wrong with sharing an inspirational phrase, but if it’s going to be attributed to a specific author or historical figure, it no longer becomes simply an inspirational message but a quote – something that should be factual and honest.


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