As long as writers have roamed the world, they’ve been making wisecracks about travel. This year is the 150th anniversary of Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad, his witty account of a trip he took to Europe and the Holy Land. The New-York Historical Society is honoring this landmark book in an exhibit that runs until February 2, 2020. Catch it if you can. And meanwhile, enjoy these remarks by 10 notable authors.
The author of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was an avid traveler. Twain visited the Azores way before those islands were trending as a destination, and his The Innocents Abroad, his best-selling book in his lifetime, recounts his wanderings through Europe and the Middle East on a five-month excursion with fellow Americans aboard the Quaker City. Understandably, that’s when he came up with the insightful observation above.
Potter’s quote packs an extra punch if you know that he long suffered from psoriatic arthritis so severe that it required hospital stays. The acerbic British playwright and novelist used his experience with that debilitating disease in his groundbreaking TV serial drama, The Singing Detective (1986), decades ahead of its time.
A writer and editor for the New Yorker and the original Vanity Fair, Benchley was most active from the 1920s to mid-1940s. (This quote is from “Kiddie-Kar Travel” in his 1925 collection Pluck and Luck.) Part of the famed Algonquin Round Table, he penned countless humorous sketches on topics as varied as opera plots and sales techniques but may be best remembered for a telegram he sent on arrival in Venice: “Streets flooded. Please advise.”
Wilde’s best-known play, 1895’s The Importance of Being Ernest, is the source of this quote. Wilde toured the United States and Canada for a year, giving lectures. When he arrived at customs in New York, he said, “I have nothing to declare but my genius.”
Iowa native Bryson spent many years away, living in England and traveling widely. He’s written a string of popular books drawn from his extensive journeys, including one of the funniest modern travel accounts, A Walk in the Woods. His The Lost Continent (1989), the origin of this observation, explores small-town America. Back then, a phone book was a thick printed compendium of phone numbers.
French writer Sidonie-Gabriele Colette is more remembered for unconventional behavior, including her music hall act, and scandalous novels than for humor. (See 2108 movie Colette starring Keira Knightley.) This comment from her memoir Paris From My Window (1944) makes several good points: Travel—via plane, train, boat, or car—also often involves much sitting. Walking is the ideal way to get to know many places. And travelers too busy sightseeing to sit still may miss plenty.
So claimed novelist Sinclair Lewis in Dodsworth, one of several trenchant novels of middle-class society that he wrote during the 1920s. A traveler himself, Lewis wrote Free Air (1919), one of the first car road trip novels. He is credited with penning the phrase “travel is so broadening.” And Lewis was the first American to be awarded the Noble Prize for literature.
In describing his flight into Bangkok, perhaps only Perelman would dare parody travel writing on his assignment from Holiday, then new and soon to become the travel magazine of its day. He was sent on a round-the-world trip accompanied by the artist Hirschfeld. The resulting series of illustrated articles was published as Westward, Ha!: Or, Around the World in 80 Clichés in 1948.
Sontag made this observation in her book On Photography (1977) well before the advent of Instagram. She wasn’t noted for a sense of humor, but her foresight seems both comic and disturbing now, when notable monuments and landscapes are often reduced to backgrounds for selfies. Throughout this brief book, Sontag has more to say about the pros and cons of taking photos in relation to travel.
Travels with Charley: In Search of America (1962), where you’ll find this remark, is Steinbeck’s account of his road trip across the nation with his dog, Charley. In addition to his novels, he wrote about his trip to Mexico in Sea of Cortez (1941).
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