Book Review: The Tao of Travel: Enlightenments from Lives on the Road: Edited by Paul Theroux

Title: The Tao of Travel: Edited by Paul Theroux
Author: Paul Theroux
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton
ISBN: 978-0241145258
Genre: Non-Fiction, Travel,
PP: 256 pages
Price: Rs. 499
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I have read many of Theroux’s previous travel books, have enjoyed all of them, and have learned something from each of them. Therefore it was with considerable anticipation that I read this book. I knew before I read it that it would be a compendium or compilation of travel musings from Theroux and others, and I was not sure whether I would enjoy it. I am happy to say that I enjoyed the book thoroughly and that it quite exceeded my expectations.

It is true that there is very little that is original in this book. So what? What is there is marvelous, and even though Theroux quotes from himself a good bit, it is also quite true that it is highly unlikely that I would ever have come across most of the reflections on travel by other authors that Theroux includes here. That alone makes this book a gem. For example, here is this pearl from Hans Christian Andersen, right on page 1: “Homesickness is a feeling that many know and suffer from; I on the other hand feel a pain less known, and its name is ‘Outsickness.'” Is there any true traveler with whom that quote won’t resonate? I am very much like Theroux in that, like him, I have felt a wanderlust, and urge to travel, at least from childhood or early adolescence, and it is exactly that wanderlust that Andersen is referring to when he mentions “Outsickness.” For me the urge to travel began when I read Richard Halliburton’s books as a teenager, and I was happy to see that Theroux mentions and quotes from Halliburton here. This is especially gratifying because, although Halliburton is remembered and revered by people of a certain age, he is almost forgotten today.

Theroux does not shrink from differentiating between travelers and tourists. I had to chuckle at one of Theroux’s own comments: “Choose your country, use guidebooks to identify the areas most frequented by foreigners–and then go in the opposite direction.” This is very similar to something I have always said to acquaintances that I consider serious travelers–if, when you tell people where you are going and their response is “what the hell do you want to go THERE for?”–then you know you’re going to the right place. Theroux also mentions other essentials of travel if it is truly going to be the learning experience or epiphany that you want it to be: travel alone, don’t overplan, and above all, leave your electronic equipment at home.

This book is unlike anything that Theroux has written before in that it seems to be a distillation of everything essential to be said about travel–hence, I suppose, the title. But it also caused me to wonder, given that Theroux recently turned seventy: is this Theroux’s swan song? Is this his goodbye to travel writing? Is this his way of saying “that’s all there is; there is no more?” Will we be seeing any more travel books from Paul Theroux? If that is indeed the case, then this book is a very worthy ending to an illustrious career. If you love travel, and if you haven’t done so already, I urge you to buy a copy posthaste.


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