Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost – JRR Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
Until tonight, I never realized the phrase actually comes from a poem, which is quoted in The Fellowship of the Ring.
My brother Bill has read all the books, and so has Dave. Dave, Kyle and Eli have watched the Lord of the Rings Trilogy many times, so have I. In truth, I have slept through them many times. A while back, I was in my local Staples looking for a college notebook when I found this particular one. It was beyond appropriate for my very delayed college return. I bought it, and as I sat in my English classes, I proudly displayed it to my much younger classmates.
Now sitting in class with my well-suited notebook I began taking notes on the poet Elizabeth Bishop, who was also a traveler. She spent much of her life living in different countries and writing about her travels. Our class discussion on Bishop prompted my professor to mention how much he loves travel. A travel poet and a professor who loves travel were firing my imagination. And then with some disdain my professor mentioned that he was not into going to the “usual” travel spots such as say Disneyland or the Eiffel Tower. “Everyone does that. I like to go off the beaten path,” he continued. “Am I a complete loser because I love Disneyland,” I thought.
Because off-the-beaten-path travel is an idea that speaks to me, I opted to push my I-am-less-than-because-I-like-Disneyland self-doubt away and remain engaged. I am glad I did, because his words helped me find myself, and own my own. I spoke up. First, I said, “Disneyland is awesome!” I was not surprised when I saw his eyes roll in horror. Then thinking I could connect with his idea of off-the-beaten path I said, “I love The Lonely Planet Books. They have taken me on some most excellent adventures.”
I saw my professor’s eyes roll before I noticed him clearing his throat. And with a disdainful laugh he quickly interjected, “The Lonely Planet book series is a published book series.” He cleared his throat another time. “Someone is actually telling you how to stay on their path.” Completely defeated I sat silent. I decided I would wait to read her poems that evening and instead was imagining how I could defend my comment. Still contemplating, I left class.
Later that day Dave and I were finally able to discuss why The Lonely Planet books support the concept of off-the-beaten path. Dave and I both agree that yes, The Lonely Planet Book series is technically not off-the-beaten path because (you are correct, professor), someone is telling you what path to take. Alas, we also agree that these books are great starting points. They point you in the direction of something maybe you would not consider. And once there, there are so many new paths to take.
Having a starting point, like a well-revered travel book, is most definitely a way to wander. And here is where my travel tip becomes more direct:
If you are creating a new route for yourself, YOUR NEW PATH is off-the-beaten path for you. If you have never been to Disneyland, and you chose to go to Disneyland, Disneyland is hip, alternative, crazy, cool, and maybe for my professor’s sake, even a little aloof, because it is your adventure. If you have been to Disneyland before, then make your next time different. I am certain what my professor was trying to say is, “make it new.” What I think he may have missed is that you do not have to be in an exclusive group to make your journey special. Wandering can be familiar. Losing yourself in the prescribed and familiar does not mean you are lost.
Sidebar: You are not a lesser person if Disneyland is your dream destination. Do not doubt yourself. Even if you go to Disneyland every single week, the place does not decide how outside of the lines you are. You do. Try the Jungle Cruise blindfolded next time, or leave your phone at home. Even Disneyland can be off and it is definitely beaten.
Sidebar: To preserve the authenticity of their experience, The Lonely Planet books are written by unpaid travel experts. These experts give you recommendations for places to stay, eat, and visit that you may not have considered yourself. I found their England and Ireland books pointed us toward many worthwhile treasures, and in finding those things, we found others.
Sidebar: And of course I had to include an Elizabeth Bishop travel poem. It is called, “The Map.” And because I love the word liminal, here is what genius.com says about “The Map:”
This poem appeared as a preface to Bishop’s first volume of poetry and as a preface to every volume of poetry thereafter. It is therefore a good introduction to Bishop, and lays out many of the themes she wrestles with in her poetry. Some of these include liminal spaces between the land and the sea and between the real and the imagination.
by, Elizabeth Bishop
lies in water; it is shadowed green.
Shadows, or are they shallows, at its edges
showing the line of long sea-weeded ledges
where weeds hang to the simple blue from green.
Or does the land lean down to lift the sea from under,
drawing it unperturbed around itself?
Along the fine tan sandy shelf
is the land tugging at the sea from under?
The shadow of Newfoundland lies flat and still.
Labrador’s yellow, where the moony Eskimo
has oiled it. We can stroke these lovely bays,
under a glass as if they were expected to blossom,
or as if to provide a clean cage for invisible fish.
The names of seashore towns run out to sea,
the names of cities cross the neighboring mountains
-the printer here experiencing the same excitement
as when emotion too far exceeds its cause.
These peninsulas take the water between thumb and finger
like women feeling for the smoothness of yard-goods.
Mapped waters are more quiet than the land is,
lending the land their waves’ own conformation:
and Norway’s hare runs south in agitation,
profiles investigate the sea, where land is.
Are they assigned, or can the countries pick their colors?
-What suits the character or the native waters best.
Topography displays no favorites; North’s as near as West.
More delicate than the historians’ are the map-makers’ colors.