Murphy’s Rules of Travel (from, The Tao of Travel), Paul Theroux

Just a reminder that during November, I’ll be reviewing short stories instead of novels. This adjustment will hopefully allow me to complete both the manuscript due December 1st and 50,000 words for National Novel Writing Month. 


As a child, yearning to leave home and go far away, the image in my mind was of flight – my little self hurrying off alone. The word “travel” did not occur to me, nor did the word “transformation,” which was my unspoken but enduring wish. I wanted to find a new self in a distant place, and new things to care about. The importance of elsewhere was something I took on faith. Elsewhere was the place I wanted to be. Too young to go, I read about elsewheres, fantasizing about my freedom. Books were my road. And then, when I was old enough to go, the roads I traveled became the obsessive subject in my own books. Eventually I saw that the most passionate travelers have always also been passionate readers and writers. And that is how this book came about. (pg vii, Theroux)

I have always loved to travel. In fact, I think I like the motion to or from a destination even more than I like the arrival. I can’t read or write when I’m in a moving vehicle, so it’s the one time that out of necessity, I must stop and think. I don’t take pictures during this time. I don’t text or tweet or post emails. I just sit and listen to music and stare out the window at the world whizzing past. It’s an intensely private time, a recharging really, and I am not one of those people who likes to be engaged in conversation when I’m taking myself so deeply out of the world. I find it jarring. I get cranky. It’s really better just to leave me alone.

This may be why this little story about Dervla Murphy appealed to me. This remarkable woman traveled around the world alone, mostly on mule or bicycle, and often dressing as a man to pass safely through countries where, certainly in the sixties and seventies, but even today, many women would be anxious traveling by themselves. She traveled lightly, choosing to rely on the kindness of the worldwide community as she went thousands of miles with just the clothes on her back and enough food to keep from being a burden on the communities she encountered. I appreciated though, that she was well-educated on the cultures she was visiting. She was not naive, nor did she expect the people she met to bend over backward to help her; instead, she researched customs to be sure that she was making those she met feel comfortable and respected.

Murphy was the kind of traveler I could only dream of being. I have to admit that I like having a change of underwear (or two) on hand, and allergies keep me from being as adventurous as I want to be when I try off the beaten foods. I also enjoy traveling with friends and family, something she thought (rightly so) kept a person from connecting deeply with strangers met on the journey. There’s something about her experiences, though, different as they have been from mine, that elicits a connection for me. I think it comes back to that first quote by Theroux, to the idea of writers and readers being passionate travelers, even at home. Some people, even those we never have or plan to meet, just feel like kindred spirits – maybe it’s the books we read that bring us together, or the way we like to travel, but some element ignites a spark of recognition. Once that spark is lit, years can go by and it will still be difficult to forget the feeling of companionship, the joy of a familiar soul.

For more about Paul Theroux, go here, for Dervla Murphy, here.

4 thoughts on “Murphy’s Rules of Travel (from, The Tao of Travel), Paul Theroux

  1. I love Paul Theroux’s work, and I’ve been meaning to read The Tao of Travel since it came out. Murphy’s style of traveling sounds amazing; I wish I had the courage to travel that way!

    1. I highly recommend it. I haven’t finished all the stories yet, but so far it’s wonderful. Perfect thing to read if you don’t mind the travel bug biting you immediately :)

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