If you’ve been around the internet awhile you have probably stumbled upon the adage, “Not all who wander are lost” by J.R.R Tolkien.
This quote is popular, especially with travelers and backpackers who are so often characterized as “lost” by society. I know I have had to field many comments about being “lost” or “finding what I’m looking for” or “running away” in the past decade or so since I started traveling. But for me, like so many, travel is not about feeling lost.
In this post, we’ll look at the meaning of “not all those who wander are lost”, where the quote comes from, how I would change the quote if I could, plus a bonus section of some of the best travel quotes.
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“Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost” quote meaning
The idea behind the famous quote that seems to resonate with countless nomads and backpackers around the world is that just because they live nomadically without a conventional job/house/family/whatever that doesn’t mean they are confused about their purpose in life. On the contrary: for many of those people “wandering”, they feel they have found exactly what their purpose is.
The quote actually comes from a poem from The Lord of the Rings called All that is gold does not glitter. (This line is an inversion of the quote from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice: “All that glitters is not gold”.)
Here’s the original poem:
- All that is gold does not glitter,
- Not all those who wander are lost;
- The old that is strong does not wither,
- Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
- From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
- A light from the shadows shall spring;
- Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
- The crownless again shall be king
Apparently “those who wander” from the second line refers to a character from the novel, Aragorn’s, wanderings around Middle Earth to understand the political situation so he can be a better king later on. I don’t know anything about The Lord of the Rings – if you want some more deep reflections on the poem, check out this Quora forum posting.
How I would change the quote
I think there’s more to the whole “lost” story; I don’t think being lost or not lost is necessarily related to wandering or not wandering. Some wanderers are not lost, yes, but some are.
For the stationary folk? The ones with conventional jobs, houses, families? Well some of them are lost too. And some aren’t.
Here’s a diagram of what I mean:
And why should being ‘lost’ be a bad thing anyway? It doesn’t mean you’re incompetent, irresponsible, unintelligent…It’s just a normal part of the human condition.
In conclusion, I would like to propose an addendum to the quote, as follows:
“Not all who wander are lost, but some are. And some who do not wander are lost too. And that’s all okay.”
More great travel quotes
Travel quotes have a way of expressing sentiments about the travel lifestyle in a way we may not have thought to. Not all who wander are lost is a classic travel quote.
Here are some other travel quotes I love:
“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.”
― Jack Kerouac
“So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservation, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”
― Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild
“And then there is the most dangerous risk of all – the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later.”
“It took me a long time and most of the world to learn what I know about love and fate and the choices we make, but the heart of it came to me in an instant, while I was chained to a wall and being tortured. I realized, somehow, through the screaming of my mind, that even in that shackled, bloody helplessness, I was still free: free to hate the men who were torturing me, or to forgive them.”
― Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram
“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”
― Andre Gide
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”
― Henry Miller
“Our happiest moments as tourists always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else.”
— Lawrence Block
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
— Marcel Proust
“Second star to the right and straight on ’til morning. ”
― J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan