“I am wild with impatience to move, move, move”
– a young Mark Twain
I’m a Missourian and as a Missourian it is my duty to like two things: the Mississippi river and Mark Twain. And I do, I adore them both. While pondering blog post ideas, I thought wouldn’t it be fun to write a post about places you can visit that Mark Twain visited?
Yes, but…there are a lot of them…a lot…
Mark Twain wasn’t only a unique writer, he was a unique traveler. At one time he was better known as a travel writer than a fiction writer. He traveled far and wide throughout his life. Researching his travels, I came to realize that the magic didn’t lie in the places he visited, but in his attitude during his travels. Thus this post was born…
How to Travel Like Mark Twain
1. Don’t Be Afraid to Stand Out
In 1907 Mark Twain caused quite a stir by walking through the lobby of the Brown’s Hotel in London wearing a blue bathrobe and slippers on his way to a bath club across the street. Mark Twain’s response: “I simply wanted to take a bath,” he said, “and did the same thing I’d often done at the seaside. London is a sort of seaside town, isn’t it?”
You are going to stand out when you travel. Your clothes will look different, your accent will be noticeable and your actions may not reflect the social norms of the country you are traveling in. Best thing to do? Accept that it’s going to happen and that it is not a big deal to stand out.
2. Be Impulsive
The Heidelberg University in Germany managed a jail for unruly students from 1778 to 1914. When Twain visited Heidelberg, he became so interested in the jail that he talked a student into getting incarcerated there so that Twain could see what it was like.
“One day I was listening to some conversation upon this subject when an American student said that for some time he had been under sentence for a slight breach of the peace and had promised the constable that he would presently find an unoccupied day and betake himself to prison. I asked the young gentleman to do me the kindness to go to jail as soon as he conveniently could, so that I might try to get in there and visit him, and see what college captivity was like. He said he would appoint the very first day he could spare.” – Mark Twain
When traveling don’t plan everything, let your curiosity lead you. If something interests you, find a way to experience it. Throw away the guidebooks and let experiences come to you. And if you want something, make it happen!
3. Let Your Travels Inspire Your Creativity
One of Mark Twain’s first big writing successes came from an experience he had while traveling. While in the Sierra foothills, he listened to the bartender at the Angels Hotel tell a story about a gambler who would bet on anything even a jumping frog. Twain used the story as a basis for a short story, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. The story became popular across the country and got Twain noticed as a writer.
The benefits of travel don’t end when you finish your trip. Let your travels inspire you to create something. Write poetry, share your stories, create art — it doesn’t matter. Traveling can give you so much creative fodder if you take the time to listen and look.
4. Do What The Locals Do
For Mark Twain, this was surfing. I know it’s hard to picture but Mark Twain did try his hand at surfing. During his travels to Hawaii he watched as natives surfed the waves on wooden surfboards. Sadly, surfing mastery was not in Twain’s future. “None but natives ever master the art of surf-bathing thoroughly,” he wrote.
Tourist activities can be fun, but if you really want to experience a place, watch what the locals do and go do it.
5. Bring Back Souvenirs
Mark Twain apparently loved souvenirs a lot, although I don’t recommend you follow his lead on what type of souvenir you bring back. According to a family tradition, Clemens took an ancient stone head from the Acropolis on a late night visit in 1867. The head was said to have served as a family paperweight for many years and is now in the Mark Twain Papers Collection. It has been examined by curators of antiquities and archeological experts but no consensus has been reached as to it’s authenticity.
I love souvenirs. They transport you instantly back to your trip. They serve as a way to remember the small moments that make travel so special. Take a bit of your travels with you when you come back home.
6. Allow Yourself To Be Moved
The Lion at Lucerne is a statue carved out of natural rock to commemorate the deaths of the Swiss Guards who were massacred in 1792 during the French Revolution. Mark Twain, touched by seeing it, said that the statue of the dying lion was “the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world”.
Travel can touch our hearts if we let it. Let it.
7. Stray From The Beaten Path
“What is there in Rome for me to see that others have not seen before me? What is there for me to touch that others have not touched? What is there for me to feel, to learn, to hear, to know, that shall thrill me before it pass to others? What can I discover?—Nothing. Nothing whatsoever. One charm of travel dies here.” – Mark Twain
It is easy to get caught up in seeing all the famous statues and monuments in the world. They are amazing, right? But you are missing out on an essential benefit of travel if that is all you do – discovery. Allow yourself to be surprised, to find something new, to travel where others have not thought to travel before. Discover something new.
There is so much more, so many more tales to tell, and things to learn from Mark Twain, the traveler. If you are interested, check out some of his travel books: The Innocents Abroad, Life on the Mississippi, and Roughing It.
Mark Twain. What can’t you learn from him? For me, it all comes down to the idea that if you welcome adventure, keep your sense of wonder alive and lace your life with humor, the world conspires to offer you amazing experiences. Thank you for the lesson Mr. Twain. From one Missourian to another, thank you very much indeed.