It’s passed around in countless Internet memes.
Downloadable as desktop wallpaper.
Posted in Instagram photos.
Found painted on cafe walls.
Posted on the back of north-bound RVs.
Stuck in the sidebars of travel blogs.
Spend a day or two researching travel and you’ll run across this quote from Mark Twain:
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
It’s a great quote. Inspirational. Makes you want to take that final leap to pursue your dreams. I wish I had written it.
What’s the problem?
Mark Twain didn’t write it.
Twain has long been a favorite author of mine. I’ve always loved the way he could so intelligently skewer a person or a culture in a swift phrase. Over the years I’ve read just about all of his books. We named our GPS after one of his characters in Innocents Abroad.
It doesn’t smell of Twain. It has no sarcasm. No skewering. It’s too sentimental and saccharine.
The website TwainQuotes has the following:
This quote has been attributed to Mark Twain, but the attribution cannot be verified. The quote should not be regarded as authentic. The earliest documented publication of the quote is in H. Jackson Brown Jr.‘s P. S. I Love You (Rutledge Hill Press, 1990). Brown’s book is a collection of quotes and maxims attributed to his mother.TwainQuotes.com
Huffington Post also included the quote in a list of several misattributed to Mark Twain.
Twain on Travel
This isn’t to say that Mark Twain didn’t write about travel.
Another popular travel quote from Twain that can be verified is:
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad (1869), Vol. II, Conclusion
But my favorites? The quotes you can’t find on a magnet in the visitor center in Hannibal, MO?
Travel has no longer any charm for me. I have seen all the foreign countries I want to except heaven and hell and I have only a vague curiosity about one of those.- Letter to W. D. Howells, 20 May 1891
I have found out there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.Tom Sawyer Abroad
So - certainly throw off those bowlines. Explore. And dream. And discover.
Just don’t go looking for that advice from Mark Twain.