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Great Travel Books: The Royal Road to Romance

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“The Vagabond life is the logical life to lead if one seeks the intimate knowledge of the world we were seeking.”-Richard Halliburton, The Royal Road to Romance

The Royal Road to Romance was the first work of the adventurous, horizon chasing romantic, Richard Halliburton. It, essentially, is an account of a Walkabout around the world that he undertook around 1926 and later wrote down in a New Jersey mental institution.

It seems evident to me that Halliburton read (and probably reread) Harry Franck’s A Vagabond Journey Around the World and was deeply influenced by it. Everything from Halliburton’s route, his travelling style, to his somewhat unsteady use of vagabond slang echos Harry Franck’s monumental work. But this is not meant as a slight to Halliburton, as any wanderer, myself included, who has read Vagabond Journey has the spirit of the book forever etched into their very psyches.

Richard Halliburton

The Royal Road to Romance is completely able to stand on its own two feet, as it takes travel writing into a completely new direction- the direction of Romance. At the onset of the story, Halliburton explains the impetus behind his journey by reciting Dorian Grey’s ominous warning:

“Realize your youth while you have it. Don’t squander the gold of your days, listening to the tedious, or giving your life away to the ignorant and the common. These are the sickly aims, the false ideals, of our age. “Live ” live the wonderful life that is in you. Be afraid of nothing. There is such a little time that your youth will last- such a little time.”

Halliburton continues by exclaiming:

“The romantic- that was what I wanted. I hungered for the romance of the sea, and foreign ports, and foreign smiles. I wanted to follow the prow of a ship, any ship, and sail away, perhaps to China, perhaps to Spain, perhaps to the South Sea Isles, there to do nothing all day but lie on a surf-swept beach and fling monkeys at the coconuts.”

The Royal Road to Romance is just that: the story of one man’s search for the Romance of life- not the romance of women, but the Romance of the pure, essential underpinnings of the human spirit and the quest for pure substance. In this search, Halliburton turns to the Open Road and lives out the ingrained human urge to travel, to seek out adventure, to find out what is on the other side of the hill, and to embrace everything that is joyous, exciting, and essential. Royal Road is a declaration of the base impulse that is the impetus of every journey: the Wanderlust. It also shows us the reasons why we need to travel and what happens when you throw all discretion to the wind and fully embrace the Open Road and providence.

In these journeys, Halliburton becomes a sailor, frolics with French actresses, has tea with the president of Andorra, gets arrested for photographing the prison at Gibralter, sleeps on top of an Egyptian pyramid, spends a night hiding inside the Taj Mahal, steals rides on Indian trains, visits Kashmir, is almost killed by a cobra in Thailand, is robbed by pirates in Hong Kong, sneaks into Siberia, and sends his lucky tiger tooth to the Empress of China immediately prior to her banishment.

“I suppose she never received the tooth,” he wrote.

The Royal Road to Romance is a story about running life to the very edge just to feel its gentle touch. It is Hallibuton’s approach towards living that really makes this book special. He places the substance with which we fill our days above any abstract notion of wealth and prestige.

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It is the kind of book that has the power to change someone’s life, as Halliburton’s message is straight forward:

Let those who wish have their respectability- I wanted freedom, freedom to indulge in whatever caprice struck my fancy, freedom to search in the farthermost corners of the earth for the beautiful, the joyous, and the romantic.

The Royal Road to Romance is a truly beautiful expression of the joy of the Open Road and adventure for its own sake. It is an ecstatic cry to jolt us into action so that we do not let another day slip by without living it to its fullest.

Sun and wind and beat of sea,

Great lands stretching endlessly.

Where be the bonds to bind the free?

All the world was made for me.

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Filed under: Books

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 76 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3053 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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