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Why Plus Ultra?

Hong Kong, August 2012

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”  – Saint Augustine

It was a stark warning to mariners and adventurers. Non plus ultra – nothing further beyond. In Greek mythology these words were inscribed on the Pillars of Hercules, marking off the western entrance to the Mediterranean and the edge of the known world.

In the 16th century, Plus Ultra was adopted as a personal motto by a young Charles V, future king of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor. This exhortation to take risks, ignore the warning and go “further beyond” gained lasting popularity in a land that was then at the forefront of global exploration. Even today, some five centuries later, it remains the national motto.

For this blog I felt that such a title would be the perfect expression of its content, and ultimately a deeper message. Those two words capture the spirit of discovery, mirroring my own travel philosophy and providing a fitting tribute to Spain herself – the very country that inspired its creation.

Years ago I learned that great grandfather sailed from his native China to the distant shores of America in 1899. In a way, our family has never stopped travelling ever since. It was my parents and grandparents who nurtured a lifelong passion for travel, teaching me to see things with an open mind and sparking off a permanent case of wanderlust.

Travel changes us in ways that most things cannot. It challenges us to push our limits, re-examining our long-held thoughts and perceptions. We learn to shift our priorities, gaining a newfound appreciation for our planet, ourselves and the people we leave behind at home. Travel allows us to experience the richness of place, but most of all, it is about being touched and inspired by those we meet along the way.

39 Comments Post a comment
  1. That’s lovely, James. I’m heading to Myanmar in a few weeks and for me that is truly “further beyond.” I’ll try to channel you when I’m taking pics. You’re work is wonderful!

    November 9, 2012
    • Thank you, Lyssa. Myanmar is one of those countries I’m hoping to visit in the next few years – my father was there some 10 years ago and he still recommends it to this day!

      November 9, 2012
  2. Great way to put things in perspective! I always have the right words to describe a situation, it’s greatly appreciated and yes, Travelling is the food of the soul (however cliché that might sound) and it’s great to never stop.

    Know, James, that it’s my turn to nominate you for an award! The Wonderful Team Member Readership Award! Read here for more details about spreading it

    Have a wonderful journey!

    November 30, 2012
    • Merci beaucoup Jul! I’m honoured to have your nomination for the award, although I do feel it’s undeserved – to be honest I haven’t been keeping up to date with your blog in recent weeks… better get to it when I find the time!

      December 7, 2012
      • ahahaha doesn’t matter! you’ve been busy. I don’t count in recent weeks, I count in general! 😉 and any complimentory award is always well-earned! Have a great day!

        December 7, 2012
  3. I absolutely agree with what you say about travel – I have travelled all my life (am now 60+) from childhood in Africa to Europe, to the USA, to London – though I did get stuck there for 25 yrs! – and for the past three years I have been living in China. I count myself very fortunate to have seen so much, to have been able to re-calibrate my life and my thoughts. My adult kids are doing the same! Delighted to have found your blog via Freshly Pressed, you are welcome to visit mine and see how an older lady finds living in Beijing!

    May 31, 2013
    • I can see why you would get stuck in London for 25 years – there’s just so much to see and do in that great city, and with all those connections from its three major airports (or is it four?), it’s a wonderful base for exploring Europe and places farther afield.

      I’d love to read about your experiences living in Beijing. Having been there many times since childhood, it’s remarkable to see the city change and grow with each visit. I was there for a week last February, revisiting all the historic landmarks that I loved as a child.

      June 4, 2013
  4. A truly wonderful blog. I am so glad I’ve found it/you through Alison and Don’s blog. The last paragraph you’ve written above has truly moved me. Travel does indeed change us.

    June 13, 2013
    • Thank you Angeline, I’m happy that those words really resonated with you.

      June 21, 2013
  5. Mo #

    Hi James, Great to find your blog and lovely eloquent writing, beautiful pictures. It sounds like your parents took you on plenty of adventures as a boy – as parents taking our kids on a big world adventure, its lovely to see how much you still have a passion for what is out there in the world and you’re still exploring as an adult.
    Also love seeing some of your lovely sketches, and was admiring them with my art loving 8 year old – how do you get them so well only your blog so they don’t just look like a photo of a page? Mo

    July 19, 2013
    • Hi Mo, you’re absolutely right. I can’t thank my parents enough for all the opportunities to travel during school holidays – my father especially has a passion for history and geography so that was passed down to us at an early age. Now I’m pushing the boundaries and going places that leave the parents more than a touch worried (I am about to climb a 3,700m / 12,000ft volcano after all!). What a joy that your family is on a grand RTW adventure, there is only so much you can learn in the classroom and the kids are being exposed to so many wonders that most only begin to see in their twenties!

      As for the sketches, I had them scanned with a home printer so that makes a big difference in the quality. Thanks for your kind words! James

      July 19, 2013
      • Mo #

        Hi James,
        Thanks for replying! Hmm, makes me think of our 10 year old already planning to explore S America on a motorbike! I am sure I will also worry when my kids are travelling independently in a decade or so! Easier not to worry when you’re travelling along rather than left at home! I Good luck with that volcano climb! Sounds awesome. Mo

        July 21, 2013
  6. James,
    a really beautiful explanation of how travel can change all of us. I believe that even more firmly now that I have children. I am so happy I found your blog. You have a loyal follower.

    August 4, 2013
    • Thank you Hilary! I just had a look at your blog and it’s admirable that you choose to travel with the kids in tow – parenting and fulfilling that wanderlust both at the same time. Best of luck on your future journeys!

      August 4, 2013
  7. In six months I shall change my life completely. I’m not a young woman, nor probably even middle aged. At times I’m intensely excited by the prospect of selling all and taking (solo) to the roads of Europe in a motorhome to see places I have dreamed of, at other times I’m scared almost to petrification. I’ve not heard the St Augustine quote before (not a fan of his thanks to his views on women) and am surprised to find inspiration in it. Also inspirational is your explanation of Plus Ultra. Thank you.

    August 27, 2013
    • I would say that you’re never too old to travel – age is really just a number! Some of the travellers I admire most in the blogosphere are in their 60s and 70s, who choose to live the nomadic life while they still have the means to do so. Safe travels and good luck with your motorhome adventures!

      August 28, 2013
  8. Hi James,
    you have a fantastic blog, rich of subjects and pictures. I think exactly like you: travel is a fantastic thing.
    Come to see my blog, if you have few minutes. I just add yours, to my favorites!

    September 12, 2013
    • Grazie mille Paolo – the next time I’m in Europe I really must explore more of Italy. Your photos are gorgeous!

      September 15, 2013
  9. Very interesting! A great blog, I could not agree more!

    February 12, 2014
  10. So, there I was thinking that there were no other travel type blogs that really entered into the whole philosophy of travel and I stumbled across your blog. Fantastic. At the moment I am blogging as an exercise for my communications degree, but I do intend to carry on after this unit finishes. I love the quote from Saint Augustine. So true. I am always trying to convince friends to leave Australia and do some travel because of what it brings to your life. The one thing that I found was that we are all different at yet the same. People can become quite xenophobic when they don’t travel outside of their own country, if they only did they would find all the things we have in common rather than fear the differences. Thanks for being there and I will continue to follow your blog.

    May 20, 2014
    • I couldn’t agree more, silentgalah. I think people who have the means to travel miss out on so much by choosing to stay put in one place. And even when we immerse ourselves in a country wildly different from our own, with unfamiliar customs and cultural practices, our common humanity remains in full focus. It is all too easy to fear the stranger in a home environment; but once you play the stranger on the road, that fear simply dissolves.

      May 22, 2014
  11. That is a great name for a travel blog and philosophy on life. I look forward to reading through your blog now that I am back in the worLd of Internet.

    December 5, 2014
    • Thank you, Jeff. I really enjoy the humour you bring to your blog – not to mention the photos!

      December 5, 2014
  12. I am happy I found your site. I will look forward to seeing where your courage takes you.

    December 28, 2014
    • Thanks for the encouragement. Hopefully I will someday get to visit the mesas of Arizona.

      December 28, 2014
  13. Awesome frame of mind, buddy, love the adventurousness! Keep up the travels, I did half a year in SEA in 2013, headed to Peru in March…can’t wait to read more about your experiences!

    January 21, 2015
    • Ah, Peru – I would love to go there someday! Thanks for the comment Darcy, I hope you’ll find some inspiration here for your future trips!

      January 21, 2015
  14. Wow, what a great motto to have. I look forward to reading more about your travels 🙂

    April 19, 2015
    • It is a bit obscure but that motto really spoke to me. If the domain “” wasn’t already taken I would have had made it the address of this blog! 🙂

      April 21, 2015
  15. First of all, congratulation for Freshly Pressed, where I found your blog by chance. I have the same point by meeting who those along the way. Traveling is not only about visiting places but also meeting people coming with different background and cultures that can give me more insights and perspectives about the life. Looking forward for your next posts.


    May 11, 2015
    • Thank you so much, Nurul. When I originally published that post on Palembang, I did have the thought, “wouldn’t it be nice if this was Freshly Pressed?” So it was a wonderful surprise to find out that it really happened. I have written many posts on Indonesia (hands down my favourite country) and this was the first time one was selected – it really meant a lot to me.


      May 11, 2015
  16. I’m glad I came across your blog, it’s fantastic and most beautiful. I will follow you on your journeys

    June 7, 2017
    • Much appreciated, Cornelia – thank you for the kind words.

      June 8, 2017
  17. Well worded philosophy of travel. I share your sentiments and I’m pleased to have found your blog!

    December 4, 2020
    • Glad you like what you see! I must also have a look at your blog… isn’t this such a great way to escape (at least virtually) from a Covid lockdown?

      December 4, 2020

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Travel changes … | racheltattersall
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