It is not worth the while to go round the world to count the cats in Zanzibar.

This statement from the “Conclusion” of Walden illustrates another debt on Thoreau’s part to the American Transcendentalist school of his philosophical mentor, Ralph Waldo Emerson. In Emerson’s influential essay “Self-Reliance,” which Thoreau’s Walden project could be said to put into practice, Emerson makes the assertion that “travel is a fool’s paradise,” and that it is far more useful to change one’s soul than to change one’s landscape. The fool who thinks that his life will change on a trip to Europe is shocked and disappointed to discover, after unpacking his suitcase on arrival, that he is still in the same tedious company of himself. For Emerson the futility of travel is simply a consequence of his belief in the centrality of the self—the depth and health of the soul—in all human affairs. Thoreau inherits this same belief, downgrading the usual glamour of international travel (in this case to Zanzibar, off the coast of East Africa) with the ridiculous enterprise of counting felines. The point of this mockery is to point to a better alternative to African voyages. As he intimates earlier when he ironically notes that he has traveled a lot in Concord, Thoreau insists that the most valuable kind of travel occurs without leaving one’s hometown: the inward voyage of soul-searching.