The Serendipity of Travel & Where Serendipity Began – Sri Lanka

Serendipity and Travel go hand in hand

When I wrote a post a few years ago asking

What does Travel Mean to You?

I said:

“I love travel’s unexpected delights and the Serendipity of it” 🙂

Just as it’s inevitable that we encounter new places, new food and new people on our travels – It’s inevitable that we also encounter unexpected delights that cross our paths no matter how well structured our itinerary may be!
And when it comes down to it –

It’s the serendipity that makes the trip.
It’s the serendipitous encounters that are the most memorable.

But do you know where this wonderful word – Serendipity – originates?

Serendip is the Persian and Urdu name of Sri Lanka.
In 1557 ‘The Three Princes of Serendip’ was a fairytale published in Venice by Michele Tramezzino.

Three Princes

Nearly two hundred years later the prolific letter writer Horace Walpole (son of the first British Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole) put pen to paper where he declared he’d made a heraldic discovery “of that kind which I call Serendipity”.
So, on 28th January 1754 the word ‘serendipity’ entered the English language for the very first time.

He explained that he’d derived the term from the fairytale as:

The Three Princes of Serendip
“were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of”


It was not till the early 1900’s that the word ‘serendipity’ gained acceptance and could be found in dictionaries –

  • By 1958 the term ‘serendipity’ was found in print just 135 times –
  • Between 1958 and 2000 it was used in 57 book titles
  • In the 1990’s it appeared in newspapers 13,000 times
  • And by 2001 appeared on 636,000 Internet pages.
  • Today, when I put ‘serendipity’ into a search engine I got over 6 million references!

I think one can safely say that serendipity is now a part of our common everyday language!

Sri Lanka map named Sarandib

Map by Muhammad al-Idrisi, 1154 (facing south) showing Sri Lanka named Sarandib – Detail from The Tabula Rogeriana


I love John Barth’s use of the term in his book The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor (1991):

“You don’t reach Serendip by plotting a course for it. You have to set out in good faith for elsewhere and lose your bearings serendipitously.”


What serendipitous encounters have you enjoyed on your travels?
Do share in the comments below 🙂

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29 thoughts on “The Serendipity of Travel & Where Serendipity Began – Sri Lanka

    • Serendipity is such a fun word and so synonymous with travel I too was fascinated by my findings –
      Hopefully one day I’ll serendipitously find myself visiting its namesake 🙂

  1. My most serendipitous travel experience was running into a friend on a side street in Cuzco, Peru in 1982. He wasn’t even supposed to be in Cuzco and we somehow ended up in the same place at the same time. It makes you wonder how many people you just missed running into in this world.

    • I find it so extraordinary out of all the sq km there are in the world and all the billions of people that cover it that two people who know each other could ever conceivably bump into each other in a place miles from home!
      I actually wrote a post about Serendipitous Encounters on the Road a few years ago and was amazed by the number of stories that surfaced –
      I can feel a major hypothesis coming on as to How and Why… 😉

  2. I loved this post! Travel is filled with serendipitous discoveries; that’s probably why it is satisfying.

    When you examine many of your friendships, they turn out to be serendipitous too!

    • I think when we travel we become even more open to serendipitous encounters than when we’re in our daily routines –
      But your analogy re friendships is spot on – You wouldn’t believe how I met my husband, or discovered my life’s work of cartography! 🙂

  3. Interesting about the origin of the word “serendipity”. Surprised that by 1954 they only came up with 135 press mentions. NYC’s beloved Serendipity 3 (the place where I first heard the word and fell in love with it- one of my favorite words) opened in 1954 and it’s still going strong.

    • Serendipity 3 was obviously ahead of the pack when they opened and named their business back in 1954 –
      And the fact they’re still going strong shows they’ve continued to stay ahead in their game, maybe even with a little serendipity! 😉

  4. This is a word that really is worthy of reminiscing through past occasions. One serendipitous moment was: My son decided to learn Russian for no definite reason, other than meeting Russian acrobats during his laser work in the entertainment field. Five years later he met and married the love of his life – Natalia (born in Russia) and, fortunately for us, is bilingual.

    • I think its such a wonderful story –
      And an interesting reminder how language is forever evolving to better serve our means to communicate 🙂

  5. Hi Linda,

    So interesting to read the origins of this brilliant word! I agree serendipity or random wanderings and encounters are the best part of travel. I think it goes to show why we should avoid over-scheduling our travels and taking tours! Those serendipitous encounters just don’t happen if you plan too much and stick to a preordained schedule.
    Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot recently posted..Awesome Aussie Outhouses: 5 Places to Pee Before You Die!My Profile

    • The unexpected delights of travel are definitely the most fun and I agree is the lure of travel to me as well ~
      But it takes two to tango and does also need ‘you’ to be open to those serendipitous opportunities when they present themselves 🙂

  6. This is the second blog post about serendipity I’ve come across this week. How’s that for an example of serendipity? I love when serendipity happens at any time, but especially when traveling.

  7. Serendipitous moment : We used to joke that no matter where we were we would bump into customers from when we owned a business in Vancouver. We were in Cinque Terre one summer, when we heard someone call our name. It was one of our old customers!

    • Isn’t it bizarre?
      That given the size of the world and the potential space we are scattered across that someone we have known from the narrow number of encounters we have experienced, in proportion to the billions of people on earth, we end up in the same place – at the same time – miles from home!
      I love the serendipity of travel 😉
      This post of Serendipitous Encounters on the Road recounts a few similar experiences!

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