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Traveling is the art of using the One Power to transport over vast distances nearly instantaneously through a portal called Gateway. https://wot.fandom.com/wiki/Traveling

In the books, it is vital for the person who wants to Travel to be familiar with the location they are travelling from, not where they are travelling to.

This seems to be counter to logic. Why can't channellers simply go from A to B without this restriction - how does it help the story to have it?

Question

Is the reason for this explained anywhere in-world? If not, can anyone tell me why such a condition would be important for the story or what the logic of it could be.

  • Rand asks exactly the same question at one point. Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure the response was completely unhelpful. – Nolimon Apr 25 '19 at 18:34
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Rand muses on this question before learning to Travel

In any case, traveling required that you know your starting point very well. It seemed more logical to him that you should have to know where you were heading well, but Asmodean seemed to think that was asking why air was not water. There was a great deal Asmodean took for granted.

The Fires of Heaven, chapter 6, Gateways

Asmodean's response isn't terribly satisfying. Perhaps it's very obvious why once you understand the underlying principles, perhaps Asmodean has had a long time to become accustomed to the answer, or perhaps he was never curious about it.

However, Rand does give us some explanations of how Traveling works after he figures it out:

He had no way to describe what he did except as making a fold in the Pattern, a hole through it.

Lord of Chaos, chapter 3, A Woman's Eyes

He took the end of her shawl in both hands. "The Pattern," he said. "Caemlyn," one finger on his left hand tented the wool, "and Cairhien." A finger on the other hand made a tent, and he brought the two tents together. "I bend the Pattern and bore a hole from one to the other. I don't know what I bore through, but there's no space between one end of the hole and the other."

LoC, chapter 27, Gifts

Again, no real explanation for knowing the start is offered. It seems to be a magical fact that the hole can only be bored from the starting side.

Traveling with Saidar works quite differently. Egwene makes a good guess:

She thought the way would be to create-a similarity seemed the only way to describe it-a similarity between the between the real world and its reflection in the World of dreams. That should make a place where it was possible to simply step from one to the other.

LoC, chapter 27, Gifts

This idea is close enough to the reality that she makes a Gateway with only minimal explanation from Moghedien

"You make the two places in the Pattern identical."

LoC, chapter 37, When Battle Begins

This likewise doesn't really explain why one needs knowledge of one side in particular.

Out of universe, I've always felt it was a way to have the characters learn the lost powers of ages past more gradually. Skimming is introduced significantly earlier, but nearly disappears once Traveling is rediscovered (Compare the 37 instances of Traveling to the 8 of Skimming listed on TarValon.Net).

The fact that there was once a faster way to go from place to place (that their enemies are actively using) and how nice it would be if they could relearn it is something characters think about quite often, even as they use the Ways, Portal stones, and Skimming to improve on mundane travel.

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  • Solid answer, +1. It may be worth pointing out that they also later "hack" the Traveling restriction by figuring out that you can Travel short distances (e.g. line of sight) without spending the time to learn your starting point, and once you have Traveled to a place, you know it well enough to Travel from it. One of the armies (Egwene's, I think) makes use of this approach, though I'm guessing it's more taxing to the channelers. – Paul Apr 26 '19 at 10:28
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There are two ways of fast travel used in the books, Traveling and Skimming. Traveling, as you point out, requires you to be familiar with where you are, while Skimming requires you to be familiar with where you are going.

This provides a system where there is no ideal way to travel. Traveling is faster (step through the portal, and there you are) and can take you anywhere, but may not be useful as a quick getaway since you probably aren't going to be familiar with every place you want to use it. Skimming is slower but can be used anywhere, although you are somewhat limited in where you can go.

I'm not sure I can give a good in-story reason for why each works the way it does. One can imagine that spacetime in the Wheel of Time universe is structured in such a way to make it true. Local knowledge is sufficient to find the "route" to any point in the world, but otherwise you first have to step into some alternate dimension (I don't recall if Skimming was ever explicitly connected with Tel'aron'rhiod and/or The Ways) where you can open an exit to any remote location you are familiar with.

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