Thursday, February 27, 2014

Travel Logged

I’ve never been able to sit still. Even when forced, my mind would wander in search of something new. I always knew I wanted to travel, even when my greatest expeditions were simple adventures through the woods behind a friend’s house. I didn’t get my first taste of real travel till I was in college, up until then, I had never even left the timezone I was born into, but it didn’t matter:  I knew I wanted it. When I finally got to travel, studying abroad in Rome, it confirmed my lust for the road.

In the eight years since, I have been on three expeditions, one throughout Europe and two around North America. I feel ashamed to admit that I have only traveled to seven countries and 38 contiguous states. When I was 20, I wrote that by 30 I would set foot on each continent, but that goal seems unlikely to be achieved in the allotted time frame. I have slept everywhere from hostels to park benches, tents to train stations, and cars to under a bush.  

I have seen more sunrises while on the road than I think I have in all my other days. It's amazing how quickly you become a morning person when the morning is ripe with possibilities. I love the constant change of travel, the waking up not knowing what you are going to see, what you are going to do and most times even, where you will be sleeping the next night. There is no monotony on the road, and moments best described as “boring” are welcome oases of rest. 

One thing people tell me all the time is they “envy,” what I am doing, or they “wish they could join me.” Samuel Johnson, an essayist from the 18th century once commented about a trip to Giant’s Causeway, a volcanic formation along the coast of Ireland, “Worth seeing, yes; but not worth going to see.” I can’t express how many places I have felt a similar way toward. Travel destroys your body and forces you out of habitual patterns, like eating and sleep:  you either gain or lose an astounding amount of weight, usually doing one before doing the other. You cherish a solid four hours of sleep, and take ten hours to pull together a full eight. Hiking day after day after day makes your legs burn, your shoulders cry out for relief and your feet scream in agony. As Italian poet Cesare Pavese quipped, “Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance.”   

But then you find it, you weren’t sure what it was going to be, because as Lao Tzu said ”A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” And while I’m taking a philosophical quote at face value, it serves a purpose here. You find something magical, something breathtaking, and you let it take your breath and a piece of your soul. There are places that take a piece of your soul, polish it and give it back to you: these are the moments a traveler lives for, everyone lives for. I am constantly asked where I am going next, and while I can usually outline the day’s agenda, beyond that is a mystery to me, as I rarely plan more than one day in advance, and many times change plans as I am moving. Sometimes you get to a place and it’s not what you thought it would be, sometimes it catches you by pleasant surprise, other times it makes you wonder why you ever thought to visit such a place; however, for every one of the latter there are three of the former, a trade off I am willing to make. 

American travel author Paul Theroux wrote, “Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.” Not knowing where you are going is the point of travel, letting the road and your whims take you beyond your own self and into a world unknown, to travel is not only to see the world, but your own reflection. If you haven't seen the world, you haven't seen yourself. The best part is you can never see the world:  it is an ocean, infinite, ever changing and full of mystery. What once was may not be by the time you get back around to it, an endless cycle of new things to see, places to explore, people to meet, and cultures to immerse yourself in. As American author James Michener wrote, ”If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.” 

Most people use travel to get away from their lives:  I use travel to find mine. I feel alive on the road, waking with the sun, sleeping only when my body finally demands it of me. It’s an internal energy I cannot describe, a passion that fills the veins, depletes the spirit and refills it, leaving you new, reborn everyday. With each moment being novel, one is completely entrenched in the moment, having to constantly observe the world around them, unable to fill in the holes with memory, as my favorite author, a man whose body of work has inspired me since the fateful day my mother gave me his book, Neither Here nor There, Bill Bryson once remarked, “To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.”

I wish not to be stagnant, to explore and see as much of the world as possible, and to bestow the blessings of those travels to the world, to share my passion and to one day inspire some kid - who has probably yet to be born - to pack his life into a bag and wander into the world. To travel is to change one’s perspective, to see this world from a new vantage point, both literally and metaphorically.  The goal is not simple to see foreign places, because, as Robert Louise Stevenson said, ““There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign,” but to see your own land, your own customs with a new attitude. “The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land,” as the English author G.K. Chesterton put it. 

I cannot even put into words how difficult it is to come to an end of a journey, to look back and ponder the days of pure freedom of the open road, the world at large. And ending is a strange thing, as Novel Prize winner Selma Lagerlöf said, “It is a strange thing to come home. While yet on the journey, you cannot at all realize how strange it will be.” Your world has changed, the idea of who you are and your place in the world forever altered, but home is still very much the same, the differences a mere reflection of your new outlook. 

To sit still again seems foreign, even wrong, like a wild animal captured and thrown into a cage. At first, the tidings of a warm safe bed, a constant supply of food, and an ample amount of rest seem welcoming, but soon you find yourself staring out a rain soaked window wondering what you are missing. Your mind wanders off, “Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey,” said novelist Pat Conroy. It’s an addiction that needs fed, and like any addiction you build a tolerance, one week was once sufficient, then no less than a month, now it seems a year may be adequate, but soon it takes over your life and it’s all you can think about, all you can dream about and once again you find yourself clawing at the door, begging for release from the shackles of dormancy. 

My yearning to see the world is unceasing and with each new place visited the craving more intense, a never-ending journey not only through the physical, but spiritual. Writer Lillian Smith expresses the true meaning of travel, “I soon realized that no journey carries one far unless, as it extends into the world around us, it goes an equal distance into the world within.” Everyone believes they want to travel, but what most really want to do is experience; something different, something new. One does not have to travel across the world to experience something profound, but it seems we are blinded to the world surrounding our everyday lives, as philosopher Dagobert D. Runes quipped, ““People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home.” There is something majestic in being an outsider, in having no hand at the table, a luxury in being able to observe, unfettered by the confines of presumptions, being able to witness something unfold from afar while being right in the midst of it. 

This is my first journey alone, and it has been eye-opening, I have gone stretches of days without human interaction, and have found that even when the opportunity presents itself I am not eager to indulge in pleasantries. I have found a calm, a way of seeking out the attention from the universe that doesn’t reside in vocalizations, an inner monologue that talks directly to the world. I am not entirely sure where the next chapter will take me, I’m not sure if I have even left the last chapter, only time will show that. Abeyance is not an option, I know that this is not something I can quit, the addiction is no longer one of vice, but of necessity, it is no longer a luxury, but a requisite for life.
All the photography is mine, the quotes are ascribed to their respective authors. Feel free to share these, in fact, I implore you to share these, and thank you for the effort in doing so. 

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