I travel not to arrive, but to leave. To leave the familiar things and commonplace trinkets that litter my life is to become unhinged, like a boat that slips its mooring, unnoticed until dawn reveals that it is gone, off around the headland or beyond the horizon.
My wife and I agree that we have not travelled nearly frequently or widely enough during our three-plus decades of marriage. That’s what happens when two people get hitched at ridiculously tender ages and commence, immediately, to do their part for global population growth.
No branch of literature romanticizes the comings and goings of dutiful partners, raising and educating children, growing older, and becoming grandparents. But the bookshelves are full of odes to both the outward and inner travelers among us.
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things,” the writer Henry Miller once said.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness,” Mark Twain penned.
As for St. Augustine, that reformed reprobate, he observed that “the world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
He was right, of course. He still is. That’s what bugs me, and always has.
How can I call myself a writer when I haven’t really been anywhere, when I haven’t inserted myself into another country, another culture, long enough to start missing my own bed?
That’s not strictly true. I’ve been to Europe and to the United States. I’ve travelled right across Canada, from coast to coast and back again. I’ve had a hot dog in Victoria and cod cheeks in St. John’s.
Still, somehow these excursions have seemed exceptional, like the odd Christmas present you honestly appreciate. To be in the wind as a way of life; this has always intrigued me.
“Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travellers don’t know where they’re going. . .You go away for a long time and return a different person – you never come all the way back. . .The wish to travel seems to me characteristically human: the desire to move, to satisfy your curiosity or ease your fears, to change the circumstances of your life, to be a stranger, to make a friend, to experience an exotic landscape, to risk the unknown.”
The musings are those of Paul Theroux, one of my favourite novelists and travel writers. His books, The Great Railway Bazaar and Riding the Iron Rooster, about his journeys in Asia, compelled me to consider quitting my job at the Globe and Mail in the mid-1980s and hop a slow boat to China, there presumably to find my ch’i.
Two decades later, I settled for a fairly elaborate (and, I thought, quite workable) scheme to live and work in the world via motor home – but not just any motor home.
At that time, my wife and I decided to pool the resources we had accumulated over the years (by not letting a bank give us a mortgage on a house) and plow them into a state-of-the-art, mobile command and control centre, a sort of freelance writing, broadcasting and blogging factory on wheels.
In it, we would circle the world, reporting on what we saw and who met in an endless travelogue, earning a living from media markets – which, we were sure, would trip over themselves for our stuff – in every country we visited.
In the end, the plan proved unfeasible. For various reasons, the timing wasn’t right. Still, we never quite abandoned the basic principle of travelling as a way of life. And as the years passed, we began to formulate an alternate approach.
This Christmas, we will be heading to New York City. While there, we will do all of the classic touristy stuff – Empire State Building, Central Park. But we will also seek out the “other” Big Apple, the city that even many New Yorkers fail to notice in the less-trodden neighbourhoods.
Two years ago, again at Christmas, we did London, England, this way. Two years hence, with any luck, we’ll do Rome.
If we get good at this, the adventures will pay for themselves. Our dispatches from the front lines of conviviality and culture will find their way into what remains of the world’s travel press.
What’s important is the effort. How can you know when you’ve arrived, if you never leave?