I meet up with WanderingEarl for a cup of coffee, as he happens to be in NYC. As perpetual travelers, we circle around one another as if we are electrons and the known world the nucleus, eventually rounding upon each other for a brief moment or two. We track each other down from city to city, rendezvous here, there, everywhere. Occasionally our paths collide and we keep each other company, traveling in parallel for a little while.
Travelers respond to certain words differently.
When the word “passport,” is mentioned, Earl automatically touches his pocket to make sure his passport is on him and safe. Whereas I, your favorite spy, scan my apartment in my mind’s eye and find mine sitting safely in its hiding spot. Phew. As long as we know where our passports are, all is well in the world.
Travelers understand surrender and the illusion of control.
When asked, “where to next,” we often shrug and give some vague reply about where we have friends and what is possible. As travelers we know that where we will be tomorrow, next week, or next month is all theoretical and a best guess, in most cases. Once you are on the road, as we are, you understand that very few things are within your control. You cannot predict the bus, train, ferry, boat, embassy schedule. You board last minute flights and you end up spending the night in all kinds of strange places. Everything ends well….most of the time, and you are happy for all the crazy stories between the plan you laid out and how the plan was actually carried out. Earl sits across from me and tells me how he wouldn’t be surprised if he
didn’t ends up back in Romania by mid-week, as he should but woke up in Tokyo instead. “This might be as close to Zen as one gets,” he says.
I smile empathetically, “I usually feel the same, but something happens once you stay put in one place for too long. It tricks you into thinking that you have more control than you do.”
Travelers like it hard.
Earl and I talk about the next great adventure, me, The Mongol Rally; but the Prague kickoff is not until July 15th and I am dying to leave (my last major Trip was India). I would love a short trip somewhere between now and then. The strange breed that we are, we all talk about the next “hard” country, the next “challenging” trip. I’ve yet to sit down to a conversation with a traveler and talk about where we could go that would be fun and easy. Now, this is not necessarily a symptom from which only travelers suffer. Hugh MacLeod and I talk about being on the “edge” often: how to get ourselves there and how to keep on pushing ourselves so that we are always at our edge.
Yet, in the vernacular of the traveling soul, we are constantly looking for the next challenge, be it a war torn country, an insane car rally, or ridiculous set of parameters (such as traveling on foot). The edge is the thing we are always looking for. Maybe we are natural adrenaline junkies and we are constantly craving the next fix, the next bit of wow, but we continuously search for the edge with a passion that is unlike any other.
Travelers say YES.
Earl asks, “Have you heard of the Island of Socotra in Yemen? It is a land like no other and Alice in Wonderland pales in comparison.” Off the Horn of Africa, Socotra is in the middle of Somalia and Yemen, smack in the middle of pirate activities. Does that stop us for a second? No, instead, Earl and I make a pact that as soon as Yemen starts to issue tourist visas again, we will rendezvous and go to Socotra. “How about getting our pilot’s licenses and fly private cargo planes in Africa?” I ask. Earl says YES!
After you’ve been on the road long enough and seen enough crazy shit, nothing seems impossible anymore. “Yes,” becomes the only answer because you understand that everything is possible.
Then I ask a hard question…
We are always looking for the next challenge, the next destination…. One day we will run out of war torn nations, pirate infested islands, mountains to climb and distances to cover in small vehicles. Could the ultimate adventure be settling down in one place and not heeding the siren’s song? Earl and I look at each other in silent horror. *Yikes*
Is our inner heart, which is constantly in search of confirmation of our own freedom, the final frontier? Is that the truth of all truths and the country with the strictest visa application?
Are we seeking freedom from or freedom to, and how do we turn bondage into bonding?
Perpetual travelers are a strange breed. I can’t help but think that we’ve been reverse engineered. Though these traits are also characteristics in other breeds as well, they are so prominent in the traveler breed it seems that evolution has forced them to the forefront, made them into the largest organs and most distinctive habits. I am proud to be a part of this subspecies and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
*Image of Scotra via Harf Zimmermann for The New York Times.