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.
Living on the Razor’s Edge
Becoming Beautiful in a 140 Character World
Growing Pains from Traveling at the Speed of Light
A Perfect Backpacker’s Prayer
*Image of Scotra via Harf Zimmermann for The New York Times.
Charlie, this is so well written and expressed. You really did justice to that feeling of not only wanderlust, but of the “traveler attitude.” I’m so glad I found your blog today 🙂
I think these tendencies are not just in travelers but are heightened and continually reinforced due to our traveling ways. Its not a bad way to approach life. 🙂
It’s nice to know that I’m not the only person who thinks and acts backwards.
Doing things the hard way is such a rush. I’m constantly making plans, and then look for a challenging way to make those plans happen. When I’m doing it, I dream of a quiet place to relax and take it easy. When I finish, I forget about relaxing and look for the next challenge! 😉
There is nothing backwards about you sister! Just because we like it hard doesn’t mean that its backwards. Can you blame us for wanting to live and taste everything?
you problably know already there is a woman flying cargo on a DC10 or 9 (or 4, numbers always evade me, a last great war bomber)in South america jungle. She might be able teach you a thing or 2 with flying in crazy condition.
best wishes and Bye bye, time to fly out,its late.
ps. She might be dead, my info are usually out posted dates by sale.
That sounds awesome! If I am ever in need of a co-pilot, I will be sure to give you a shout! 🙂
Lady…you have a way with words…and with the men. 🙂
Loved this…even though it does describe me as strange; because strangely – I view that as a compliment!
Hello Ms Strange! There is something comforting about having your inner insanity confirmed / echoed by someone else right? So glad that I get to be strange and wander in the world with your good company.
It’s always nice to receive this confirmation from other wanderers that we all have a similar way of viewing the world and life in general. There’s always a moment when I wonder – Does this person think I’m nuts? – when talking with new people but I’m starting to realize that is an irrational fear. Chances are, if I’m sitting down talking to someone I met through the travel community, they’re equally, if not more, nuts than I am. Glad we were able to meet up!
Dear Deral, No I don’t think you are nuts. If you are ever in doubt of your sanity, just check in with me, @ottsworld or @legalnomad and we will be sure to confirm your wanderlust. However, I must warn you, this might be a bit of the blind leading the blind. Great to spend the day with you and we shall rendezvous again soon.
Great inthsig! That’s the answer we’ve been looking for.
Really enjoyed this post and also love that two people I care about met and hung out in NY! The ways of wanderers are always in flux, but through it all we manage to make those connections that matter. Safe travels C.
I think the way us perpetual travelers stay connected and involved with each other is really remarkable. It says a lot about friendship, connection and a new level of engagement in friendship / relationships. It almost reminds me of the bygone era where all one had as the post service and handwritten letters.
Hi Charlie, I love your creative tweets. Enjoyed this article on travel too. My wife and I have been in Socotra. Here is a link to my Facebook album on that trip. I really recommend making that trip, people are very friendly, we didn’t see any pirates…
Keep on exploring the world, and yourself.
Thanks so much for sharing your photos. I love them. UGH! I wish I was there right now. What made you and your wife want to head to Socotra? Tell me more….
Nicely written Charlie! It’s refreshing to read more stories like this and know there are others on the same page.
We had the pleasure of finally meeting Earl in NYC just a few weeks back and had similar conversations (albeit not concluding with getting pilots licenses to fly private cargo into Africa 😉 Too bad that we couldn’t connect while we were there… Another time maybe 🙂
Best of luck in the Mongol Rally this year. We’ll be following you!
Thanks for reading. It is always great to meet those who are on the same trajectory. I know both Earl and I have moments when we think we are insane and yet find comfort in companies fellow travelers and realize we are not strange to each other. Stay tuned for the Rally madness…Less than 3 months to go!
I loved this article. I laughed while reading this because I did a mental scan for my passport. All is right with the world.
See, that instinct is well hone isn’t it?! 🙂
I like the question posed of “bondage or bonding”. Because ow matter how you proudly label yourself as ‘Strange’. It still comes down to “WE are a strange breed”. Noone wants to be so strange that they’re alone.
We all need to feel like we belong. And maybe one day we might choose to belong somewhere else. In what form that takes, time shall tell.
That is a great insight. We still want to belong no matter how individualized we are. There are always subsets within subsets. I think the thing to remember is that we are constantly changing and evolving which means that the subset we belong to, identify w/ are constantly in flux as well.