"The [Amazing Race] is all about the enjoyment of entertainment and enjoying their journey.” - Phil Keoghan
I consider myself a reasonably accomplished traveler. Three continents (four this time next year), more than a dozen countries and more than thirty of the United States. And five islands in the Caribbean. But I recognize that compared to the truly elite, this is nothing. And I admit I both respect and envy those people for the opportunity they have, though not all of them understand the difference between going a lot of places, and Traveling.
But what I consider to be well-traveled does not necessarily reflect on those who have covered the most distance. Well-traveled, to me, means that a person has participated in, and appreciated, the local culture. The local "scene" if you will. "Scene" does not refer to nightclubs or fancy restaurants, though those are certainly fun and may be indicative of the local "culture" (if you're in South Beach, for instance).
I've remarked before regarding the tourists visiting New York and yet eating at the Olive Garden in Times Square. There seems little point in going so many miles out of our way simply to find those things that remind us most of home and indulging in them, and yet that is almost precisely what a lot of people do when on the road, particularly overseas.
Traveling, with a capital T, is the practice of getting outside of your comfort zone, accepting that YOU are the foreigner and therefore the one who is out of place. This means grabbing a bite at the local lolo (food cart), and people watching from the town square (or equivalent). For me it means going walkabout early in the morning to see a place just as it's waking up, getting ready for the day -- a local coffee shop or bakery (NOT a Starbuck's) -- is invaluable for this.
A few weeks ago I was talking to a woman from South Africa. She has also lived in Europe, Australia and, currently, in San Diego. You could tell, by her demeanor, that she's a sophisticated traveler. When the subject arose her eyes lit up with the sort of magic that you only encounter in people who truly love a topic.
And that's the key. For you to be a Traveler, capital T, is more than covering a lot of ground. It's a love of what you find at the destinations themselves that determines your status, at least for me in my end of the world.
There is no doubt in my mind that traveling is a privilege.
I vividly remember a day well back in the early '80s, when I was setting out on my first great adventure on my own. Driving Kermit, a less-than-reliable green Triumph TR7, from Washington, DC to Los Angeles via a circuitous route through the South to New Orleans, across Texas to Houston and San Antonio, through New Mexico and Arizona before finding the coast at San Diego and the last leg running up the 5 freeway to LA. Never before had I driven such a distance alone, and wouldn't again (at least so far).
And other than an unfortunate encounter with a faulty alternator and Southern rednecks more than willing to take advantage of a still-wet 20 year old kid, it went remarkably smoothly.
But I remember that morning because it went through my mind that I was headed out to do what I wanted for a week on the road with no need to file papers, go through checkpoints or otherwise keep authorities apprised of my whereabouts. (This was in the depths of the Cold War. I was very conscious of the "evil" Soviet Union and the reported need to carry papers. Not requiring them was a symbol of my "freedom".)
Which brings me to a piece relayed to me by my friend Alan. He, too, is a traveler, having lived and worked in at least three countries by my count. We share a number of like perspectives regarding politics and social mores, much of our thoughts being heavily influenced by our time spent in other cultures.
Alan writes: "I knew a guy back in the UK who did not start to live until age 65. Up until that age he had never had a glass of wine, never left the UK and never had anything but roast beef for Sunday dinner. At 65 a light came on and he became a changed man. I recall him passing his driving test one day so he could buy a car and tour the south of France the following day. Unfortunately he never saw his 70th birthday. He died a rather sad man because he still had so many life events to enjoy."
To me, it's a wonderful thing that this gentleman discovered the world and had at least a short time to explore it. It's devastating that he spent 65 years completely unaware of the things surrounding him, but a late epiphany is better than none at all.
I have another good friend -- named Jim, but not the Jim who accompanies me on my desert road trips -- who is celebrating his 67th birthday today, not much older than Alan's "changed man".
Jim was in a horrific car accident two weeks ago which destroyed the car but -- thankfully -- left him and the driver only slightly bloodied. It rolled some three times after dodging a wrong-way driver as they came around a blind curve in the mountains near Lake Tahoe.
Jim is on a lifelong adventure, not only seeing the world, but experiencing it. And he loves it. You can tell through the glint in his eyes and excitement in his voice. He's been dealt some serious setbacks over the years, had many challenges and lived an interesting life (I'll leave it at that). But he's never let the negatives get him down for too long. Seeing him yesterday, only two weeks after the rollover, and you'd never know he's been in an accident. Ever. He's a healer in others as well, not only in himself. He's a counselor, a therapist and a spiritual guide.
As is probably obvious to you, Jim is a source of life and energy. He is healthier at 67 than I was at 35, and he intends to stay that way. 5 miles a day walking (on average), and an hour of yoga. He did a triathlon a year ago, coming in second in his category. Next year he's hiking Mount Kilimanjaro.
If Alan's friend is a cautionary tale, Jim's story is one of example.
As long time readers of this column know I am an advocate of Phil Keoghan's No Opportunity Wasted. This story is one reason why it's so important to me that I set out specific goals and plan for their accomplishment. This next year will see me finish losing the weight I so badly need to lose (down 45 pounds, with the same left to go). This will enable me to zipline across the mountains in Whistler, Canada, this fall. It will also make snorkling -- or, preferably, Snuba-ing -- The Great Barrier Reef much more comfortable a little less than a year from now.
Watching the Travel Channel isn't the same as being somewhere. I've done enough, gone enough places, that a game I play is seeing how many of the "Top 10" destinations I've been whenever anyone decides to create such a list. Most of the time I do pretty well, marking at least a quarter of them -- which is good, it means I have a lot of things yet to see, but haven't been too much of a laggard according to most yardsticks.
It's the adventure, the experience, of being someplace that isn't home. Remarkably, by finding and experiencing such things it makes me more and more fond of my own little part of the world. Millions of people visit Southern California every year and there's a reason for it. Locals tend to take it for granted, and that's a shame. I'm sure it's the same for you in your neck of the woods (wherever you may be). Traveling gives us an appreciation of what we have, and perhaps a way to make it a little better if that's what we want.
But it's the difference in perspective, in experience, which makes the world such a fascinating place to visit. Don't wait until you're 65 to get started, and if you've already started -- strongly probably if you're reading a travel column -- you need to ramp it up.
Somebody grab the keys, we're going on a road trip.
|Get away from the familiar -- experience the world on its terms, not yours|