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Welcome to the online blog for traveler/writer/photographer Steven Barber. Come in. Relax. Take off your shoes and socks -- or any other article of clothing, this is the internet. Have a look around. I hope to intrigue, amuse, entertain, and maybe provoke you just a little. I love to find adventure. All I need is a change of clothes, my Nikon, an open mind and a strong cup of coffee.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013


"The Journey Itself Is My Home"

                                               - Matsuo Basho

The key for me, I think, to finding the very best of travel destinations can be summed up in one newly-minted word: Wanderability.

Linguists will have to decide what kind of verb that is, but it's apparently a word I've just coined which I will define as (in self-explanatory wonder) "the ability of a place to be wandered".

It's second cousin to the better-known "Wanderlust", a word which spends much of its time looking for what *I* call Wanderability (got that?). It's different from the term "walkability" in that it doesn't need to have an end destination, no commuting a person from A to Z and in fact just the opposite of that -- Wanderability suggests an aimlessness of purpose.

Wanderability differs from "Wanderable" in that it connotes not just an area which can be walked, but an area which can be explored. It indicates a desire to go into that area and just spend time there, checking things out and generally enjoying or "experiencing" the surroundings. And its this discovery of the meaning of the word which now informs most of our travel planning. There are places we've been that invite you to wander, so seek, to explore, and others than want you to stop, stay and spend money. Years ago I used to talk about my early morning photo expeditions, which I took to calling "going walkabout". I'd grab my cameras and literally wander the streets shooting pictures as they woke up. You learn a lot about a place before its had its morning coffee, believe me. In its way, my old tradition of going walkabout was an exploration into the Wanderability of a particular destination. 

Essentially: Is a place fascinating enough to grab your attention and let you just explore? Do you WANT to go out onto the streets and take a look around. Does it engage you to the point of distraction? If so, its got the appeal necessary to be considered "wanderable", and therefore a high Wanderability quotient.

Wanderability also suggests an ease of use. That the casual visitor will find enough things to occupy them, as well as being imminently walkable. Los Angeles, for example, is not walkable. As a friend of mine, television and film writer James Moran, once described it: 

Walking. Not wandering. 
"London is like a dinner plate, and getting a minicab from one end to the other can be 30, 40, 50 quid at the most, during the day. That would have been fine, but Los Angeles isn't like a dinner plate. It's like a 57-piece dinner service, spread out over a football field, with long bamboo poles connecting some of the pieces. The poles are the freeways, which you have to use, and if you step on the football field grass, you explode. Or something. Anyway, it's staggeringly big and complicated."

London, as we know, is imminently walkable. It's big, it's as vast as LA in many ways, but you can walk from point A to point Z and be stimulated all the way. You can also hop the Tube and get to many other equally walkable neighborhoods. LA has walkable sections, but is not designed for that kind of access. It has areas of wanderability, but is not, in and of itself, a wanderable city.

Strolling the streets of Manhattan can occupy days and even weeks. Downtown Atlanta: not so much. Boulder, Colorado and areas surrounding it are wanderable in extremis

I've written more than once about our disappointment with Monaco. Monaco, specifically Monte Carlo, has virtually no wanderability. It's not designed for it and doesn't invite the stranger to even attempt it. Hills, heavy traffic, few really walkable streets -- and those that are don't possess the kind of attraction to get you to leave the car behind and saunter. Monte Carlo is a city of restaurants and destination stores. Of hotels who cater to people who want to escape the world in a pristine surrounding and not to get their feet or hands or faces dirty with the dust of a city block. (For some people, this is fine. They spend their lives in First Class cabins and elegant spas, returning home to tell their friends they've "experienced" Europe.)

Las Vegas has a very high Wanderability factor. (Some of you will need to pick yourselves off the floor. I will wait a moment.) Why is Vegas wanderable and Monte Carlo not? Aren't they two sides of the same coin? No, not really.

Yes, Vegas has huge buildings all designed to pickpocket you the instant you walk through the door, appeal to your sense of leisure and entitlement. The attraction is desire and money and self-indulgence. And there's nothing at all wrong with that, if that's what you're after in a trip. But Vegas also boasts a terrific number of sights which are, for the casual observer, free. Fascinating. Wanderable. Each of the casino hotels is itself a standalone, wanderable and interesting destination. Unlike Monte Carlo, where wandering is frowned upon, Las Vegas entices the visitor to do just that. One of my favorite "wanders" is from one end of the massive Caesars Palace complex to the other, encompassing the entirety of the hotel, the classic shopping district, the main casino floor and both winds of the tremendous Forum Shoppes complex. This one destination is good for hours of wandering and people watching.

Wanderability has less to do with the style of a destination than the character of it. The Vieux Carre in New Orleans scores highly for Wanderability. As does Manhattan's Village. Washington DC has Georgetown and The Mall (if you're an outdoor wanderer). Miami itself isn't as wanderable as South Beach. Santa Fe is wonderfully wanderable, but perhaps surprisingly its distant cousin Sedona is quite a bit less so. Phoenix is not. So there's really no central guideline other than "do you want to walk around and explore". If your reaction is "explore what?", chances are the area you're in is low on the Wanderability score. But if you cannot wait to get out, walk around and see what's around the next corner, you've found yourself a gem. 

(I should hasten to add that Walkable only applies to part of Wanderability. Driving, maundering, is also a form of Wanderability when the purpose is to see, not just to get from A to Z. Rocky Mountain National Park has a high Wanderability quotient, as does Tuscany in Italy. In each case it's the view from the windows followed by an exit and exploration which provide the key difference. I've ridden trains through Florence, for example, but not having gotten off it'd be misleading to say I've "been to Florence". Likewise, I've stopped over in Minneapolis but never left the airport. Not exactly "been there, done that".)

Exploration, Wanderability are the key. Getting out, getting around, seeing things from the street level and breathing in the scents -- good and bad -- of the air not distilled by air conditioning and perfume. Take=ing you out of the familiar, the known and outing you smack in the middle of another place. Kicking back while sipping a cup of local tea; taking photographs of people and scenes unique to where you are; tasting the local cuisine and specialties; watching the haggling at a local farmer's market. Registering the value of a place that's not your own, where you're the stranger and you're the fish out of water.

And that's the real purpose of travel, isn't it? To see those things you cannot necessarily find around the corner back home.

Gimme some Wanderability and I'm happy. Otherwise, I might just as well never leave the house. Travel is about broadening our experience, not about reinforcing the comfortable and comforting. If your intent is to seal yourself up behind windows of a car and the indulgent walls of a spa, then find one not to far from the house and save yourself booth expense and time.

My new word. Wanderability. I like it.

Grab your shoes...

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