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Map Gazing

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SUCHITOTO, El Salvador- The following maps represent the countries of the world where Chaya, Petra, and myself have so far set foot in. It is a joyful preoccupation to sit back and gaze into maps, daydreaming about the road by which I had come, and to ponder about which roads I have yet to take.


Wade’s travels.


Chaya’s travels.


Petra’s travels.

From what I can tell, in almost 11 years I have hardly even put a dent into traveling through this planet. White still dominates these maps, there are still, and hopefully always will remain, plenty of white countries in the decades of travel that lie before us. It seems to me as if I have traveled extensively, but this map tells me that there are still 150 countries that I have not penetrated the borders of, not including all those islands, protectorates, and territories that do not measure up to the UN’s definition of a country. I say that I have traveled, but more than 75% of the world still lies before me. It is clear to me that I’ve picked an occupation that will never run dry.

As the above maps tell, I have never been to keen on traveling in a straight path. If I were to trace the routes that I have traveled these past 10 years, I would have a sheet of paper full of zag zags, stunted starts, and plenty of return voyages. It has been a defining action in my travels to return to places I have already visited. I have visited China three times and stayed for over a year in total, India twice for 8 months, Japan twice, Ecuador three times, Chile twice, France and Spain twice a piece, I visited Hungary two times, Thailand the same amount, this is my third journey through Central America, and it is looking as if I should soon be embarking upon my fourth voyage to South America.

And this is all while Russia is completely blank, Africa is still beckoning with 45 countries that I have still not yet ventured to, and Central Asia is a region full of countries whose names I hardly dare to pronounce. I look at the above map of my travels up to here — from June of 1999 until May 5, 2010 — and I realize with a big smile that I have gone next to nowhere. This is perhaps the best realization that a traveler can come to.

I have probably traveled in 80% of the commonly traveled countries. The Ecuadors, and Moroccos, and Chinas, and Indias have been visited, these next decades are for the Kyrgystans, the Surinames, the Angolas, Namibias, and all of those countries that few people have even heard of before, and far less can place on a map.

My travels up to here have been normal. It is my impression that most long term travelers move about the world in jumps, skips, u turns, and zig zags — sometimes with the speed of a hare, sometimes at the pace of a turtle. It would take a very systematic person to travel the world in one solid line, from one country to another around the world without backtracking or taking a fast jump to another spot on the globe. I do not know why anyone would want to travel in this way.

It takes a long time to travel through this world. Even with planes, and high speed boats, and cars, and highways, and all of these great transportation strategies of a technology hungry species, the world is still a very large place. There will always be somewhere else to go to, another place to observe, experience — you can never travel the world. Though I feel that if a destination was in sight, if my goal was to go to all of the countries to finish some odd sort of objective, then the route would not be as enticing: the joy of traveling is following the urge that tells you to go, even if that means going in reverse.

The true joy of an action is often not in the completion but in the doing.

Why would anyone want something good to come to an end? You cannot travel the world.

I once asked a tattoo enthusiast in Peru what he will do when his entire body is covered. He thought for a moment and then looked at me with a set of hound dog eyes and replied softly, “I think I will be very sad.”

Collections are perhaps not for the having, but for the joy of the acquisition.

I do not think that I collect countries. If I do then I am mighty poor at it. 46 countries is nothing when compared with the fact that I have been going for ten years. I look at the map above and I see all of the disconnected lines, the blank white spaces in regions of blue, and the fact that there was very little strategy applied other than just going to wherever I felt I should go to next. I am a piss poor peak bagger, a crappy collector of passport stamps, a real shitty country counter.

But in moments like this, as I stare at a map of the road from which I came, I feel the joy of a collector basking over his precious wares. I look at a country painted in blue and memories of traveling there immediately come to mind, I look at another country of the same hue and think of the places that I went there, who I met, what I did. For a traveler, a world atlas is the perhaps best entertainment they can find. It is one way to watch an almost endless show, but the show happens in the mind. Memories are the true value of travel, and few things can provide impetus to rekindle these memories than a blank map and a late night.

It is the memories, impressions, experiences, and knowledge inherent to traveling that I wish to collect. This travelogue is my gallery. Fortunately, the above attributes often come with the crossing of borders into new lands, new experiences, new memories. A drive for the stimulation of the “new” is one of the backing forces of travel. The great possession of the traveler is perhaps the memories, experiences, and knowledge that result from collected “the new,” and it all adds up to “the road behind,” a possession whose value is never more evident than when I stare into a map of the world.

I still dream into maps about where I have been and where I am going.

It is perhaps good to try to visualize your accomplishments — if going to a country can be called as such — it is good to look at where you stand and to look out ahead at where you are going. All bird watchers are very diligent about keeping lists of all the birds they have seen. Humans are a collector species, we like to collect for the feeling of collecting. I do not believe that the hoarder of things gives a damn about the physical objects they collect, it is more about the stimulation of getting one thing, just get another, just to get . . . Collections are about the acquisition, the things are impertinent. But it is not the act of acquiring that is of essence, it is the mental stimulation that drives the urge to acquire.

Stimulation is perhaps the one thing that all humans crave. I feel stimulated when I come into a new country, city, place; I feel stimulated when I dream into a map of the world. Oddly, somewhere deep down it feels good to make these “where I’ve traveled maps,” it feels good to measure out how far I’ve have come, it also feels good to dream about the road ahead.

My traveling is real, but I am still an inveterate map gazer.

Filed under: Travel Inspiration, Travel Philosophy

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been moving through the world since 1999. He is the author of Ghost Cities of China. has written 2714 posts on Vagabond Journey.

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