FINCA TATIN, jungle near Livingston, Guatemala- Eleven years ago on this day I left home. June 16, 1999 — I had a rough, patchwork sort of plan to spend a lot of time moving about the world, but this did not yet crystallize into an idea of being a traveler, or of traveling perpetually. The plan then was to travel to places, to make friends, to find out what was there, and on and on. It was not yet a plan to just keep going. 11 years later I look back with curiosity about what I have done with the younger years of my adulthood.
How did this happen?
I envision myself wandering from here to there, but the idea of being a perpetual traveler took a few years to conceive. I was 18 years old when I began traveling, and I found that the call of “somewhere else” would become an ever present directive in newly cracked opened adult life. Leaving places became a carrot always dangling before my nose — a way out, an ever present final option. “Somewhere else,” became an objective that took on a magical quality: nothing could truly be bad when you can just go somewhere else, reset your acquaintances, restart everything, and concoct a new recipe for adventure.
But the lure of “somewhere else” soon grew out of control — it became more enticing than the actual reality of the somewhere else’s themselves. I discovered a feeling that came from leaving places, from going to new places, that could not be matched by anything in my previous experience. I still know of no substitute for the exhilaration of riding out of a town in the early morning light, with no cares ahead with less behind. The feeling of absolute insignificance is freeing: there is no match for the feeling of traveling.
As soon as I began my first trip I knew that this feeling would stick, that there was no shaking the way I felt in the back of that 1970’s Dodge van as I was hurled across the USA for the first time with my best friends from childhood. On that trip, a proper amount of misadventure was blessed upon us: traveling was forever after given a sheen of absolute excitement.
Even now, as I think of the act of traveling, the feeling of riding in that van still hits me. If that trip had gone routine, if everything worked out well, worked, then I do not know if I would associate the same feelings with traveling as I do now. I tasted something on that trip, and it was such a sweet taste that it has still not left my mouth — 11 years later.
As soon as I became aware that this feeling was out there, that it could be had just by packing a bag and getting on a bus, I knew that traveling would always be the easy way — the path of least resistance, the most direct route to feeling really good. It is my impression that a large part of addiction is the desire to recapture certain feelings associated as being good. The drug or substance is just a short cut towards feeling that way again. My shortcut became a plane ticket.
I suppose some people could call this a passion.
I am old and set in my ways now, but I can still remember the days when I was putting together the fundamental elements and ideological backdrop of the traveling life. It was not easy. I often found myself depressed on the Road, missing people, staying with people I should have left, confused about my path and what I wanted to do, sometimes bored. I tried to stop traveling a score of times, though it never lasted very long: as far as I am concerned, a long and lonely stretch of traveling is always preferable to having to get up each morning to go to work for someone else. But I kept at it, I kept at it and eventually found ways to live a full and balanced life while traveling. There was probably little other option.
Like most people who have traveled for many years, the occupation was chosen almost by accident: I did not calculate a plan for traveling, I did not prepare, I did not say “one day I am going to be a perpetual traveler.” It all just came together of its own volition, one day I woke up and realized that I had been traveling for a long time. I did not try to travel for 11 years, it just happened through default: I could never find a better way to live.
I found the art of leaving much more enjoyable than the act of staying, and took life from there. Perpetual travel is perhaps the default position of those who gave up searching for better ways to live.
When I was young, I was conscious that I was looking for something as I traveled: I created a myth of finding “my people” and went searching for them. I was on the tail of some adolescent ethnographic fairy tale, I envisioned myself with a group of short, black Forest People hunting antelope with blow guns and nets. I read ethnographies as adventure manuals, and I believed in them. I thought that my people were out there somewhere — hidden in some dark forest, perhaps. I figured that I would need to travel to find them.
It took a little time, but it soon became apparent that the search for “my people” was an imaginative construction — the adolescent dreaming of better places far away. Even if these fairy tale lands really did exist, I probably would not have recognized them anyway: I would probably just leave my fairy tale land like any other place. I am now aware that I love the feeling of traveling far more than any silly notion of group affinity or an insecure search for a tribe of people to reconfirm my existence through.
My search, from then on out, was pretty much for nothing: I had already found what I was after, and it had nothing to do with places or people. The simple joy of moving, of meeting new people, stepping into unexpected circumstances, of weaving a tale that not even I could unravel, of being able to sit back and daydream memories like a movie . . . this was enough.
11 years later it is still enough. In 2005 I began what would become Vagabond Journey. This project lends a sense of purpose to my days, my family brings me love and companionship, whatever I am doing adds the right amount of stimulation. After 11 years, traveling is still pretty good.