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What Is The Value Of Travel?

Meeting another friend of the way in Melaka.

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MELAKA, Malaysia- “I’ve never been one to say no to a bad idea,” Will Travel told me over a beer at a riverside bar in Melaka. A few days later I met another long-term traveler who said just about the same:

“I always just said yes to everything. You have to have some of the mischief in you to travel.”

“They all told me I was crazy,” he began.

His name was Peter. He was originally from Ireland but had been traveling for thirty or so years. The first time I went to Bernie’s the bartender told me all about him and how I should meet him. The next night he was there.

I walked in and knew who he was right away. Travelers can identify another traveler on sight. There’s just something about how they scan a room — pausing to absorb each person, seemingly plotting something. To some, they might look shifty, but to those of the profession you know it’s just someone on the road looking for someone to talk to.

Ever try to tell travel tales to a non-traveler?

In my early days of travel I was convinced that my friends and family would want to hear my stories of the open road. I would collect my tales, rehearse them, and then whenever I got the chance when visiting home I would launch into my yarns. It took me a couple years before I realized that nobody cared … and that I was straining the bounds of their patience rather than entertaining them. So I shut up. I stop telling travel stories and nobody seemed to miss them.

However, it is not my impression that Peter had this problem … or that he would have cared if he did. Peter told stories. That’s what he did. But unlike the tales of most old expats that are obviously made up or yanked from their original source to make their surprisingly boring drinking and whoring lives seem more interesting, Peter’s tales seemed legit — he had that deep background of knowledge of the world that can only come from actually living it.

“They all told me I was crazy,” he began.

“They’re hasn’t been a time in any port where I didn’t want to get married,” he proclaimed with a bellowing laugh.

After making a moderate success of the sedentary life he suddenly divorced his wife, sold his home, and announced that he was sick of it all and he was going to find something better elsewhere — that he was going to travel the world.

His family and friends just laughed and told him that he’d be back in a few months with his tail between his legs, broke and disillusioned. It’s sort of offensive to tell the people that you share a community with that you’re going to seek greener pastures — it’s kind of like proclaiming that you think you’re better than them. But Peter didn’t only tell them this but he made sure to return six years later with a hot 22-year-old big-titted Swede on his arm to rub it in.

Like most other travelers, half of Peter’s stories were about women … who were, as a rule, vastly younger and better looking than him. I guess that’s where the status is earned.

“They’re hasn’t been a time in any port where I didn’t want to get married,” he proclaimed with a bellowing laugh.

But his stories were also about digging deep into places — something that only comes as a result of being open to meeting people. He told me tales about venturing into mostly black rural towns in the American south, of stumbling into a Hell’s Angels convention back when that actually meant something, of witnessing the aftermath of the massacre in Rwanda (he’s former military), of trying to sell his traveling companion into marriage in remote Mongolia, of hitchhiking, roadtripping, and bumming. He recited Christopher Hitchins.

“Where the pope goes the devil follows,” he laughed.

“All I needed was my backpack and hammock.”

Today, Peter is kind of an old man. He has structural issues — just had surgery on a hip or knee or something — and lives off of his military pension. He isn’t married, doesn’t seem to have a real girlfriend, and is staying on the couch of another regular at the bar. My guess is that he transitioned from traveler to economic refugee long again, hovering around the haunts of Southeast Asia because he can afford it. He tells stories of people from everywhere but he is all alone.

I would like to say that this didn’t seem to faze him, but there was something about the way his face would drop and he’d stare off silently at the bottles behind the bar after each concluded sale made me believe otherwise. Talk is a symptom of loneliness.

Whatever the case, it was clear that he understood the value of travel:

“Sometimes I’m just sitting there and I start laughing. My sister thinks I’m crazy but I’m just thinking about all the things I’ve done. Most people when they get old are going to be thinking about all the things they didn’t do. I’m going to be laughing about all the things I did.”


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Filed under: Malaysia, Other Travelers, Perpetual Travel

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3717 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

6 comments… add one

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  • Rob May 8, 2019, 7:44 pm

    That was a good reminder that we all have our own paths…

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    • Wade Shepard May 8, 2019, 8:22 pm

      Very, very true.

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  • Georgiy Romanov May 9, 2019, 4:30 am

    Awesome man and story!

    Link Reply
    • Wade Shepard May 9, 2019, 9:04 am

      Thank you! Excellent to hear from you again.

      Link Reply
  • Trav May 9, 2019, 9:06 am

    I would say this is the value of life. In the end, all you really have are experiences.

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    • Wade Shepard May 9, 2019, 9:09 am

      Probably right.

      Link Reply