“Tourists don't know where they've been, travelers don't know where they're going.” —Paul Theroux
At the oldest of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World
I was born with no sense of direction. What I did enter the world with is a whole lot of wanderlust. It was hardly in my DNA; my doting parents were middle-class folks whose idea of foreign travel was a jaunt up the California coast, say from L.A. to San Fran.
My plan to backpack around the Continent midway through my quest for a college degree came as a shock to my father. “If you can afford to go to Europe, you can afford to pay for your college education,” he raved.
Rather than counter with something like, “No one will believe I went to college if I didn't backpack across one continent or another,” I called on St Augustine. “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page,” I told my dad. He continued to fund my higher education until I earned a degree that led to a career as a travel writer.
I like to think I´m one of the latter. After all, even without a GPS, what tourist would wind up in New Orleans after boarding a train bound for Mexico? Armed with a boyfriend and $500, I´d headed south in my 20s, clueless we'd wind up in the Big Easy after a dispute in Guatemala landed us in jail. Our best option, after a friend made bail, was to fly due north, to the closest U.S. city, we figured.
John Steinbeck, who took the pulse of the country he wrote about by driving across it with his French poodle, I realized, “A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.” Having ditched the road to marital bliss after 23 years of fruitless trekking, I had no delusions about control. So I let the universe—and a few Dutch con men—take over when I set off down a warren of post-divorce trails.
|Thai snacks; do they bug you?|
Even with such indulgences, I've lost inches while broadening my world perspective, for independent travel entails a lot of work. And a lot of decisions. You walk a lot and talk a lot. You call on resources you never knew you had. But it all makes you smarter and sharper, even while you're flailing about, trying to communicate with folks who speak Arabic. Or Italian. Anything but English. And engaging in commerce with cents that make no sense in a wallet familiar with American dollars. On such occasions, I remember Henry Miller´s point, “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of looking at things.” And hearing things, I might add.
|The real Dam Square|
Then I return to my computer and gaze at photos posted by a friend who spent three days with me on an “If this is Tuesday, it must be Belgium``-style romp. “Dam Square,” the caption reads below an image I recognize as A'dam's Central Station. Damn! I love my friend dearly and we had loads of fun when she visited. But now I know how different we are. At least when it comes to travel.