As I begin to merge with traffic and approach the bridge, I begin to slow down and take it in, like some tourist on his first moments crossing into a new city or country. I lean up to the windshield, looking up at the steel beams rising toward the starry sky and then look back across the water to the city in the background. I hear the “bumpidy bump” sounds of my tires starting to cross into the other lane as I focus back on the road and continue across the bridge. Ever-so small tears form in my eyes as I take a deep breath and reminisce on the past weekend and more importantly, the past year. It’s as if it’s my last time crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, but it’s not. It’s not even good-bye, but rather a three-month hiatus that takes me across the globe yet again. It’s hardly been a year since my big one-year trip that changed my life, yet hear I am once again, wandering the world.
What is it that travelers are looking for? For the general, mainstream traveler who uses his vacation time to do just that, vacation, it’s likely for respite. Yet for the true travel lover, is that why they travel? They just need a break so they throw everything in their suitcase and go to the beach to enjoy margaritas in the sun? I don’t think so. I can just about do that at home without spending much money and absent of pat downs. So let me ask again, what are travelers really looking for when they travel?
It was just over a year ago when I remember watching the sun dip beyond the horizon in Costa Rica for what I knew would be one of the last times I would see it there. It was month seven of an indefinite trip I had set out on. I hadn’t exactly left for this trip on the most pleasant of terms. I was just removed from marriage, had quit my job to pursue freelance writing, and had told my family that I was traveling indefinitely. It bears repeating; I was getting divorced, I quit my job, I pursued a freelance writing career, and I was going to travel indefinitely. Mention one of those things and you’ll get some weird looks, but mention all of them together and you’re a modern-day Hester Prynne, donning a red letter around your neck.
Nonetheless, on that warm evening on a little beach in Costa Rica, I felt satisfaction and fulfillment in life like I never had. What is that I had actually accomplished? I’m not exactly sure. What is it that I even set out to do in the first place for my trip? I don’t know, but I just had to go and that year of travel has been my best decision to date. That stint of travel is the cornerstone of my life. Everything else is held up by it.
Deep down, we all travel for some reason. There is something lacking and so we set out expecting travel to be the vehicle by which we find it. For some, it’s for love. For others, it’s to heal wounds. Yet for others, it’s an escape. When I set out to travel nearly two years ago, I believe it was for change, although I could have put together a laundry list of reasons, of which escape, healing, and respite would have made the list. So do we go home once we find that reason we set out for in the first place? Did I feel such a sense of satisfaction because I had experienced the change I needed to? No, because rarely do we actually find that thing that we’re looking for. We may find a million other things, but not that one thing we set out for. It’s for that reason that travel becomes less about the destination and more about the journey along the way.
So it is, I’m on week two of a three month trip that takes me from the wineries of California to the glaciers of Alaska’s Inside Passage to the soccer fields of Scotland to the breaking waves of the Canary Islands. Why am I going? Well, for no other reason really than that I can. I’m not looking for love, change, respite, or escape. I’m a wanderer and wanderers wander. Yet of those among us who are wanderers, that act of wandering doesn’t make us lost. We don’t have to know where we’re going; we just have to go. The game doesn’t always have a winner, the guy doesn’t always get the girl, and not every question gets answered. What I know though from these last couple years of childlike wander is that it’s in those moments of lostness that I’m most found. Like that moment in Costa Rica on the beach at sunset, it’s times like those that life has the most clarity, and for that reason, I continue to wander.