When I spend any length of time somewhere — whether it's two months in Paris or an hour at the side of the road waiting on a bus — I can't help but wonder, "what would it be like to live here forever?"
Giving that question a bit of thought almost always leads to the same conclusion: It would be great to live here, wherever here is, but what about that town just down the road? If there's a downside to vagabonding it's that there just isn't enough time.
Everywhere I go I end up thinking, I should spend more time here, I should live here... I should know what it's like to work in a cigar factory in Leon, fish in the Mekong, live in a floating house on Tonle Sap, sell hot dogs at Fenway Park, trade stocks in New York, wander the Thar Desert by camel, navigate the Danube, see the way Denali looks at sunset, the smell the Sonora Desert after a rain, taste the dust of a Juarez street, know how to make tortillas, what Mate tastes like, feel autumn in Paris, spend a winter in Moscow, a summer in Death Valley. I should be able to not just visit places, but inhabit them.
There is, so far as I know, only one short life. And in this life I will do very few of these things.
Sometimes I think that's very sad, but then the bus comes and you're on to the next town, free to start the dream over again.
“A strangely liberating thought occurred to me: Maybe those three incidents were related, after all. Each of those three attachments had conjured an illusion of predictability; each had generated desires that were painful and difficult to renounce. All three had become, ultimately, impediments to my self-sufficiency. Now the pilgrimage begins.”Fun at the time? No. Ultimately enlightening? Quite possibly. If you don't lose your mind in the process, the best things you could possibly lose while traveling are predictability and attachments. A certain freedom is restored, and so is your intuition. What makes the letting go any easier? I'd suggest flexibility and perspective, but if you have the magic answer you'll have to let me know. And then there’s the obvious upside of change and unmet expecations: when did you ever think that you'd meet that wise fellow traveler or join that traditional ceremony? Stop, reconsider, and go ahead—let those well-honed plans fall by the wayside once in a while.
It wasn't exactly the response I was looking for, but I realized that, in the general public's mind, "vagabonding" is synonymous with single. Even among committed vagabonds there's no shortage of those who see traveling with a friend or partner as somehow less authentic than traveling alone.
I realized my friends weren't alone when I ran across John Flinn's recent piece about what he calls "militantly solo travelers" over at SFGate.
While Flinn admits that many of the arguments for going solo are somewhat valid -- there's no alternate agenda pulling you around, no distractions from the culture you're in, nothing but you -- he's also not a fan.
Certainly one of the joys of vagabonding, as opposed to other forms of travel, is confronting yourself and going it alone. After all, many vagabonds go it alone out of necessity — it isn't easy to convince other people to travel for extended periods of time.
Of course I wouldn't want to come off as part of some militantly not-solo crowd. I spent eleven months traveling through Southeast Asia alone and I have no regrets. Sure it would have been nice to have someone around to say, "wow, did you just see that?" but I learned a lot about myself in the process.
That's one of the common refrains you'll hear from the militantly solo crowd -- traveling alone makes you more exposed, more honest and more in touch with the world around you. Flinn quotes Jonathan Raban who claims, "you've got to go naked into the world and make yourself vulnerable to it, in a way that you're never going to be... if you're traveling with your nearest and dearest on your arm."
Now, I don't know Jonathan Raban and I've never traveled with him, but I'll let you in on a little secret about my time in Asia — I wasn't really alone the whole time. In fact I spent far more time in company of fellow travelers I met along the way than I did alone. I was traveling by myself yes, but I was rarely alone.
Maybe I'm just not hardcore. Maybe I'm missing something. Call me crazy if you will, but I like meeting people, locals, travelers, everybody. And the idea that you won't meet people when you travel with a partner is just silly. In fact I've found, especially as a man, you're much more approachable when you're with someone else. It's like a voucher that says, no really, I'm okay, and I have at least one person who thinks the same.
And far from being a distraction, the people I met and traveled with helped me get more out of my experience than I likely would have alone, and several of them remain among my closest friends.
In fact, I've never really met anyone who truly traveled alone for extended periods of time. Unless you're going off into the woods like Thoreau, or are purposefully asocial, chances are you're going to meet some fellow travelers, probably share some beers, perhaps split a room to save money; and I fail to see how that's any different than leaving home with a friend or partner.
Which brings me back to Flinn's article. He has a little gem that I think doesn't get said enough: "I have a message for those who'd rather travel with a partner: it's OK."
- Graham Reid - A Graduate Journalist from England, Graham has spent the past year traveling around North America, including an epic East-to-West Coast bus trip. Graham's entertaining travel blog can be found here.
- Celine Roque - Celine is currently living in a small town in the Philippines, a country she'll be exploring for the next two years. She blogs at pimpyourwork.com, a site that encourages people to work more efficiently so they can have more time to pursue their passions.
- Marcus Sortijas - Our first Hawaiian contributor, Marcus has studied creative writing in England, backpacked through Europe, and lived in Shanghai. He now resides in Taipei, where he maintains an excellent travel blog called Bluefox808 Adventures.
- Claire Litton - Claire is currently on tour as a professional bellydancer-- another first for Vagablogging-- and she's been writing professionally since 1998. Her poetry and fiction have been published in literary magazines in the US and Canada, and she's working on a nonfiction guide to bellydance. Claire tells me that "the relief [she] felt at finding Rolf's book a few years ago and thinking, 'There really are people who think like me!' cannot be described."
- Scott Gilbertson - Rolf's book Vagabonding was part of the inspiration for Scott's eleven-month trip around Southeast Asia. Scott has been a freelance writer for five years, and his work frequently appears on Wired.com. Scott keeps family and friends (and now you!) updated on his travels at luxagraf.net.
- Aly Young - Aly has moved back to Kansas after spending two years in Asia. (Sound familiar, Rolf?) She blogs and posts her incredible photographs at Another Wandering Soul.