Travel…Like it Was Back in the Day
“Hey Spence, since you’ll be settling down and not traveling, what will you be doing now?” I’ve gotten this and many similar questions over the past weeks. My response: “I’ll be doing the same thing I’ve been doing.” Big shocker: You actually don’t have to travel as much as you think you do in order to write about it. The fact is that when I move to San Francisco, not much will be changing. I’ll still eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, explore the area, chat with locals, and write about it. I’ll just have a more permanent address, and definitely a favorite local watering hole, and I’ll probably grill out more and have a beach of choice where I take long walks under the stars and ponder about life, dating, and the world; because that’s what philosophers do, right?
Think about some of the world’s most notable travelers. Who comes to mind? Probably Christopher Columbus and Captain James Cook are at the top of that list. But more practically, who are some others? Maybe Lewis and Clark and John Muir? But looking at how people travel today, how much did they really travel? Think about it. Lewis and Clark’s most notable trip went through what comes out to several states. Can you imagine the discussion around a few pints if Lewis and Clark were in attendance:
Joe Traveler: Guys, you just have no idea. We just got back from Southeast Asia, utilizing little more than a tuk tuk and a bus, and visited 8 countries in 30 days. And get this shit. They almost didn’t let us back into the United States because our passport had run out of pages!
Lewis: Sounds like quite the trip. How did you ration the food from your backpack?
Joe Traveler: Oh, come on. It’s called street food. Haven’t you guys ever traveled before? How many countries have you been to?
Clark: Well several, er…Well actually, it’s probably more like states. So a few states. More along the lines of a “Round The Northwest United States Trip”. An RTNUST.
It’s really only been very recently that it has become reasonable to travel such long distances. You can wake up on a sandy beach and later that day be hiking through the snow. Does that make Lewis and Clark’s journeys irrelevant? Should they even be considered less traveled? Of course not. Nonetheless, I think there’s a lot to learn from how people traveled back in the day.
I can hear some of you now: “Let’s get serious Spencer, this is 2011. Lewis and Clark were traveling to places that had never been traveled to before.” You’re absolutely right and the joy of discovering a new place for the first time can often never be reclaimed. However, I think there’s something that can be said for slower travel. I recently wrote a post in which I used the phrase: “The world is my playground.” In it, I tell a story in which I emphasize that even a day walking down familiar streets can have a certain luster to it. Can this be experienced by anyone? Probably not, because I think it takes seeing and experiencing the world in ways that many aren’t accustomed to. It’s looking beyond the glitz and the iconic landmarks to see what’s going on beyond the scene.
All too often, I take a photo with my phone, tweet it or post it on Facebook, and then I’m moving on to what’s next. It’s almost like if I don’t take a photo, then it didn’t really happen. Travel seems to have become more of crossing things off a list, taking photos of iconic places, and visiting distant exotic destinations. Now don’t get me wrong, I really want to visit Hawaii, Antarctica, and Bora Bora, but travel is so much more than that. When you ask someone about a particularly bare spot on the map, their response often is: “Oh you don’t want to go there. There’s nothing to see.” But is there? Maybe there is something there, but it just hasn’t been discovered, or even needs to be rediscovered.
Upon writing about my move to San Francisco, I got an email from Kristin of Take Your Big Trip, who had moved there and responded by saying: “There’s an adventure every weekend.” Now that’s the kind of thing I want to hear from travelers. Yes, travel is the seeing of sights, but it’s also much more. For me, it maybe for the 20th time, but in a way I’ve never seen it before. It’s conversations with locals, tasting new foods, and exploring areas that are widely unexplored. You don’t have to cross the pond or even step foot on a plane to do this. I love how Lauren Rains put it recently when she said: “Turn your backyard into the world.”
So my challenge to myself and my readers is this: Explore your own city as if it’s the first time. Go to a neighborhood people tell you not to visit, find a new restaurant, talk to a couple locals. You may be surprised what you find. I intend to be surprised at the things I find as I start exploring San Francisco. And the day I stop being surprised, will be the day it’s time for something to change.