If Not All Who Wander Are Lost, Where Are They Going?

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.

17 Comments on “If Not All Who Wander Are Lost, Where Are They Going?

  1. Couldn’t have said it better myself, “it’s times like those that life has the most clarity, and for that reason, I continue to wander.” :)

  2. Hi Spencer,

    I just discovered your blog on a recommendation and enjoyed this article. I have been ‘wandering’ myself for 5 years and like trying to find a coherent answer to the question ‘why?’ The only points I would ad, are that its sobering to know people at home are asking exactly the same endless question of themselves hence it’s sort of more ‘why am I doing this with my life?’ rather than ‘why do I travel’. Escapism, healing and rest come in many disguised forms.

    For myself I like to think that I travel to find answers to questions that have not arisen yet. A sort of nod to the way all people who have really travelled have a more informed and usually converging opinion on so many issues at ‘home’ despite their social and ethnic differences. Real travel benefits most in ways they only discover much much later in their lives.

    Cheers for the article!

    • Hi Malcolm,

      I’m always thrilled to hear of people being recommended to my blog. Some great points you raise about what people back home think. While those questions often arise, I think that speaks volumes because no matter how crazy our wandering may be, there’s something provocative about it – the fact that we would be so passionate and have such conviction.

      Keep wandering!

  3. I know I have never been able to answer this question for myself, I am not sure I ever will.

    • And I like that Andi. Like I mentioned, some questions aren’t meant to be answered!

  4. You inspire me so much with your adventures and traveling. I too hope to be a traveler one day myself. More to just explore and see what else is out there. I have ventured from NY to SF, so I feel that my travels have already begun. But I hope one day the expand and are more often. I believe traveling brings out the worst and best in us. It’s always going into the unknown not quite knowing what to expect but excited for the unexpected. Keep up the incredible travels. :)

    • Thank you for such kind words Hillary. Sometimes I get lost in the day-to-day of life, but I’ve found that travel has formed and shaped me so much, that I can’t help but travel. I love what you said about going into the unknown, as I’ve taken on somewhat of a mantra to “embrace the unknown”. Look forward to seeing/hearing more of your future adventures!

  5. What a gorgeous piece. It has been a couple years since I’ve truly wandered and this makes me miss the road even more. There is nothing quite like that feeling you had on the beach of Costs Rica. I had several of those over the course of my three month trip. Enjoy your new wanders!

    • Thank you Ashley. I feel like I need one of those wandering trips about once every 12-18 months. I find that it’s those longer, often unplanned and spontaneous trips that really leave the deepest impression.

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