In 66 days I’m heading to Australia for a few weeks. Sixty six is an even number, but feels like an odd amount of days. Odd in the sense of familiarity.
This is a plan. A plan to spend a certain amount of time in a distant place. A span of time shorter than the 66 days preceding it, and the 66 days that will follow.
I’m counting on the trip to fulfill my wanderlust, give me stories to tell for the rest of my life, placate some strange need I have to fly entirely across the world and track down something, that for whatever reason, I have decided doesn’t exist in a nearer radius.
But what about the ‘be here now’ philosophy? Since making the resolution to leave and ‘Explore,’ I’ve had several excellent weeks. As if making the vague plan to have an amazing experience was all I needed to do, in order to transform the period before the ‘event’ into something equally fulfilling.
Is it possible to be so aware of your own perceptions that any given, regularly present moment can be just as exciting as some luxuriously imagined, pre-arranged moment planned for in the future?
Of course planning has value, but not when it’s a plan for epiphany, which can be one of the intended pleasures of aimless travel. Revelations are black swan experiences, I think. They come when you’re least prepared.
Maybe this is called settling. But maybe the banal connotation of that idea needn’t be so strong. Maybe settling can be just as arousing as wandering. I guess hitting the road and making a lucid comparison between the two is the only way to find out.
I’m not the first person to question his own motivations for travel. Emerson said, “I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical that I fled from.”
Twain had a much more generous description of traveling’s benefits: “Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime”
Some find themselves stuck in the middle. In Coelho’s Alchemist, the young Shepard sets out on a journey to find treasure, hearing along the way from advice-givers that he should ‘live in the present’. In the end, what he sought had always been in the place from which he left, but he needed to leave in order to learn.
A few years ago, I had never heard of Coelho’s book until I was waiting at an airport gate for my first international flight. Another passenger asked me if I wanted to trade books. I was carrying ‘Wind, Sand, and Stars’ by Saint-Exupery, another travelogue, and the cornerstone of my personal canon up to that moment.
I swapped my worn copy for the Alchemist, and Saint-Exupéry‘s next reader eventually found the following line:
“It is in the compelling zest of high adventure and of victory, and in creative action, that man finds his supreme joys.”