Traveling Is a Verb
While the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, or so the aphorism goes, it turned out that the first step — deciding to do something — was the easiest one to take.
Linda and I share three passions: travel, art and architecture, and each other, although not in that order.
At the end of 2014, we were talking over dinner and realized that even if we could squeeze out a month of every year to travel, we’d never get to all of the places we wanted to visit before we got too old to travel.
So I looked at her and said, “Why don’t we sell our house, put the stuff we want to keep in storage, sell or give away the rest, and spend the next several years traveling?” Pause. I expected her to look at me and say, “You must be out of your mind!” Instead, she looked me in the eye, gave that cute little shrug of hers, and with a smile said, “Sure!”
It was the next few steps, the ones we had to take to be able to leave on our trip, that were the more interesting.
So I started to plan our trip. I bought guidebooks. I went to the library. I scoured the Internet and found the best websites for information about the places we wanted to go. I created an itinerary and a timetable. I made hotel reservations. When I showed this to Linda, I expected at least an “Oh thank you! You did such a good job. You are a wonderful person.” What I got was a blank stare and bemused look.
Then she said, “I think you just created our own IMAX version of ‘If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium.’ ”
She was right (of course). I was still deeply enmeshed in the Silicon Valley mindset of schedules, deliverables, and deadlines. I had treated our trip as yet another project with its requisite project plan.
I should have known better, since for us, traveling never has been, and never will be, showing up someplace, observing the top 10 or 15 or 25 sights listed in the travel blogs or guidebooks, and then moving on to the next place on the list. Traveling, for us, is not a series of nouns, “the sights.”
And while God may be in the details, life is about exploration and discovery. Exploring and discovering where we want to go, exploring and discovering a place once we get there, and even exploring and discovering the paths we take as we move from place to place (instead of settling for being just a passenger on a conveyance and thinking of ourselves as parcels). We want to get lost in the wonder of the places we are visiting, and part of that wish to get lost in the wonder meant not cutting things short just because our schedule says it’s time to move on.
A lot gets lost when you turn traveling into the functional equivalent of renting a room at the Ritz Carlton and watching the travel channel and travel videos on the latest version of a high definition television. Traveling is a verb, and is meant to be experienced as such.
A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent upon arriving
– Lao Tze
Well, almost. I did cancel most of our reservations except for our initial flight to Europe — and a few others that were a good idea for practical reasons (international flights are much cheaper booked with frequent flier miles or in advance) or were a sheer necessity (Machu Picchu and the Trans Siberian railroad don’t work if you just show up). Instead of a trip with an itinerary, we turned this into a journey.
As we talked over our plans with friends and family, it became obvious we needed a website for us to chronicle — and for them to follow — our journey. We wanted not only to share our trip and to make it come alive for them, but we also wanted to keep it alive for us. That became my job (Neal), so when you read “I,” that will be Neal speaking.
But to make a website that was consistent with our ideas about traveling, we couldn’t follow the model of most of the travel sites out there — the ones that focused on what to do in a place, rather than on exploration, discovery, and experience. Don’t get me wrong; such sites do provide useful information and I used and use them extensively. It’s just that I don’t have much to add to what they can offer.
Instead, I turned to books by writers that paid attention to the verbs.
For example, David Greene’s Midnight in Siberia (especially interesting since we were planning to take the Trans Siberian railroad and explore Siberia), some works by Paul Theroux, including Ghost Train to the Eastern Star and The Tao of Travel, and Thomas Swick’s A Way to See the World: From Texas to Transylvania with a Maverick Traveler, as well as Swick’s 2001 essay from the Columbia Journalism Review, “Roads Not Taken.”
But it was Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel that introduced me to John Ruskin, the Victorian writer and artist, who became my Virgil, guiding me through the purgatory of travel writing.
Modern traveling is not traveling at all; it is merely being sent to a place, and very little different from becoming a parcel.
– John Ruskin
No changing of place at a hundred miles an hour will make us one whit stronger, or happier, or wiser. There was always more in the world than man could see, walked they ever so slowly; they will see it no better for going fast. The really precious things are thought and sight, not pace. It does a bullet no good to go fast; and a man, if he be truly a man, no harm to go slow; for his glory is not at all in going, but in being.
– John Ruskin
Imagine what Ruskin would have had to say about traveling coach on a budget airline, or even a major carrier for that matter.
John Ruskin encouraged people to draw during their travels, but as de Botton points out, he also felt “we should write, or ‘word-paint,’ as he called it, so as to cement our impressions of beauty.”
So I’ll use words to chronicle what we’re experiencing on our trip. And not just the experience of a place, but the experience of deciding where to go, and even the experience of going there.
We plan to take photographs of what we find most interesting about the places we choose to visit, but not in order to document our trip (and bore our friends with 70s style slide shows) or create the online equivalent of a coffee table book. While we realize a picture is worth a thousand words, you need to be a really good photographer to make it the right thousand words, so we’ll use photographs to primarily give people the visual context for our experiences.
And together, the words and pictures become our postcards from the road.
Within a week, after our discussion at the end of 2014, I had cashed in frequent flyer miles for two business class tickets to Kraków, Poland, leaving June 28th (our daughter was getting married on June 20, and I wanted to leave the day after that, but Linda helped me grasp why this was not a good idea).
It turned out, however, that it took us a little longer that we thought to get our house ready to sell and say goodbye to family and friends, so we ended up leaving on July 29th for the Kaliningrad City Jazz music festival from Scottsdale — not too bad considering we picked the original June 28th date out of thin air six months before.
We don’t have an exact itinerary, but we do have a list of places we think we’d like to explore. However it is, and will remain, very fluid. You can find them here, and an interesting discussion of how we created and will recreate our journey here.
Check back here after July 29 for our first posts from Kaliningrad or sign up for our newsletter and we’ll keep you posted on our trip. We’ll also include the surprises along the way (things we didn’t expect), unforeseen pleasures, our personal discoveries (things you may not find on websites or in guidebooks), as well as what we learned as we traveled.