“What did he do during this journey? Of what was he thinking? As in the morning, he watched the trees, the thatched roofs, the tilled fields pass by, and the way in which the landscape, broken at every turn of the road, vanished; this is a sort of contemplation which sometimes suffices to the soul, and almost relieves it from thought. What is more melancholy and more profound than to see a thousand objects for the first and the last time? To travel is to be born and to die at every instant; perhaps, in the vaguest region of his mind, he did make comparisons between the shifting horizon and our human existence: all the things of life are perpetually fleeing before us; the dark and bright intervals are intermingled; after a dazzling moment, an eclipse; we look, we hasten, we stretch out our hands to grasp what is passing; each event is a turn in the road, and , all at once, we are old; we feel a shock; all is black; we distinguish an obscure door; the gloomy horse of life, which has been drawing us halts, and we see a veiled and unknown person unharnessing amid the shadows.” – Victor Hugo

 

 

 
I ended my circuit around the United States on the Atlantic coast in New Jersey. Stumbling toward the finish line with a cracked phone screen, a faulty credit card, and one working taillight. I made it to Ocean City NJ around 7:45pm EST, capping off 77 days of travel with stops in 26 states and 1 Canadian province. In total I drove a distance of 12,580 miles.

Listening to the waves crashing into the Atlantic coast, it is different to the Pacific in so many ways – and yet familiar.  The distances on earth boggle my mind. It is a wonder that the mind can handle so much space.

What is more melancholy and more profound than to see a thousand objects for the first and the last time?

I’ve been to many of the places on my bucket list. I’m blessed:  fortunate to have the opportunity, and to be able to afford to travel. It helps some that I don’t mind traveling on a budget, and consider paying for a guided tour or a museum visit “splurging”. But a large amount of this opportunity comes down to the forethought and kindness of my parents to pay for my undergraduate education so I’m not burdened with the shackles of student loan debt. Still, not everyone with mild financial stability travels as much as I do, and there must be something else to blame.

My ancestors, too, have traveled. My mother, currently living about a 5 hour drive from her hometown, is the second closest among her five siblings to where she grew up. My father’s family is even more spread out, as living in the same time zone could be considered “close.” My grandparents and great grandparents also shared this wanderlust, crossing continents and oceans to find someplace new. 

 
I thrive on the edge of what I know, but it takes concerted effort to find that edge. Given a predictable routine I fall into bad habits. When I recognize this starting to occur I get antsy, I rebel against the order. My father passed down a habit that prevents me from driving the same route twice if it’s not completely unreasonable. I enjoy the freedom of choice, knowing also that when most of us are given a choice – what to wear, wear to eat, what to do on our night off – we often choose to repeat our past decisions. If we’re hungry, it’s easier to go to the familiar place you know is good. If something simple changes like the menu, the experience can be ruined, if you’re willing to let it. This seems to grow stronger with age. and can be readily observed if you pay attention to your elders. We are conditioned to avoid unnecessary risk. What we are familiar with is comfortable, what is comfortable is safe, what is safe generally keeps us alive.

So why travel?

When visiting a foreign place it is much more difficult to succumb to the familiar and comfortable routine. This is slightly less so today, as you can find the same fast food chains in almost every country, manage in many places without knowing a language other than English, and speak with the same friends almost anywhere via the internet. Still, when you do this your gut recognizes the shortcut, as do your relationships. Eating McDonald’s and chatting on Facebook in a foreign land is no way to travel. If you want to experience something real while traveling, you must experience something new. I suspect the case at home as well, but home doesn’t force it upon you quite like travel. It’s easier to find a familiar place, and there’s always a refuge to crawl back into.

We look, we hasten, we stretch out our hands to grasp what is passing; each event is a turn in the road

Staying in the same location, I push my mind to wander in other ways. Through traveling shorter distances while hiking, through books and music and writing, round and round my mind turns through itself. Still traveling. Moving forward in time equally incapable of accessing the past. The present moment continues to pass by, even while stationary.

 
Living on the road, as much as I enjoy it, puts me out of my element. I am in a constant struggle to find home in my surroundings. My point of view remains the same, in essence, but I must find ways to adjust it to make sense of what I am seeing, hearing, tasting, feeling. Finding patterns in new situations that map just enough with what I know and love. When you change the setting mid-scene you learn how well you can act.

I’ve always enjoyed activities that force themselves upon you. When downhill skiing it is very problematic to decide to stop where you are and quit. You must at least reach the bottom. And while in motion, you must be active with your legs or you will fall, eventually. Life is like that too, but it’s harder to notice when you’re standing still.

Rock climbing is another activity I enjoy as it gives you little choice but to hang on. I do not enjoy falling from high places, and a harness only does so much to quell the fear of falling. Once you’re up and climbing there’s little choice other than to try and reach the top, falling off involuntarily is not an option, at least for me.

Traveling offers this same sensation. If you give up or let go, you will not make it home. Maybe I should add that I often travel alone. If you’re with friends or family they may bring you home, but it would not be a shining moment in your life. Solo traveling often gives me the feeling of being at sea, surrounded by a sea of the unknown as I travel between islands of friends and family. Sink or swim instincts kick in and there is an urge to reach familiar shores. Reports of sailors stranded at sea have shown that people have come through extraordinary circumstances not to perish alone at sea. You might even walk up to a stranger and say hello.

“Wherever you go, there you are”

The more I travel, the more I feel I’m in the same spot. Places have no distance in my memories, and for that reason their locations on a map mean much less once I have visited. There are pieces of the locations that I carry in my thoughts, and they are local. Other locations remain distant, the places I have never been. Truly been and encompassed into my being. Places seen but not experienced. I ramble.

After a successful long trip I feel I never left home. It is the people and places that have changed around me and now returned familiar. It has always been me for 77 days. I feel just as much as though it was they who visited  me, those who I have visited on this trip.

Coming to terms with a completed journey is part of the reward of travel. In a culture which so highly values material culture, it may seem abnormal to invest in memories and gasoline, so fleeting and combustible.  I often have to convince myself that the expenditure is a worthwhile investment for something that can’t be held, easily added to my bank account, or resume.

Travel can be difficult: shivering in a damp sleeping bag, wandering in a foreign land as night begins to fall, in the long hours on the road; or as the airplane rises above the clouds and sets off across the ocean, stepping off and into the space between. In these moments we recover the gratitude we have lost in the comfort of our daily lives.

 

“To travel is to be born and to die at every instant”

 

About The Author

Ross Owen
Co-Founding Editor

Ross Owen's background changes with each step he takes. Ross is constantly looking at stories from new angles - offering a fresh take on issues you might overlook at first glance. A graduate of Boston University, his site-design of PastarunMusic.com in 2012 garnered him an induction into the CS103 Hall of Fame.

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