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The Call of the Road

I love to travel. You know what they say; “travel broadens the mind and enriches the soul.” I do believe that. Even travel in your own backyard can yield surprising revelations.

For me, the best kind of travel is the road trip. Now, yes from time to time I have to get on an airplane – you can’t drive to China, after all. Once you get there however  a country is best discovered by driving its roads rather than flying from place to place.

There’s something soulless about air travel, especially these days. They pack you on planes like sardines and give you less space then they give those in solitary confinement in the penal colonies of French Guyana, throw you a pack of peanuts (if you’re lucky) and a dollop of soda and send you on your way. While generally the flight attendants remain friendly, they can’t really personalize your experience much, not the way they used to. There simply are fewer of them on each plane now as the airlines have economized to the point that a trip on an airplane isn’t much better than a trip on a cattle car.

Even driving the interstates (or their equivalent) can be antiseptic. You see the same fast food franchises, the same gas stations, the same hotels. There is usually little local flavor traveling on an interstate. They are a more efficient means of reaching a destination, I’ll grant you, and often more direct but to be honest, I much prefer going the way less traveled.

These kinds of road trips are much more difficult for me now. With my vertigo, I can no longer drive so on a trip of any length Doreen has to do all the driving, and it is certainly no fun for her and a great deal of wear and tear for her to spend days behind the wheel. These days, we have to press friends or family into service to come along and quite frankly that changes the dynamic.

Doreen and I make excellent travel companions because our philosophy about travel is the same. While the destination is important, it’s all about the journey. When driving, we like to pull off and stop at places that interest us. We have a general itinerary, yes and we rely on such programs as “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” to help us find places to eat that aren’t called McDonald’s, Burger King or Taco Bell. We also research our route and find places to stop along the way that pique our interest, although sometimes we get spontaneous like the time we found the Salt and Pepper Shaker museum in Gatlinburg, Tennessee (look it up – it’s got a website) or Drayton Hall in Charleston, South Carolina (also with its own website).

The point is these are the kinds of places that bring the human experience to life. From the quirky to the everyday, there are places that may educate you or may amaze you or may leave you asking “Really?” but all of them give you some sort of insight, whether to the human condition or merely to yourself.

Cuisine plays an important part of travel. Why drive thousands of miles to eat at the same Red Lobster you could eat in at home? We always try to go with local specialties whenever we can; Philly Cheesesteaks in Philadelphia, Italian Beef and deep-dish pizza in Chicago, frozen custard and cheese curds in Wisconsin, Chili Five-Way in Cincinnati, Juicy Lucies in Minneapolis.

Of course that also applies to foreign countries as well. We tried to eat things that were less western whenever we could in China, which led us to try things like sea turtle and fish heads. Even in Canada when I get the chance I try to order poutine instead of French Fries. The flavors of a place help enrich your memories of that place. Sometimes being adventurous can bring unexpected benefits; we’ve had many memorable meals trying new things and local specialties that we might not have had if we had kept to the familiar.

Of course, extensive travel requires a certain amount of cash and not everybody has that kind of money, even these days. However, you can apply the mentality to your own home. Drive down a road you’ve never driven on. Eat at a local restaurant you’ve never eaten at. Go to your local museums or historical societies and learn something about your town, or drive to the next town over and do the same. In other words, be a tourist in your own home town.

Sometimes “tourist” is a nasty word, but to me it symbolizes someone who wants to see the world and broaden their horizons. A tourist is a seeker of knowledge and insight, not necessarily someone in a loud shirt with a loud mentality, camera dangling around their neck, judging everything unfamiliar to be inferior. That might be the modern image of a tourist, but that isn’t what the word originally meant to convey. To me, seeing the world is never a bad thing; seeing the world with an open mind is an incredible thing.

My mom once told me that when you stop wanting to learn you begin the process of dying. While in some ways that isn’t necessarily true – there are a whole lot of people on this earth who are never interested in learning anything – I understand the sentiment. Keeping the mind active is at least as important as keeping the body active. As long as we are exploring the world, our mind is active and seeking connection.

For someone like me, the open road beckons with the allure of a Greek siren. The opportunity to explore and see a part of the world I haven’t seen before is always irresistible. We haven’t done a real long road trip in a couple of years, with our China trip taking up most of our attention this year but even though I’ve done a lot of travelling this year, I still feel that pull, the need to see something new. I guess with Doreen out of town on a business trip I particularly feel it; although I am happy to be at home, I have gotten bit by the travel bug something fierce.

I think that’s part of why I get so involved with social networking online. That’s a form of travel too – the ability to chat and take up relationships with people in other places, with other points of view. Through these relationships, I feel a connection to these parts of the world I haven’t been to; friends in Abu Dhabi, London, Manchester, Strasbourg, Perth, Kuala Lampur, Tours, Grajewo (Poland) – even in places I have been to like Jacksonville, Denver, Phoenix, Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) and Los Angeles (where I grew up) give you a different sense than someone gets from just visiting.

Talking to people in different places can satisfy my urge to travel when I’m not able to indulge it. We don’t necessarily chat about life in wherever, but just about life. Every new insight contributes to my ongoing education on the human experience. I like to think of it as the grad school of life; hopefully, someday I’ll have learned enough to earn a post-graduate degree.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to learn and grow and expand my horizons. The world is a beautiful place, and people have built some amazing, wonderful – and quirky – places. Not to explore it would be a waste of opportunity, and we only get one. So why not use it as best we can?


7 Responses

  1. hi Carlos, I loved your blog subject! I am an avid traveler and the road is my mistress; we haven’t been as close as when I was younger, but that’s because my job has taken on an importance that it didn’t have when I was younger. Gotta eat!
    I recently did a cross-country train trip (Amtrak) and although I do this trip at least once a year (summer) this time I went in the fall and I also got a private compartment. In the past I have done the cattle car, but I’ve gotten too old to enjoy that experience. I posted some of my photos and have more to go (I took 750+) but it was so great. I started planning the next one before this one was over. I met great people, including the staff…each car gets it’s own maid/butler/major domo and we even had flowers in the toilets. The scenery! I couldn’t sleep the first night because I couldn’t keep my eyes off the stars. Then a quarter moon rose and I was awake just staring! I was literally starry eyed. I also have vertigo AND acrophobia. I stopped flying in the 70’s after a frightening flight and only did it once in 2001 when my father died. I may get hypnotized so I can finally see the pyramids. I had a chance ages ago, but opted to go to Senegal instead. Anyway, if you haven’t done the train, I recommend it.

  2. Thanks for another wonderful blog Carlos. To travel is our life. We live on the road in our 12 ft caravan. There is nothing like exploring Australia, discovering new sites and meeting new people. Every day is an adventure. Our travels can be followed at http://gabblingaroundaustralia.blogspot.com or a pictorial journey at http://samlophotography.blogspot.com.

  3. A chinese philosopher once said we should have two lives one to stay at home, and one to travel. There is much wisdom there for I have envied people who have developed strong roots by having a home in one place as I have lived in several places, yet I have also enjoyed the new. Travel sets you free, home brings you peace and we are torn. So two lives would be good.I left my home early to see the world and I have had quite an adventure.

  4. Nice post! I agree that you don’t have to travel far from home to find places to explore. I often think that visitors get to know cities better than many of the people who live there — because tourists actually go to the museums, dine out, and get lost driving around (and stumble upon wonderful things).

    p.s. When you’re ready to visit central Mexico, check out my website, http://www.allaboutpuebla.com!


  6. Great blog Carlos..I love to travel, well I love to get to the destination, the actual journey I’d be happy to forego! Especially if it involves flying!

  7. My wonderful Florida friend, Carlos,

    Thank you for an interesting read, I really enjoy reading your blogs and am always grateful and happy to receive your ‘notes’ on Facebook.

    Your enthusiastic approach to all that life has to offer, whether in your travels or every day life, is such a pleasure to read.

    We haven’t chatted for a while, but rest assured that you will always hold a special place within the core of my heart, and I will always treasure our friendship, no matter where the roads may take us.

    Wishing you a fabulous day, my dear friend. xoxoxo

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