Monday, February 12, 2007

Life on the Road

I’ve been meaning to write something about what’s life has been like during these first days on the road. Before I left New York, I read a few books about long-term, independent travel, and one of the comments I found most valuable was about how a traveler spends his or her time. Consider the daily activities like eating, sleeping and hygiene that everyone must attend to. Then there are the logistics unique to the traveler: booking tickets, finding lodging, arranging transportation. Finally, there are those activities that everyone travels for: sightseeing and entertainment.

There are considerations for the traveler that anyone living in one place may not think about. I’m carrying what I feel is the absolute minimum for comfort on the road. While a light backpack makes walking a few miles an enjoyable experience, it means I have to keep tabs on my clothes and wash something every day. Synthetic materials make it easier to stay fresh and clean than it was when I traveled 20 years ago. And a stinky traveler is not a happy traveler. Or, more accurately, a stinky traveler does not make other travelers happy.

Also consider the logistics of transportation. Live in one place and getting from one around becomes second nature; whether by car, bike, bus, train or on foot, you know exactly where you are going and how long it takes to get there. The traveler constantly encounters new, unfolding landscapes, sometimes poorly marked or not marked at all. If you can’t navigate with a crude map or orient yourself in space, good luck on the road. Part of it is just trusting your intuition and heading in what seems like the right direction.

I love the challenge inherent in arriving in a strange place, scanning a map and planning where to go and how to get there. That I carry a minimum of personal belongings means I have to pay more attention to cleaning and upkeep, but it frees me from the burden of clutter (that miracle of modern technology, the iPod, is the ultimate anti-clutter device). Eating becomes an adventure in and of itself, whether it be finding a restaurant with affordable and healthy food or going to a local market and scanning the unfamiliar products to cook and consume at a guesthouse or hostel.

With all of this in mind, long-term travel is far from a constant adventure. Take, for instance, a 100-day trip. Thirty days are committed to sleep – I like a good 8 hours so make it 33.3 days. Another 30 days might be consumed by eating, cleaning, research, email, blogging and general upkeep. There might be 10 days of solid transportation, depending on how often and how far one moves around. Even considering that I’m guessing on these figures, that’s already 70 days out of my 100.. Does that mean I spend the remaining time enjoying the sights and having fun? I like to read, to watch people, to just walk. So the answer has to be no. For me, travel is not all adventure and sightseeing – it’s just living a nomadic, ever-evolving existence that makes it rewarding. It’s not something I can sustain forever, but I will do my best to enjoy it while it lasts.

I have only just begun my travels, but already the practical realities of life on the road are taking shape. To be a traveler requires attention to detail, otherwise you become a vagrant. People often ask me what I do and I tell them I am a journalist, but in the back of my mind, for the time being at least, I’m a traveler. Does that also mean I’m a tourist? Could be. But that’s a complicated subject for another time.

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