The Call of the Road

School’s out, Independence Day is over and vacation season is finally upon us. This weeks blog brings with it my highly anticipated start of a new blog category: Highways & Byways.

I have a disease – a costly disease. I contracted it as a child, too young for me to remember. My parents intentionally infected me with this disease, and I have since infected my wife and children with it. There is no cure. It’s a disease of addiction; a bug so virulent it corrupts the victims mind to a point they would refuse the cure even if there was one. It is the all powerful: Travel Bug. Sometimes known by the name wanderlust, it’s an affliction which can take over all aspects of the afflicted’s life if they are not careful. Since there is no known cure, the only option left to those infected with the Travel Bug is to effectively manage their condition; that is, to learn how constructively aleve its pressures through thoughtful indulgence.

First, I want to illustrate that vacationing and traveling-for-pleasure can be different things. Traveling-for-pleasure is always a vacation, but vacationing is not always travel. If you have a beach town or a mountain house that you take off work to frequent, you are certainly on vacation, but I would claim that you are not traveling. Similarly, if you fly to a Caribbean island, even one that you have never visited before, and then proceed to lay on a beach for a week, I would argue that still is not traveling. Yes, you traveled to get there, but once there, if you just nap on a warm beach, it might very well be any beach. Do I like to do this kind of vacationing? You better believe it! But my vacation time, like most peoples’, I think, is limited. If I must choose between laying for a week on a beach or traveling, traveling will win everytime.

Traveling is hard work, but if you have wanderlust you won’t notice it (It’s much the same as the concept people profess stating that if you love what you do for a living, then you’ll never work a day in your life. I wish I was so lucky when it came to work). Traveling means driving, flying, busing, ferrying, rest stops, hiking, biking, cruising, airports, customs, scouring road maps and the like. None of these things are a nuisance to those infected with the travel bug, but are part of the adventure itself. The occasional traffic jam or delayed flight might be a bummer, but are never enough to permanently thwart the urge to travel. Traveling means stopping to explore museums, national parks, natural wonders, tourist traps, churches and cathedrals, roadside attractions, historic sites, monuments, marketplaces, cities and small towns. Each day brings, not the same beach, but something new to discover. When someone sees something they have never seen before, it tends to stick in their memories. When, in the past, I’ve spent an entire week at a beach resort, each day indistinguishable from the last, and look back at that vacation ten years later, a seven day trip tends to blend into one long day at the beach. If each new day of a trip brings something unique, thirty plus years can go by and I will still remember what I did each specific day. In this way, I feel I enrich my life with a variety of memories, and variety, they say, is the spice of life. Slothfulness at a beach is easy, but how often does easy lead to meaningful? Don’t get me wrong, I love a day at the beach. It is a great way to unwind and recharge your batteries. But, a day at the beach is usually all it is, placed strategically (usually half-way through) as one stop out of many on a greater road trip of exploration.

A mindset of traveling-for-leisure has rounded-out the world in which I live to such a greater degree than would a yearly vacation to the Jersey Shore. It has led to a richer life, so that when I read or write about a snow-capped mountain range, steamy bayou, craggy coastline, deep forest, big sky, fire-belching volcano, quaint fishing village, distant mesa, rolling prairie, or parched desert, I can experience them more fully than someone who has not encountered these things. When I see in a movie or a television commercial an image of the Eiffel Tower, the Roman Coliseum, the Tower of London, the canals of Venice, the Black Forest, the Grand Canyon, a Mississippi paddle-wheeler, the Danube flowing through Budapest, the Great Lakes, Alcatraz, the Santa Monica Pier, Old Town Prague, Hollywood Boulevard, or the French Quarter, I know the greater context of it all hidden just off-screen.

Going back for repeat revisits to the places you’ve loved is a wonderful experience, but I urge those out there who’ve only ever gone to one place to try somewhere new just once to see if you experience the joyous growth found in exploring something new. Exploring is in our blood as American’s. From the American natives who ventured across that land bridge from Asia 10,000 years ago, to the first European settlers who braved a harrowing and uncertain ocean voyage to set up lives in an unknown wilderness, to those frontiersmen who explored the continent, to us more common men who set out on newly paved roads in horseless carriages and cruised down Route 66 with the top down, our country is made for exploration.

Some people collect stamps, others coins, some those god awful Beanie Babies. I collect lands and landmarks. I’ve been to 48 states and 25 countries. Of course it’s only the memories of them, or perhaps a souvenir or photo. I can’t take them with me, but they will be with me in my rocking chair when I am too old to travel any more, and there they will keep me company and remind me of a life not wasted.

Don’t wait to travel. Excitement, which is the most prevalent symptom of the travel bug, is high in my house as my wife, the boys and I are heading out soon. I urge you do the same. Heed the call of the road. Go now. It’s a big world out there and you only have one life in which to see it.

Please, share with me in the comments below, the subtle parts about traveling you love. I’d love to hear about them.

3 thoughts on “The Call of the Road”

  1. Joan Spengler

    My summer vacations as a kid was 2-3 weeks in the back seat of a car as my dad drove us to most of the National Parks west of the Mississippi. I wanted to go to the beach. In retrospect, I’m glad I saw the mountains and deserts and the giant redwoods instead.

  2. Your grandparents are 95. They feel lucky to have had adventures in many places. They can no longer go on trips, but relive the ones they did often. Enjoying their memories brings a smile to their faces.

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