Make Your Next Trip to a Destination Unknown

The joy of travel is in the wandering

| March-April 1999

You won't find it on the map. And there are no scheduled flights, yet it's one of the best places for discovery on the planet. I hereby submit the case for going, uh, nowhere. It has many obvious attractions—no schedules, no crowds, no 20-pound guidebooks to lug. But most people are reluctant: It's hard to pack for no particular place at all. And how do you get there, when there's no there there?

In a destination-oriented world, the virtues of a nonitinerary are as clear as dark matter. We're conditioned to think we must get from point A to point B via the shortest possible route and before everybody else, even though there is nobody else. We wind up beating only ourselves out of the juice of journey, the stuff in between.

One of the ironies of travel is that we often get more mileage out of it when we have no objective. Set out without a fixed destination, and the prizes multiply as you enter a collide-o-scope of people and paths attracted to you as if by some cosmic pheromone. Transit is provided by a vehicle that may need dusting off: wandering, your guaranteed ride to wherever. It's a time-honored route to wisdom in some cultures. Aborigine youths learned the ways of the world on walkabouts, long trips into the wilderness alone. “To start from nowhere and follow no road is the first step towards attaining Tao,” wrote Chinese philosopher Chuang Tzu.

But, by God, we want results, and we want to know what they are before we leave the door—conquering Kilimanjaro, blitzing Tuscany. Nothing wrong with a mission, mind you, but obsessive quest of the most direct line to the goal turns your travels into rote, notch-on-the-belt affairs. I used to sprint through trips, congratulating myself on how much I'd polished off.

Now I know that when I wander over to a guy grilling chicken along the road in a town in Belize, something more delicious than bagging a distant town by sunset may happen. I may find out about life when Belize was British Honduras, or chat with a woman about music, or be asked to a local dance. Suddenly I'm not on the outside looking in: I'm looking for a punta rock step.

Wandering is mobile meditation. When I'm going nowhere, everywhere is interesting. I don't feel the need to be anyplace else, which is just the way my blood pressure likes it. I can veer off over there if I want, zigzag to the highlights of my trip.

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