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Thoreau understood something that many of us modern day nomads would do well to recognize: travel is a matter of perspective, not location.

Henry David Thoreau.

“I have traveled a great deal in Concord,” said Henry Thoreau, a native of…wait for it…Concord, Massachusetts.

In fact, Thoreau traveled far and wide for his day and age, vagabonding to Cape Cod and the vast wilderness of the Maine Woods. However, the great prophet of enlightened self-reliance claimed to have done most of his traveling in his own hometown.

Thoreau understood something that many of us modern day nomads would do well to recognize: travel is a matter of perspective, not location. With curiosity, an open mind and a broad horizon of free time, it’s possible to travel in your own backyard.

With curiosity, an open mind and a broad horizon of free time, it’s possible to travel in your own backyard.

I’m writing in El Calafate, a tourist boomtown in Argentine Patagonia. I am, admittedly, a long way from home. But, just the same, at the moment I’m not really traveling.

I’m in the common area of a hostel – two girls from Boston are shooting pool in front of me, and it’s hard to concentrate on writing when they bend over to take a shot. Sublime is playing on the stereo…Girl, Caress Me Down…. I’m wearing Patagonia brand clothes, but I’m not really experiencing Patagonia anymore than you are.

Neither, sadly, are many of my fellow tourists here in El Calafate. Every hour, buses segregated by wealth and nationality pull up to the viewpoint overlooking the Perito Moreno glacier.

Tourists disembark – they Ooh and Ahh in their respective languages, snap a few trophy photos, nap in the bus back to the hotel and fly thousands of miles back home on airplanes that belch carbon into the sky.

Meanwhile, the famous glacier shrinks, but that’s OK – I already have my ice-climbing photo.

What Makes A Traveler?

Now, the tourist / traveler distinction has already been beaten into the ground, and I’m not so sure of its validity in the first place. But it IS clear that coming all the way to Patagonia does not make one a traveler.

How did Thoreau manage to travel in Concord when so many of my fellow tourists never leave their comfort zones?

So what DOES make a traveler, I wonder? How did Thoreau manage to travel in Concord when so many of my fellow tourists here in El Calafate never leave their comfort zones?

Well, Thoreau rambled. He walked the country roads and stopped to talk to anyone he met along the way. He followed fox tracks through the snow, and wondered at their meaning. He approached the fields and homesteads of Concord with an open-ended sense of curiosity.

He looked at things, and thought about them, and tried his best to place them within the context of his broad experience. He moved slowly, and he paid attention.

Into The Hills

I remember one time, back when I worked an office job.

It was a Tuesday, and after work I just couldn’t take it any longer: with nothing but the clothes on my back I set off into the hills behind my house, trekked across the coal fields and into the valley beyond. The sun started to go down, but I just kept walking.

I came upon a small stream, which I resolved to follow until it led back to civilization. The night was dark, and there was no moon. I traveled by feel, my mind wide open, my nerves on edge. Once, I stepped on a sleeping turtle – and believe me, that was a shot of adrenaline on par with a virgin view of the Mayan Temples, the Egyptian Pyramids and even Angkor Wat.

Four times I came to dams, and had to scramble around them through thick bamboo grass. When I finally emerged into a village, covered in mud and cobwebs, it was past midnight.

The next day at work I couldn’t stop grinning. I had gone on a TRIP. Beyond that, I now knew what was Out There, over the hills, and by understanding what was Out There, I had a better appreciation for home and work – the comfortable routines to which I was able to return.

My carbon footprint for the journey? Zero.

A Sense Of Wonder

The truth is, we travel every time we open our minds to a new possibility, every time we open our hearts to a new emotion, every time we take a new track, read a new book or just look at a rock and wonder how it got there.

There is comfort in routine and stability, but when we stop traveling we lose the sense of wonder that equates to joy, that carves new channels in our minds and makes us feel alive. So go. Go on. Go.

Take a notebook and a pen and a camera – see what you find. Then come back, and tell me the story.

BNT contributing editor Tim Patterson travels with a sleeping bag and pup tent strapped to the back of his folding bicycle. His articles and travel guides have appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, Get Lost Magazine, Tales Of Asia and Traverse Magazine. Check out his personal site Rucksack Wanderer.

NarrativeSpirituality

 

About The Author

Tim Patterson

Tim Patterson is a long-time contributor and former contributing editor at Matador Network.

  • jenn

    I love the slowness. Thank you. I love the joy. Thank you.

  • http://gregwtravels.travellerspoint.com Greg Wesson

    “I came upon a small stream, which I resolved to follow until it led back to civilization.”

    I remember doing this so many times when I was a kid. I so seldom do anything so spontaneous anymore.

    Now, I still walk in the woods around my town, but it’s always so PURPOSEFUL. I need to get in 10 kms of hiking for exercise or for training. I think I need to leave the pedometer at home…

  • http://www.rucksackwanderer.com/ Tim Patterson

    You’re welcome Jenn – thanks for the comment.

    Greg – we can learn a lot about how to wander in the woods from Calvin and Hobbes!

  • Eva

    Thanks for this post, Tim! I really enjoyed it.

    This is the kind of thing I did all the time when I was living in England, just walked along the river and out of town, but never seem to do when I’m at home in my “permanent” home. I definitely wandered more as a kid, and also when I was a dog owner! The dog was always a great excuse to go out in a thunderstorm or a blizzard, which can be really rewarding in a strange way…

    I still have never gotten around to reading Walden – it’s on the list.

  • http://www.bravenewtraveler.com/about/meet-advertising-manager/ Laura

    Tim,
    Wonderfully deep sentiment expressed here. particularly:
    There is comfort in routine and stability, but when we stop traveling we lose the sense of wonder that equates to joy, that carves new channels in our minds and makes us feel alive. So go. Go on. Go.

    When Routine and Comfort block out discovery and wonder, then you need a major life tune-up.

    Like Dylan said “If you’re not busy being born, you’re busy dying.”

  • http://www.rucksackwanderer.com/ Tim Patterson

    Gotta love the poetry and truth of Dylan – “everyone of them words rang true and glowed like burning coals” – that’s what I aspire to.

    Thanks for the good words, Laura. You rock.

  • http://cultureonthecheap.wordpress.com Olivia Giovetti

    “…read a new book…”

    YES. Thanks, Tim. I love the transformative ability books have. Sometimes, a $20 trip to Barnes and McNoble is just as good as a trip to Bali or Bulgaria.

    Ian, how about a top-whatever guide to books to get lost in compiled by suggestions from all of us Brave New Travelers?

    • http://www.bravenewtraveler.com Ian MacKenzie

      actually, a top books list is getting ready as we speak. will be out shortly. maybe from there we can pare it down to BNT’s Member Top 15 or so.

  • http://www.maketravelfair.com Stephen Chapman

    Nice piece Tim. Enjoyed reading this, strikes a chord.

  • http://www.clerkandtellerexplorers.com jeff

    Thanks for this post, Tim! I really enjoyed it too. wow I am loving these new travel blogs, I have found a few really cool ones! that image of the glacier is amazing! I have climbed the franz joseph glacier in NZ which was an incredible experience

  • http://www.writingtravellers.com Ferdinand Harmsen

    Wonderful article Tim. I send it to every one I know who says he/she likes travelling. I am always wondering who could write best travel guides: travellers or locals. You gave part of the answer with your article.

  • http://www.rucksackwanderer.com/ Tim Patterson

    Thanks for the good words everyone – much appreciated!

  • http://www.on-common-ground.com Roldan F. Smith

    Excellent, Tim. Excellent. And great reminder that the journey is as much (if not more) within the traveller. It’s the beauty and appreciation of this life and the many experiences it has to offer us for growth potential.

  • http://www.worldresolution.net/travel Sean Weisbrot

    [quote]Like Dylan said “If you’re not busy being born, you’re busy dying.”[/quote]

    The actual quote comes from the movie Shawshank Redemption, and it is, “you either get busy living or get busy dying.” Morgan Freeman says it :)

  • Aline Lindemann

    Wonderful. I’m with you. When I’m itching to travel but have obligations at home, I try to see my home and my neighborhood as something new- as a vacation destination. It makes the ordinary seem beautiful and worthy of written description. It’s not what, but how. As in, how we see it. right?

    Two more who brought meaning to simple surroundings were Henry Beston in The Outermost House- another Cape Cod memoir, and Anne Morrow Lindbergh in Gift From the Sea. I re-read them every year as reminders of the beauty and adventure that is easily within reach.

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