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Photo: Chris Sanders

Andrew McCarthy’s new book The Longest Way Home finds him using travel as a method for sorting through life’s toughest questions.

Matador: I don’t think I realized that your acting career happened so fast, and that your first movie was a leading role. When you turned your mind to travel writing, did it happen that fast for you, too?

Andrew: I started in 2004 with my first story. I took off in a bigger way in 2010 with the Travel Journalist of the Year award. So it took that long. And then it took off instantly. People that were vaguely responding to my emails suddenly had an urgent need that I write for them.

It was very different from my acting career, whereas the acting I was always re-acting to – I was 22 odd years old and had no idea what was happening. In the writing it’s been very conscious. I was making sure I was trying to write for certain kinds of publications. The way I emerged was very deliberate. So, by the same time I was ‘outed’ as the same guy who was in these movies, I would have had a large body of substantial work under my belt, so that it wasn’t so easy to dismiss. By then I’d written for National Geographic, The New York Times, The Atlantic, so people couldn’t just say “Huh? The guy from Pretty in Pink?”

You’ve really put it all out there in this book. Were there any last minute nerves about revealing so much about personal struggles and relationships before it came out?

People ask me about this and I guess it’s a bit revealing, but I kind of feel like I don’t reveal anything except my human-ness. It’s not like a tell-all. I just talk about feelings that I think everyone has. I had no interest in writing a straight travel narrative, per se. Travel to me has always been as much about the internal as the external one.

My experience with travel is a very personal one. It’s not usually about a place. It’s my experience in the place that makes it memorable. That’s what I wanted to capture with the book. I have no great desire to see a bunch of ‘stuff’ and check things off my list, to see how many countries I could go to. That has no appeal to me. But I love what happens to me when I travel. And I love the experience of different cultures and different people. So, the book had to be that to me. It had to be this personal thing, if it was going to reflect how I travel, which is what I wanted it to do.

There were also issues I was just grappling with in life. That’s what I do when I travel, try to figure stuff out. Some people go to therapy, some people have coffee with the girls and chat about it, I go travel to figure it out. That’s what I did. I traveled this problem. I applied my travels to this dilemma to see where I was going to get with it.

Have you ever been on a traditional press trip?

No. It’s everything that I’m not looking for in a trip. I don’t want you to tell me where I’m going to go, and who I’m going to meet, and who I’m going to talk to. That just seems insane to me. It holds no allure for me at all.

I love that you have an enthusiasm for hotels that aren’t necessarily big names or chains. What are some of your favorites?

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.”

I like family run places because you get all of the charming neurosis of the family without any of the dysfunction because you can just walk away. But you can so clearly see how quirky and dysfunctional they are, but to you as an outsider it’s just charm.

I love a place where…when I get an extra bar of soap I feel like I’m being taken care of. As opposed to if I go stay at the St. Regis and my in-room supply of green tea isn’t replenished every day, I get furious. I hate how I behave, how I become when I’m in those places. I do not do pampered well. The best part of me does not come out when I’m pampered.

You talk about an elixir you drank in Peru, which I thought was funny when I read it, but ten times funnier when I saw the picture of you on the stuff at the end of your book. Have you ever figured out what it was?

No, it was probably just pure rum (laughs).

I was dragged into a hairy political conversation over the weekend. I went mute because I realized that many of the people I was sitting with, their idea of travel was to go to Orlando. Do you think this country would be different if people saw more of the world?

Yes. That’s my whole soapbox. I’ve said the Mark Twain line over and over in interviews, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.” America is an amazing place. But America is an incredibly fearful place. Most of our political decisions are based in fear. And travel obliterates fear. It just does. You can’t come back from somewhere and not be altered by it.

If Americans traveled, they’d be a much less fearful people. And if Americans were less fearful people, the world would react to us less fearfully, and the world would be a safer place. I do believe in sort of ‘change the world one trip at a time.’ If you can get that guy from Ohio who’s never been out of Ohio, the guy who decides our election… you would come back a different person, and you would see that the guy with a “towel on his head” is not trying to kill you any more than that crazy guy in Idaho is.

People take great exception when I say this. I said it on some TV show and I got all of these Tweets and emails. “That’s not true!” People will defend their fears to the grave. The reason we don’t travel is not money, it’s fear, period.

If we traveled we’d be different. You’re changed when you come back. The way to unite the world is through travel.

Journalist Interviews


About The Author

Tom Gates

Tom is a wayward writer based in Los Angeles. He has served as Editor for both Matador Nights and Life. He loves to go far, far away whenever possible. He is also pretending to be a third person right now and is obviously writing his own bio. He knows that you knew that, despite the deft maneuvering of pronouns. Tom's new book 'Wayward: Fetching Tales from a Year On The Road' is available for download on Amazon and iTunes.

  • Chrystine Olson

    So McCarthy has figured out what so many vagabonds have known for decades. Big deal. I’m sorry but his fame as an actor had to help open doors that wouldn’t be even cracked with someone without some sort of celebrity status…no matter what he claims. Could be envy…but the publishing world is so much about name recognition these days.

    • Sharon Hetherington

      Yeah, I read an article by him some time ago. He loves him.

  • Melanie Murrish

    You’re so right, (that is the bit you wrote about envy), I can see your green eyes from here! Read his book, and some of his travel articles and then make an informed decision!

  • Robin White

    ‘The reason we don’t travel is not money, it’s fear, period.’

    I realise that he was trying to make a point, but this strikes me as being fairly ignorant. The reason I don’t travel as much as I would like is money, period – there’s no fear involved. I’m sorry to say that unlike Mr.McCarthy we don’t all live in a world where it’s not an issue. If I wasn’t covering bills each month then sure, I’d travel a lot more, but as it is my budget is more concerned with how many tins of soup I can afford, as opposed to which South American countries I can amble through. Rest assured that it’s the same for the majority of people I know, who’d be fairly offended by sweeping nonsense like this. Fear? Get lost McCarthy.

    • Andrea Russell

      Wicked ignorant. Ugh. I loved this guy in Pretty in Pink and he had me hook line and sinker until the very end. Bummer:/

    • Laura Jane McWilliams

      But Rob, he’s not talking about YOU. You do travel. You may not travel as much as you like (neither do I, totally sucks, doesn’t it?), but you DO travel, and you’re not the kind of person he’s talking about. He describes that person as “that guy from Ohio who’s never been out of Ohio”, and I think the “fear not money” explanation is more valid in that case. The problem is sloppy writing in his conclusion where he uses “we” rather than “he” or “they”. Clearly he’s not talking about himself because he’s a travel journalist, just apparently a rather crappy one with a poor grasp of pronouns/a desire to appear not to offend by trying to include himself in the group he’s being rather rude about.

    • Robin White

      @[542635355:2048:Laura Jane McWilliams], that’s a very good point. I’d suggest that he’s clearly concerned with his abilities as a writer as he spends some incredibly pointless time telling us about all of the credentials he’s got which proves what a really smashing writer he must be. Ahem.

      Also, I have to say that I detest the way in which he attempts to foster the notion that he didn’t get any special treatment, with the result sounding like the polar opposite – ‘I was making sure I was trying to write for certain kinds of publications. The way I emerged was very deliberate.’

      Because obviously those of us who aren’t B-list celebrities are equally as able to pick and choose who we begin writing for. If only I’d known, I’d have made sure that I only emerged through the NY Times and National Geographic instead of all this regional stuff! I am silly….

    • Robin White

      Silly, and slightly bitter, obviously.

  • Scott Hartman

    Seems I’ve gone about this travel writing thing in the wrong way… in college, and afterwards, I studied writing. Silly me. Next time, I study acting, get a name for myself, then write. And as for fear, I actually do many/most of the exotic things I do to be face to face WITH fear. Would love to hit the road now, but I fear I have no money ;).

  • Digital Yak Studio_Deepika Shrestha Ross

    Going against the tide here…I was pleasantly surprised (and more than a little impressed) to learn what Andrew McCarthy has been up to.

    While I agree that his fame didn’t hurt him in launching himself as a travel writer, I also believe that he has succeeded because he has something to say. Sure, it’s a generalization to say that people don’t travel because of “fear” but there is a kernel of truth in it also. How many caucasian americans would feel comfortable traveling in the Middle East, or in poor neighborhoods of India and Africa or even parts of the USA where they might stand out like a sore thumb?

    Given his fame/wealth, he doesn’t have to travel the way that he does. So the fact that he does, is interesting and says something about him that I appreciate.

  • Nicky Classen

    For those of you who haven’t, read his book – you should read it especially if you want to pursue a travel writing career. The way he describes his travel adventures in every detail feels as if you are there with him. The more we travel – the more we realize we are ALL same…

  • Jared Krauss

    I wholly understand Mr. McCarthy’s intent here, that is to shockingly challenge people to travel, especially those who wouldn’t consider it, but I fear that he reaches those who are considering it, and not his intended audience.

    However, let’s say he did, in terms of plausibility and conjecture, which is where we’re both working, isn’t it just as possible that one man has the experience I had in Jordan with a bedouin (mind you I’m white, formerly middle-class, midwestern, and semi-educated at a right proper state University and took a semester off, or rather received Fs in all my classes in order to backpack mostly Egypt with short stints in Jordan and Israel)…where was I? Oh yes, Let’s say he has an experience in Jordan like I did, without elaborating, which isn’t my style, I’ll say the experience wasn’t very pleasant. I mean, with lazy local poice, overly serious tourist police, attempts by local tribal chieftains to be bought off, first with goats, then with land, and then finally with money, which I considered for a moment, and then tearful pleading from the father, and being silenced by a judge, and forbidden to speak even if all I said was, “You fucking liar,” after Khaled gave false account of the the twice removed night’s events…sorry, I said I wasn’t going to elaborate.

    As opposed to having the time that I did with bedouins in Egypt, in Nuweiba, on the beach, squatting in an abandoned bamboo hut formerly owned by a Swedish dude who had lost most of his money in 2009 and moved back to Sweden leaving the was empty resort of huts to be broken into by local kids bored when not in school.

    In other words, isn’t it as plausible that that man from Ohio goes to the Middle East. Let’s not get into statistics, because then you’ll have to start picking and choosing Twain quotes, “Lies, damn lies, and statistics,” is a good one by him.

    You’re working logic off assumptions, and while it works if you don’t think about it too much, it stops working when you start looking closer, similar to what Heisenberg might have felt.

    Which brings me to another notion: the definition of travel. You, it seems, would define travel as moving from a familiar geographic place to an unfamiliar geographic place, you might even feel the need to clarify further and say political boundaries need to be crossed, that is sovereign lines drawn invisibly and fantastically on maps but not on the world.

    I would disagree. And now I come to the heart of my purpose in posting: If I were to say, “All you need is travel,” (if I were to supplant love with travel and ruin an amazing song, that is) and say it forcefully and beautifully as I assume you’ve done, would I disagree with myself? This is kind of weird, but no I wouldn’t disagree with myself.

    But, if you were to say the exact same thing, which I’d think you are saying, would I disagree with you? I suppose I wouldn’t write such a long thing just saying, “I agree,” now would I?

    I disagree because travel is a mental state, as you yourself have proven. It is not about actually, physically, tangibly moving from a place to another, but it is a frame of mind. I went to a puppet show in a small town called West Liberty just outside of Iowa City, where I’ve lived for three full years in time, four chronologically, and I’ve been to West Liberty before, but I was ready to explore, it was a night of adventure, and I felt that the other day when running through Happy Hollow Park as I came out into a open meadow field in the late Fall and even with most of the leaves gone, looking back West towards the city I could see no hint of development, and this right in the middle of Iowa City, and there if felt it again.

    And there are other humans capable of needing even less distance covered than that to feel these feelings. I won’t get all mystical on you, as I’m not mystical.

    It’s not all about “travel” as you’ve defined it, it’s about interactions, interlocutions ( used that for the alliteration), and other inter thingys that mean two or more people, which could even be the fighting urges in your brain, sit down and have a cup of tea, or smoke some shisha, or hashish, or tobacco and start pointing at things and saying, “Ey the bil Arabia?”

    • Jared Krauss

      Please ignore the drunkenly mistyped and untyped words, or, in the case of untyped, please supply the word that seems to fit most. :)

    • Jared Krauss

      and how the hell did “da” get changed to “the” in my last sentence. da makes no sense.

  • Robin White

    You’re impressed that because he’s famous he gets to go on holiday and get paid for doing it? Obviously, that’s particularly impressive. You know, I travel and pay for it out of my own pocket, so that practically makes me your hero.

  • Digital Yak Studio_Deepika Shrestha Ross

    Let me clarify, as perhaps you missed my point. Given his wealth, he has the option of traveling in luxury, but from the article, I gathered that he doesn’t always choose to do so. I assume that’s because he’s looking for a more authentic experience, and that is something I can appreciate.

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