En español | I'm sure it can't be the case, but it feels as if most of my grand and life-altering moments have happened on the road, far from the comfort zone of my home and routine.
It's difficult to imagine what shape my life might have taken had I not set out often, leaving the familiar for the unknown. There is nothing heroic in it — we all know it's often more difficult to stay put — but for whatever reason, the road has become the laboratory and university of my life.
In my youth, when I ran off to the not-so-distant New Jersey shore, travel was an escape, a life raft carrying me toward my independent existence. Later, in London, it was a way of hiding when I needed respite. Deep in the Rocky Mountains, I grew to understand friendship in a way I hadn't before. And in Southeast Asia, I found myself stepping into a feeling of power that has proven invaluable over time. On the other hand, in Patagonia, I began to embrace my limitations in a way that has liberated me. On recent journeys, such as to Sudan and Morocco, I recaptured a sense of naivete, reminding me that life is full of endless surprises.
The very act of setting out is one of the most optimistic things I know of. By landing in a place where we know no one, we are saying to the world, "Receive us — we make ourselves open to you." We are innocents again. And in that innocence, the world and our place in it are available for rediscovery.
Sometimes, though, the path from optimism to discovery is a rocky one. Once, under a Spanish sky that was empty save for a blistering sun, on the high Meseta somewhere east of León and west of Burgos, I had a weeping, curse-filled temper tantrum. I was halfway into a 500-mile walk along the Camino de Santiago, a route followed by pilgrims both ancient and modern, and I found myself exhausted, played out, hopeless. When my tears finally subsided, I sat alone and quiet for a long while and was revealed to myself. Fear, I saw clearly and at last as I sat on the hot, dry earth, had ruled me. This knowing, and the acceptance of it, has altered everything that has come since.
Mark Twain famously wrote, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness." It is also detrimental to cynicism. Turning a corner and coming upon Rome's Trevi Fountain ablaze at night, I felt awe and pure delight. Then, looking to my wife, seeing that same look of wonder in her eyes reconnected us in the way that it sometimes seems only majesty can do, and in that instant of connection, years rolled away. We fell in love anew.
Travel changes us. We don't even have to try. We simply need a little willingness — and a decent pair of shoes.
Actor, director and travel writer Andrew McCarthy is the author of The Longest Way Home: One Man's Quest for the Courage to Settle Down.