On the Road

Make Extensive Travel Plans and Make God Laugh

Work it all out as you go along.

Young travellers often write to ask advice on the journeys they have planned out it always makes me smile. It takes me back straight away to when I was a bright-eyed 18 year old and I looked over the world map as if it were a menu. Just pronouncing the names of foreign cities made me feel like I was one step closer to arriving there.

This is an extract from an email I received a while ago.

Work in Ibiza for a bit, then travel south to Morocco… Get ready there… I’m either going to travel with Bedouins (ha, if I’m really lucky) or hitchhike across the Sahara… Hitchike through Egypt to Israel… My parents are Jewish, so I’m ok to chill there for a bit, save a lil more shekel… New friend meets me out there, Tel Aviv … travel through Southern Middle East… Head to Mecca :> then work up through UAE to Iran, head east to Pakistan, then up with the Oriental railroad… Get to China, pack east until I can find a way to Tibet… take Tibet to Nepal, then south to India… Work at the Calcutta Mission for a bit… find a ride over Myanmar to Thailand, Thailand to Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam… North to Hong Kong…

Find boats to take us through the Philippines and through Indonesia all the way to Australia… just head south… Get around Australia to Perth, sign aboard a freighter to get to South Africa.

Apart from the lack of research (try getting within a mile of Saudi Arabia with an Israeli exit stamp and forget Mecca), the letter was overflowing with energy and enthusiasm and made feel like a jaded old fart at 31.

I wrote back the same thing I always write, quoting John Lennon for the millionth time: ‘We make God laugh by telling him our plans.

This is why we think round the world tickets are mostly a waste of money. You might fall in love in Paris, you might convert to Islam in Cairo, you might lose a leg on an unexploded landmine in Croatia, you might buy a Volkswagen van and become a hippie in Australia or disappear into the Mexican outback eating peyote buttons for the rest of your life…

What’s for sure is that if your travels go well, then you’ll change. So there’s no way you can know what you’ll want to do 6 weeks from now, never mind 6 months. Spontaneity and flexibility are at the heart of being a free traveller as you live in the moment and just surf each new circumstance like a wave.

‘Bizarre travel plans are dancing lessons from God’, said a character in one of Kurt Vonnegut’s books and therein lies the essence of travel.

By all means, be open to possibilities – cool, there’s a jazz festival in Belgium in August, the Sufis meet up in Konya in the winter, the whales migrate on the East African coast in the spring… these might all be options which you can choose to take or not to take.

But stressing too much about the future leaves you little room to enjoy the moment. One eye on the destination really does mean only one eye on the path.