On the Road

Where Does a Traveler Belong?

Searching for our tribe.

Travel has almost always been a solitary affair for me.

Heading out alone seemed the only real way to encounter myself in foreign lands, the contours of my psyche reflected in the people and situations my path crossed. Yet, as the talkative nature of most hermits testifies, there are few among us who do not hunger for company. We cast ourselves out, banish our own souls and then wander in search of somewhere to belong, perhaps a tribe to join.

A wry passage from Bruce Chatwin reminded me of a time when I found it for a while. Observing that the Sufis of old used to tear their clothing in the ecstatic abandonment of dance, they often left their garments deliberately torn and shred to mark themselves apart. Chatwin then observes:

A fashion for patchwork often returns with ecstatic dance movements.

I first found my tribe in India in the mid 90’s as an 18 year old in the freak scenes in Goa and the Himalayas that prospered around the trance parties. Coming from any number of countries, we had common cultural references in the music and books we shared, piercings, tattoos and fluoro clothing gave us a tribal costume and we even had monthly sacraments at the full moon parties when a total stranger might tap you on the shoulder and then pour a couple of drops of liquid LSD into your palm.

The parties were all we really had to hold us together though and when the spirit was finally killed by the local mafia and police who wanted part of the action, the freak scenes largely declined and disintegrated. In the space of a few years everyone seemed to grow up and get serious, making money from what was left of the scene by selling on the markets or having children and going home to raise them.

As sad as it was to watch our temporary community fade, the alternative was to head back to where we came from and, for many of us, there seemed to be no way back. How could all the moments of clarity on the road, the contorted journeys into the unknown, ever be brought back to a society that never noticed we were gone?

And yet, like blood that pumps out from the heart and returns again, there’s an urge to return, to share our experiences, make them real by sharing them. Otherwise the incessant quest for new adventures on the border of human experience becomes another act of selfish consumption, ultimately empty as it stagnates inside us. Like Alexander Supertramp from Into the Wild, ‘happiness is only real when shared’.

Road Junky has been that journey for me. Even if I still found myself on the road in some forgotten corner of nowhere, I had only to log in at some internet cafe and connect to tens of thousands of readers in the time it took me to put an article together. And we’ve heard from so many road junkies out there that it no longer feels so strange to be a modern nomad, even if our tribe is scattered far and wide, connected only by endless miles of fiber-optic cables.

And truth be told, in a multi-cultural society, you can travel half the world in a stroll about town; you can discuss samosa recipes with the Pakistani at the corner shop, chat in Spanish with the Ecuadorian busker in the street, take capoeira lessons at the local community center and host travelers passing through your neck of the woods via couchsurfing.

Ultimately our lives are about other people. Perhaps we form our tribes one person at a time, a friendship in itself a chance to travel alongside another each time you meet. Chatwin also noted that ‘home is where your friends are’ and as far out there as we go, in the end we probably need to go back.