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In the travel section of my library, skimming books on Costa Rica and Central America, I came across a book- misfiled I guess. Stuck amidst the vacation guides was “Travels with Charlie”, by famed novelist John Steinbeck.

Pulling it out, I retired to a corner chair. 1962, middle aged, renowned, Steinbeck had dropped everything to take a cross country trip, incognito, accompanied by his little dog.

Thumbing through, I noticed, wherever he roamed, the reactions were the same. “Take me with you” whether voiced or not. Why do we dream about getting away, the further the better?

Sites, tastes, lifestyles, travel in the past signified glamour, intrigue. Today, from the farthest outposts, innumerable videos exist on the internet. Why does it still excite so?

I think about people who quit jobs to travel. What did they hope to find? It couldn’t have been for just stories to tell.

I’m guilty of wanderlust myself, same desk job, activities, meeting new people but never deeper conversations. We live in the predictable, passive, commute to work, go out with friends, spectator sports, maybe jogging or to the gym. What good does that do for me or anyone?

A job with no future, frustrated love life, meaningless routines; maybe change will stir things up? Test your mettle; find your capabilities. That yearning, is it for answers? Where do I fit in, how can I make a difference?

When I think back on travel, I remember myself envious of those who found community- a horse race meetup ending the cattle roundup season in Australia, a kibbutz in Israel, meeting the extended family running a Costa Rican hostel. They worked toward a common goal, and mutual enhancement.

Journeying through Israel, staying with a family who were friends of friends, I encountered everyday lives. Theirs was like mine, only living on the edge as well. They knew that they may be called to war or bombed tomorrow and it made them humble. It also fostered a zest for living!

Memories envelop me, the spontaneous hikes, or mates preparing a shared dinner. The utility company went on strike cutting the power an hour before suppertime. No worries though, someone grabbed a guitar and everyone broke into old Aussie folk songs.

I went away to live in Australia, a guy not knowing how to have a good time. And I returned aware it’s an American problem- and an opportunity to teach my peers.

Without personal encounters or challenges, travel becomes an empty visage, of museums, architecture, restaurants and vistas. Hardly life changing, a postcard or video would do. Travel, when uneven, shows us alternatives; raw nature exposing what’s paramount.

So what are we searching for, running from or to? Despite what education and religion teaches us, there is no blueprint for a satisfied life. Even travelling in the US, other communities embrace different ideals too.

Perhaps, it’s the confusion of what isn’t familiar, or nature in her cruel precision Melding different worlds, we glimpse beauty and raggedness in other cultures which makes us reflect.

I have learned by traveling, living locally and hiking the less beaten paths. It’s freed my awareness and given me options- a more vibrant life in finding what I want. That’s what’s keeping me planning future trips.