Recently, I was invited to a get-together, and to bring the book that had most inspired me in my life. I stood in front of my bookcase and, at once, I saw Homer. I knew immediately, that was it.
I devoured his books as a child and read The Odyssey many times. Ten years of wandering around the Mediterranean, experiencing incredible adventures, and defying terrible dangers to end with the safe return home into the arms of his Penelope. My imagination was at full tilt the entire time. I realised that the powerful tales of Odysseus – combined with the journeys I went on with my parents and sister – had awakened an insatiable appetite for travel in me.
But what was it about those stories? What was it in the tales of an ancient Greek hero that so appealed to me? In other words, what makes a globetrotter?
Most of all, it was his fearlessness, his desire for adventure, his patience, curiosity, steadfastness, open mind, and his ability to respond to events wherever they arose. No matter how much the world has changed in all respects since then, I am convinced that these are still the characteristics of the world traveler in 2017.
Anyone who wants to travel to the corners of the earth still needs some amount of nerve. You can find all sorts of information in advance about a variety of places. Even so, the situation there is always different than what you had imagined beforehand. There are languages you don’t speak, foods you don’t know, climates that you’re not accustomed to. There are dangers, there is unrest, travel in junky old buses or overfull cars. Sometimes it’s better not to think too long about all the risks or you won’t go anywhere at all.
Things don’t always go the way you want, and definitely not when you want. Certainly when it comes to travel, patience is a virtue. The bus breaks down. You can wait for hours for someone who, it turns out, never shows up. You can be starving – you’ll want to eat now– but, sadly, the restaurants won’t open for another two hours. You might think you have the simplest question, but the civil servant is slow – or worse: incompetent – and that one stamp can take hours to get.
The globetrotter’s driver. Or better yet, the fuel in his engine. The drive to discover new things that transcend everything else. For me, it was curiosity that made me want to cross the border – and not just for a moment. I really wanted to discover the country, to be amazed by the nature, the cities, the sights, and especially the people.
Odysseus encountered many unexpected situations that he just barely managed to escape and, often, with a fair amount of ingenuity. On dozens of occasions, he could have thrown down his spear. But he did not because he had a more important aim: to return home. These days, it can also be necessary for the modern globetrotter to remain steadfast. Setbacks are part and parcel of travel. They are the standard challenge of every traveller. And even though they can drive you to the edge, they finally provide you with the best anecdotes.
An open mind
The trick is to remain as open as possible from the start and not to make assumptions about all the regular clichés before you travel to unknown lands. Give that place the chance to amaze you. Give the people the chance to see who you are. Be surprised. Plan as little as possible in advance. Keep your hands free so that you can decide on the spot, preferably every day, what you’re going to do.
Who knows? Maybe you’ll be invited into peoples’ houses and you’ll gain a unique look into local life. Or maybe you’ll find yourself in an irresistible place where you’ll want to stay longer. Or, if it’s not as good as you hoped, you can leave earlier. Don’t worry. There’s a solution for everything. Just look at Odysseus. Like some kind of Houdini, he knew how to get out of the most impossible situations.