Not all who wander are lost. — J.R.R. Tolkien
Wandering is where the magic happens. Deliberate or purposeful wandering creates most of the excitement, adventure, makes for the best experiences.
So many people spend a lot of money to travel to awesome places for very short periods of time barely giving them a whiff of what the places are. “Eight countries in seven days.” Sound familiar. Most end up so jet-lagged, the entire trip becomes a blur, save for a couple of snapshots and an over-priced souvenir or two.
The same experience can occur riding a bicycle too. Some focus on just riding a route. Riders out there with their heads down just trying to put in the miles. At the end of the ride, often after traveling through incredible places, all they can recall is getting from point A to B.
Go to see what there is to be seen. Deliberate or purposeful wandering is my preferred mode of travel.
The Chinese have a saying: “kan yi kan,” which means “to look” or “to see what there is to see.” Heading out to see what there is to see. I prefer to ride out with no real expectations and to see what is. I want to experience life as it is in its unvarnished form.
As I’ve come to understand over years of traveling: The best, most experienced travelers know wandering is where it’s at. It’s about threading the “perfect line.”
Wandering is Where the Magic Happens
More times than not, the most meaningful and memorable parts of a journey come not from the popular tourist destinations, but for the quiet, unassuming places only found by wandering the forgotten places. It’s in the ramshackle local markets or local watering holes where one can happen upon authentic locals going about their day. It’s in reaching out and engaging them, often for a moment or two, can we get a genuine glimpse into their lives and the world they live. Sometimes you’re fortunate enough to drink a beer or share a meal with these hospitable souls who’ve graciously allowed to into their lives. It is in those moments that unvarnished, unguarded connections are made.
Types of Wandering
On the road, I engage in several types of wandering: urban wandering, rural wandering, backcountry wandering, and long-distance wandering. Urban Wandering: Exploring the city streets and various cultural enclaves. Rural Wandering: Breaking from major thoroughfares in favor of local byways and backroads frequented mainly by locals. Backcountry Wandering: Getting off of sealed roads and onto dirt paths and trails. Long-Distance wandering: selecting a general route with a distant point at the end. Pointing your bike in the general direction, begin riding toward the horizon to see what can be seen. To varying degrees, one’s travel should involve all three.
Don’t Over Plan
The surest way to kill any potential adventure is to over-plan a journey. Construct a general route consisting of specific highlights or points you want to see, then connect the dots. Let the situation and circumstances guide the journey. Wander to where the wind takes you. Planning in too great of detail takes the magic out of the journey. Select a few locations and a general route and then adjust as you go. There isn’t much fun in traveling a route that is planned to down to the smallest detail.
Plan all the critical points in detail, such as getting to and away from your starting and ending destinations. Work out any required actions with any officialdom, such as visas, to a tee. Have all necessary documents correctly completed and ready to go. Know where to get money on the road. Know where to get help and how you’re going to communicate (phone, wifi, etc.). Have necessary contingencies in place. Have a backup plan to get you out of a jam, should the crap hits the fan.
Keep your itinerary generally open and a bit vague. Intentionally leave some room to wander and explore, to follow your curiosity once you’re on the road. Give yourself time and space to follow the wind.
Magic in White Space
Leave plenty of “white space” in your daily travels for the serendipity of the road. Don’t plan such a tight schedule for either the journey or daily travel that you end up missing all the places you want to see because you didn’t have enough time. Give yourself a little time to soak a place in. It is better to linger and more fully experience a place that just to rush by capturing only a glimpse of what could have been.
Get Off the Beaten Path
When you come to a fork in the road, take it! — Yogi Berra
Getting off the beaten path. Down in the hidden cultural enclaves and off of the conventional tourist trade routes is where the magic happens. It’s on these arbitrary wandering forays where one can find authentic locals going about their day and happen upon random encounters the tend to become the most memorable parts of the journey.
Linger in Interesting Places
When you come to an exciting place, hang around and take it in. If you’re like me, chances are you will never travel that way again. The world is a big place, and I want to see it all. Life is short. Make the most of your time. Suck the marrow out of that which intrigues you and then move on. Avoid dashing through places whenever possible. Your travel should be a journey, not a race.
Capture the Journey
Traveling, it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller. — Ibn Battuta
Don’t forget to carry a camera and a notebook to document your journey. Carry your smartphone at a minimum, which will make pretty decent images. Its voice to text function can also capture any thoughts you may have as well. In addition to my cameras, I always carry a pen and notebook to jot down essential details, ideas, and emotions. Images captured on your camera and words scribbled in your journal are gifts of the best kind. They are presents you give yourself in the future.
On a cold winter day, while sipping a cup of warm mulled wine, and thumbing through the pages of a coffee-stained, dog-eared journal, the words on the pages transport me to another space and time. Perusing through a dashed-off entry penned the first time I arrived on the Eurostar at the Gare du Nord train station in Paris for the first time instantly revives forgotten thoughts and emotions. It’s like I was just there.
Thoughts on Our Upcoming Kiwi Odyssey
We’ve planned our upcoming cycling trip to New Zealand this very way. The 70-day+ adventure will be a combination of family and solo riding that will take us to some of the most stunning landscapes while touching a bit of Maori culture that the islands have to offer.
Following our wandering strategy, we worked through the critical logistics and officialdom of getting to New Zealand and away. We did a lot of detailed planning for commercial transportation, which included first places to stay and store our bike boxes that will be needed for our return home.
Since our daughter has only a few weeks to travel, we set up the journey in two phases: First, clustered travel with the three of us riding together, then followed by a more extended end to end solo journey for me when Annie and Mia return home to Shanghai.
For the first couple of weeks, the three of us will concentrate our travel around Auckland on the North Island, and Queenstown on the South Island. We intend to linger for a week or two in those areas and explore the sites nearby. After which, Annie and Mia will return to Shanghai so Mia can begin her spring semester at school.
On our upcoming journey to New Zealand, I considered riding the Tour Aotearoa mountain bike road but ultimately decided against it because it bypasses many of the sights I want to see.
In the final stage, I will remain behind and travel from Bluff at the southern tip of the South Island to Cape Reinga, the northernmost point on the North Island, before returning to Shanghai. Between these two points, I’ve mapped out exciting landscapes and cultural aspects of interest I want to see along the way.
I considered riding the Tour Aotearoa mountain bike route between the two points, but unfortunately, it didn’t pass through many of the places wanted to visit. So, I will end up wandering along a combination of established cycling routes and road networks that link up the points I want to see, which I’ll publish in future posts.
Trying to experience some of the best New Zealand has to offer, as opposed to riding routes many others have done.
Traveling, it offers you a hundred roads to adventure and gives your heart wings. — Ibn Battuta
Don’t get too caught up in the planning. Act on your curiosity, do some research. Carve out sometime. Put up a few dots on the map and loosely string them together. That should be more than enough to get you rolling. Point your bike to the horizon and start riding. “Kan yi kan” and take it as it comes. You’ll be surprised at what you see.