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Sailing Around The World

There are a lot of things I don't get to talk about in this blog when we are traveling. The day-to-day experiences are enough to fill this blog, so I often skip little things. But today, since I'm parked in the bedroom working on the computer, I have no time to go play and I do have a bit of time to reflect.

One of the things I don't get to talk about much is what I'm reading. Although you might not care, what I'm reading has a huge impact on how I see our surroundings, and hence what appears in this blog. A nice feature of the Airstream we have is that it has two bedside nooks, perfect for books. I like to read each night before bed, and so the nook is always full. Traveling also means learning about the places you visit, and one of the very best places to find books about local culture and history is the store at any national or state park.

My real problem is restraining myself from buying a half-dozen books at every stop. We just haven't got room to store them all! So I usually only buy one every few stops. In Nevada I bought "Touring California & Nevada Hot Springs," in Arizona I bought "Roadside History of Arizona" and "The Harvey Girls," but these are more reference books than literature.

For this reason I was thrilled when Andy left me a copy of "Sailing Alone Around The World," by Captain Joshua Slocum. Slocum was a a washed-up old mariner with familial, legal, and financial problems when in the 1890s he built a personal sloop and sailed off solo to adventure. His voyage, a sort of "Walden on the sea", became famous, and Slocum eventually wrote this book about it. In the end, he emerged from the trip "ten years younger" than when he left Boston, and one pound heavier.

Slocum's book is a remarkable bit of prose especially considering the author had no more than a third-grade formal education. The flow and pacing are beautiful, and the romance he brings to the mundane exercise of piloting a craft across featureless seas is inspiring. He manages to turn even a bout with food poisoning into a thrilling experience.

We, too, are sailing around the world in our own way. Like Slocum we are setting sail with only the vaguest of destinations, and letting the experiences happen as they will. This is part of our "post-modern traveling" philosophy, a deliberate lack of structure that encourages accidental discovery, unexpected turns, startling revelations, and the joy of true freedom.

With a rigid travel program in place, one can nearly eliminate the chance element. The risk of a bad hotel, a dull moment, uncomfortable surroundings, or becoming lost, disappears when one is bound by a pre-programmed schedule that has been carefully vetted by someone before you. But I think this is a false reassurance. Expecting that nothing unexpected will happen is paradoxically a self-fulfilling prophesy that you will be disappointed by something, however small. The world is not so cooperative and predictable, no matter what you pay the tour guide. Our philosphy is that it is best to accept that structure in travel is mostly an illusion, and embrace the challenge of constantly-changing circumstance instead.

Slocum had a tough life, in which he learned much about sailing and human nature, but seemed unable to apply it to his own circumstances until late. For that reason, his voyage around the world appeared to be escapism. But in fact he was finally running to his own true calling as a solo traveler and writer, most comfortable in his ship's well-stocked library with Thoreau, Tennyson, Melville, Conrad, and Dickens. I am inspired by his ability to finally find himself after a lifetime of frustration and disappointment. It must have been hard to accept that his destiny could only be found by taking enormous risks into an unknown future. But his choice paid off, proving once again that following one's heart is the best path.

So every night, I marvel at the similarity between the daily steps of his voyage of self-discovery, and ours. This is the stuff that great bedtime reading is made of. I'll be sorry to finish the book, but glad to have met a fellow traveler such as Captain Slocum.

Sign for the day 1.jpg
Sign of the week

What else is in my book nook today? "The World Is Flat," by Thomas L Fleischman; "The Digital RV" by my good friend R.L. Charpentier (available through or; "His Excellency" by Joseph L Ellis (a biography of George Washington); and a pre-publication galley of "Mobile Mansions" by Douglas Keister (coming out in April from Gibbs Smith).


Glad you like the book!

My fascination with it was on many levels: dealing with The Sea, of course; the differences between then and now in technology, society, and a New Englander's expectations in life; the use of language; the parallels in his and your philosophy of traveling -- and his and your ability to write entertainingly about your respective travels.

It was funny when the old-timers inspecting the boat before he launched the "Spray" all commented, "It'll crawl!"

I can imagine a modern-day equivalent of that scene, as passers-by observe an amateur Airstream owner replacing a bunch of rivets: "It'll leak in the next good rain!" :-)


Terrific stuff, thanks for sharing!

Carolyn and I are planning to order our first trailer this weekend -- a 20' Airstream Safari SE -- so I've been catching up on your blog. Sure wish I'd read it before you left San Diego: we have a home near Balboa Park, and I would have definitely looked for you!

I look forward to reading about your power solution, but that's for later...

Thanks for the book suggestions, too! Did you mean "The World Is Flat"
by Thomas L. _Friedman_ ?


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