“Heading East:” The Art of Getting Lost

June 17, 2015 by Charlie Hedges − 0 Comments

In The Lord of the Rings, when Frodo began his Adventure, his friend Sam asked him, “Which way are we going Mister Frodo?” After a moment of thought Frodo realized he had no idea, so following his intuition he said, “I think we’ll head East and see what we find along the way.”

The idea of heading East (or West, North or South) has informed my thinking for years. In the late 1990’s I was upgraded to first class on a flight and was seated next to a VP of Charles Schwab who belonged to a team assigned with the formidable task of creating an Online Tool for the general public to trade with Schwab via their computers. (Although common today, it was not so in the mid 90’s.)

I still remember our discussion. His boss recognized that no one really knew what they were doing. Armed with a destination, but no roadmap he told his team, “All I can tell you about our assignment is that we are in New York City right now. We may end up in St Louis or LA or Seattle. I don’t know. All I can say is that we’re “Heading West.”

Wandering

Isn’t that the way it goes with the curious adventurer. We don’t really know where we’re going, but we know we are going somewhere. So we choose: East, West, North or South. Then let what comes come.

Have you ever taken an “Adventure?” Just got in your car or on a plane and went somewhere without detailed plans or expectations? My guess is that most of you have not. It’s not the American way for crying out loud. We’re planners and executers. Wanderers in search of getting lost are a whole ‘nother breed.

But you MUST TRY IT! Break tradition. Be crazy for a couple of weeks or months even. There’s a name for such wandering. It’s called “Vagabonding.”

In A Field Guide to Getting Lost, Rebecca Solnit quotes pre-Socratic philosopher Meno, “How do you go about finding the thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you?” You wander. You get a little lost in the unfamiliar until the unfamiliar seems so natural that you are no longer lost.”

The art of wandering with curiosity and adventure, and losing one’s internal and external bearings bring unexpected insight.

So here I am, “Heading East: LA to Paris to Belgium to Holland.” Other than my pre-booked nights in airbnb’s, I have no agenda. Like a mini-vagabonder, I have little interest in sightseeing or tourist attractions—except a few special museums.

That’s it. My focus is on wandering, getting lost, eating chocolate, and meeting fascinating people that I hope to interview and bring back to you. I’m curious about: How people in foreign cultures define “The Good Life?” What do Parisians think of Americans? Are tourists actually interested in more than the Eiffel Tower? Is pot really ubiquitous in Amsterdam? Will I discover fellow adventurers?

Fear of Being Lost

Although I planned my trip as an excited mini-vagabonder, once the trip got nearer I started experiencing fear; fear of the loss of control and fear of the unknown. I was forced to deal with a bunch of my insecurities. But then the OTHER me came forward, the 65 year old me who loves the unknown and the chaos and the crisis. The wanderer, delightfully lost, where things are new and strange… and there is a language I don’t speak.

Things go well when I become comfortable in the unfamiliar, in the little things I begin to recognize: the coffee house, my breakfast joint, the architecture, and the attitude of the people. Like a human cornucopia I snatch in all the details and somehow begin to feel at home.

Today, for instance, Pam and I took a taxi to a museum on the other side of the city. We walked out of the museum and had no idea where we were. We were definitely lost. Instead of taking another taxi we began walking in the direction we thought was toward our airbnb. After walking, taking a tram, being given a map we could barely understand, taking another tram, we finally found a place that looked familiar.

But we still didn’t know our way home except that it was definitely “northeast.” Haha. So we just walked, taking streets that always led us northeast until we eventually hit a very familiar landmark (The Grand Place) and found our way home. It was sooo cool. No fear. We always knew we would eventually find our way and we did. We got home and took a great nap. And talk about exercise—6 miles of walking each of the last two days. Bring on the Belgian chocolate!!!

I feel most alive when I am least comfortable and in less predictable circumstances. And, if I inhabit beauty in my new place, be it architecture or nature or a foreign culture with mostly friendly people, I feel radiant with a calm and secure comfort in the familiarity of the unfamiliar.

Fear dissipates and curiosity for the next unexpected thing takes its place. For me, it is being truly, truly alive.

The Wandering Difference-Maker

All this is rather self-serving, which is not all that bad except I can’t live my entire life merely cajoling my need for the new. Instead, I have added three rather loosely defined goals in my adventures. I want to:

  1. Explore the marvels of the world outside the US.
  2. Entice and encourage you to do the same. You’d be shocked how easy it is. And it’s not that expensive—just the flight costs, and even that can be haggled. I paid $80 or less each night to stay in outstanding airbnb’s. Food is inexpensive if you don’t eat gourmet. And I walk everywhere—5-6 miles each day. I also use the Metro. Now THAT’s an adventure. If necessary, I taxi.
  3. Take a “vacation with a purpose” in which I go to other countries as a volunteer to serve the needs of those much less fortunate than many Americans. In fact, I plan to do that regularly. And it’s usually even less expensive.

The US is a humongous country with tons of opportunities for adventurous wandering. You don’t have to travel the world.

Still there is nothing like another culture, another people, place and way of life. I guarantee you will never be the same if you go as a searcher, open to wandering and discovering, with a never-ending want of curiosity.

Whenever You’re Feeling Lost, Maybe It’s Time to “Wander”

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