There’s a story that comes from the tradition of the Desert Fathers, an order of Christian monks who lived in the wastelands of Egypt about seventeen hundred years ago. In the tale, a couple of monks named Theodore and Lucius shared the acute desire to go out and see the world. Since they’d made vows of contemplation, however, this was not something they were allowed to do. So, to satiate their wanderlust, Theodore and Lucius learned to “mock their temptations” by relegating their travels to the future. When the summertime came, they said to each other, “We will leave in the winter.” When the winter came, they said, “We will leave in the summer.” They went on like this for over fifty years, never once leaving the monastery or breaking their vows. Most of us, of course, have never taken such vows—but we choose to live like monks anyway, rooting ourselves to a home or a career and using the future as a kind of phony ritual that justifies the present. In this way, we end up spending (as Thoreau put it) “the best part of one’s life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it.” We’d love to drop all and explore the world outside, we tell ourselves, but the time never seems right. Thus, given an unlimited amount of choices, we make none. Settling into our lives, we get so obsessed with holding on to our domestic certainties that we forget why we desired them in the first place. Vagabonding is about gaining the courage to loosen your grip on the so-called certainties of this world. Vagabonding is about refusing to exile travel to some other, seemingly more appropriate, time of your life. Vagabonding is about taking control of your circumstances instead of passively waiting for them to decide your fate. Thus, the question of how and when to start vagabonding is not really a question at all. Vagabonding starts now. Even if the practical reality of travel is still months or years away, vagabonding begins the moment you stop making excuses, start saving money, and begin to look at maps with the narcotic tingle of possibility. From here, the reality of vagabonding comes into sharper focus as you adjust your worldview and begin to embrace the exhilarating uncertainty that true travel promises. In this way, vagabonding is not a merely a ritual of getting immunizations and packing suitcases. Rather, it’s the ongoing practice of looking and learning, of facing fears and altering habits, of cultivating a new fascination with people and places. This attitude is not something you can pick up at the airport counter with your boarding pass; it’s a process that starts at home. It’s a process by which you first test the waters that will pull you to wonderful new places.
Of all the intoxicants you can find on the road (including a "national beer" for nearly every country in the world), marijuana deserves a particular mention here, primarily because it's so popular with travelers. Much of this popularity is due to the fact that marijuana is a relatively harmless diversion (again, provided you don't get caught with it) that can intensify certain impressions and sensations of travel. The problem with marijuana, however, is that it's the travel equivalent of watching television: It replaces real sensations with artificially enhanced ones. Because it doesn't force you to work for a feeling, it creates passive experiences that are only vaguely connected to the rest of your life. "The drug vision remains a sort of dream that cannot be brought over into daily life," wrote Peter Matthiessen in The Snow Leopard. "Old mists may be banished, that is true, but the alien chemical agent forms another mist, maintaining the separation of the 'I' from the true experience of the 'One.'" Moreover, chemical highs have a way of distracting you from the utterly stoning natural high of travel itself. After all, roasting a bowl might spice up a random afternoon in Dayton, Ohio, but is it really all that necessary along the Sumatran shores of Lake Toba, the mountain basins of Nepal, or the desert plateaus of Patagonia? As Salvador Dali quipped, "I never took drugs because I am drugs." With this in mind, strive to be drugs as you travel, to patiently embrace the raw, personal sensation of unmediated reality--an experience for more affecting than any intoxicant can promise.