I have read my fair share of travel books – travel memoirs, travelogues, travel guides, you name it. While I enjoy reading about the places, the experiences and the adventures, I don’t often find myself relating to the author on a personal level. I love reading Paul Theroux, but I don’t really “get” him. I enjoyed parts of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, but it just didn’t resonate with me as a whole. I could relate to passages here and there but at the end I felt a little empty.
Andrew McCarthy’s The Longest Way Home was different. It connected with me.
More than any other travel book (or almost any kind of book), I found myself nodding and smiling and even tearing up as I read along. Despite the gender difference, I could put myself in his shoes. I saw myself in what he was writing.
The Longest Way Home isn’t your typical travelogue or travel memoir. It really isn’t about the destinations- although McCarthy’s descriptions piqued my interest and had me mentally adding Patagonia, the Amazon and Mt. Kiliminjaro to my already lengthy bucket list. But no, it was really about the journey.
McCarthy starts by taking us briefly through his coming of age as an actor, his struggles to deal with the fame and subsequent alcohol abuse. As a thirty-something female who still counts Pretty in Pink and St. Elmo’s Fire among her favorite movies, a lot of this was news to me (although perhaps I just chose to ignore it). The travel journey begins shortly after McCarthy agrees to marry his longtime girlfriend and mother of his daughter, a woman he refers to simply as “D.” In an attempt to find himself and prove himself to himself, McCarthy takes off to some of the most remote spots on the globe.
As he describes climbing a glacier in Patagonia, mixing with expats in the Osa in Costa Rica, cruising on a riverboat up the Amazon and climbing Kiliminjaro, it is clear the impact of each experience has little to do with the specific destination. “For me, travel has rarely been about escape,” McCarthy writes, “it’s often not even about a destination. The motivation is to go – to meet life, and myself, head-on along the road.”
Throughout the book, McCarthy struggles between his self-professed identity as a loner and his impending marriage. As a fellow solo traveler and a bit of an introvert, I could relate a lot to his insights about traveling alone:
“Because I spend so much time alone when I travel, those fears, my first companion in life, are confronted, resulting in a liberation that I’m convinced never would have happened had I not ventured out.”
Likewise, as I read his description of his feelings after climbing Kiliminjaro, I found myself nodding in agreement, as I could have written nearly the same words about the upcoming completion of my year of travel:
“I had hoped to come down with a sense of completeness, but instead I’m left with a feeling of detachment. What was all that about? What was the point? Nothing was really achieved. No good was created. Nothing changed. Yes, I have a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment. I am glad I made it to the top…Yet I feel no great change or release.”
Of course, McCarthy goes on to have some more significant revelations about what his time on Kiliminjaro meant (hopefully I will do the same!) and how he could apply it to his upcoming marriage – as he does with all of his travel experiences. He takes a little something from each one.
The book is no Pretty in Pink or Breakfast Club with a teasing cliffhanger and McCarthy needing to chase down his dream girl in order to have the happy ending. But like travel itself, the book isn’t so much about the destination (the ending) as it is about the journey.
And as McCarthy shares his personal journey, he effectively conveys the deeper value in seeing the world: exposing yourself to other cultures and experiences, pushing outside of your comfort zone, and using your experiences on the road to enrich your life back home.
The Longest Way Home: One Man’s Quest for the Courage to Settle Down is now available on in stores or for your Kindle.
(Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of The Longest Way Home to review and the above links are affiliate links so I will earn a small commission on any purchases.)