The Wander Year is Mike McIntyre’s memoir of his and longtime girlfriend, Andrea Boyles’ year of travel. In 2000, McIntyre, then 42, and Boyles, 40, covered 22 countries on 6 continents. They crossed the equator 6 times, took 45 flights and slept in 169 beds “plus one sand dune.” The trip cost $51,470.
We’ve penciled in an itinerary, but we’re carrying a big eraser. If we sound a bit aimless, it’s because we pretty much are. There is no grand purpose or point to our journey. The heaviest part of it, I suspect, will be our backpacks.
Having begun in Fiji and toured New Zealand and India, Mike and Andrea “fret that their trip has yet to be defined. We are in transition—no longer tourists but not quite travelers,” a temporary condition. Soon they are
more enthralled by what we see between the sights. Serendipitous snapshots of life, honest and unrehearsed. Sudden glimpses of the sad and the sublime.
The couple’s engaging enthusiasm and beguiling naiveté while visiting sights and meeting people give the trip meaning. They become wanderers, enjoying
“the sensation of being on the way, in the middle, gone… excited to wake up in an unfamiliar place and greet the uncertainty of a new day.”
McIntyre’s itinerary is a model for independent travelers. Go where your heart takes you. Visit must‑sees, either natural or constructed. Stray from the routes of organized tours and cruises; but don’t neglect great sights worthy of any bucket list. Trek in the Himalayas, see the Taj Mahal, Alhambra, Milford Sound, Angkor Wat, haggle with a rug merchant in an Arabian bazaar, experience the faithful at Lourdes and Varanasi. Journey by different means other than plane, train, auto and bus.
…we’ve seen the world by foot, ice shoes, elephant, minibus, bike, aerial tramway, ferry, catamaran, canoe, raft, motorboat, rowboat, jet boat, longboat and slow boat.
Their trip is a globe-trotting odyssey. McIntyre and his future wife discover Hoi An, a charming “old world …port of call [between Saigon and Hanoi] for Dutch, Portuguese, Japanese and Chinese trading ships.” Lijiang, China was “one of the more authentic spots” they visited, an “effortless destination… displaying its character and culture every day in the streets, a living museum.” They toured the UK and Ireland, studied Spanish in Avila. Birthplace of St. Teresa, it is “ringed by one of the best preserved medieval walls in Europe.” They “instantly liked Morocco and its “people who hold hand to heart and say, ‘welcome’”. Visiting Ushuaia in Patagonian Argentina and Chile’s “rugged coast, vast desert, lush vineyards and soaring mountains,” they “traveled without expectations, inviting surprise.”
The Wander Year grows on you. Mr. McIntyre demonstrates admirable literary skill by showing instead of telling, yet occasionally blunts readers’ imaginations by explicitly stating the meaning of a narrative passage or concluding a chapter with an obvious “epiphany.” The Wander Year ends with the best advice for anyone on the road, their only luggage a 15 pound rucksack:
Aside from a passport and money, the only essential items for a long journey are outstanding socks. Not good socks, not great socks, but $20 non-itching, non-chafing, moisture-wicking, wool-nylon-Lycra-blend socks. They’ll protect your feet, last forever and not embarrass you too badly between washings. They may not get you the best seat at the theater, but $20 socks will carry you a long way in this world.
— Tucker Cox – Zeteo Contributing Writer
Photo of Mr. McIntyre courtesy of Bing Images. Cover image also from Bing.com