Run the equator: Before the road

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Before the road

Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty used to be able to jump off the couch at a moment's whim, leave their jobs on the spot - if they had any - and sometimes their wives as well, pack up some underwear and a couple of shirts, and without worrying too much about money, comfort and other necessities, they would hit the road. They crisscrossed the country for months at a time in their battered jalopies - if they happened to have enough money saved for a down payment on a piece of junk that could meet its earthly demise anywhere and anytime - but mostly they would hitch rides and only when exhaustion brought them down, they would telegraph to their relatives and beg for just enough money to pay for the bus fare home. That was 1950. Cheap hotels were a couple of bucks a night, beer was 10c, food was almost free and life was much easier.

But what about now? Sadly, fifty years later, things don't work that way anymore. Hotels in America are rarely under $50 a night (bedbugs included), you can only find beer under $3 at happy hour, nobody picks hitch-hikers anymore and a greyhound ticket costs as much as a budget air fare. Besides, without two forms of identification and a credit card you couldn't get too far even if you tried.

So how easy is it nowadays to be a wandering hobo, without being a forlorn bum that has hit rock-bottom? In the age of Internet and instant credit checks, how could Dean Moriarty survive?

International long-time travel for the common man, far from being the glamorous adventure seen in movies, and not at all reflected in those wonderful pictures you show your friends when you get back, has a very drab and exhausting side: planning for it. Looking for the best air fare deals, picking the good hotels from the bad, international payments to potentially shady businesses in Ecuador that only accept money orders, inoculations, visas, special permits, making sure you get to every place in the right season, oh my!

Angela has been taking care of most of the hotel-air-reservation stuff, and that has been a lot of work so far and has cost her many a weekend spent on the couch with the laptop. Dull as it is, it had to be done. Looking at ads and ratings for fifteen agencies that take people to the Galapagos islands is no walk in the park. How did these things work before the Internet? It's hard to even imagine. You really had to trust your travel agent...

There are so many things to take care of before we leave, that I have decided to dedicate a separate post to enumerate them all. Here's a taste of what we're mulling over: When to quit our jobs? Do we have enough empty pages in our passports for all those visas (that's mostly a problem for me, not so much for Angela)? What do do with all the stuff we own? Who's going to take care of the cars? How are we going to do online banking while travelling? What to take with us for a whole year? How are we going to receive stuff we may need from home? How much money do we need?

Many difficulties besiege the modern traveler in his quest for the coveted view from the top of the sacred mountain, as the sun light hits the opposing ridge at a miraculous angle and splits into a myriad of incandescent dragonflies who live for no more than a few rapturous seconds. Those seconds would not be possible without the dull effort spent tackling very unglamorous problems with very unglamorous solutions. But... the journey is the destination, isn't it?

No comments: