Readers may request a free PDF of the book here.
The author: Travel writer and editor Don George ’75 edits the GeoEx blog, “Wanderlust: Literary Journeys for the Discerning Traveler,” and leads worldwide excursions for GeoEx. George is the author of the award-winning anthology The Way of Wanderlust: The Best Travel Writing of Don George and of How to Be a Travel Writer, the best-selling travel writing guide. He is also the editor of 10 acclaimed literary anthologies, including A Moveable Feast, The Kindness of Strangers, and An Innocent Abroad.
In a career spanning four decades, George has been Travel Editor at the San Francisco Examiner-Chronicle, founder and editor of Salon’s Wanderlust travel site, and Global Travel Editor for Lonely Planet. In addition to his work with GeoEx, George is currently editor at large for National Geographic Travel, where he has been contributing columns, book reviews, and feature stories since 2007. George is co-founder and chairman of the annual Book Passage Travel Writers & Photographers Conference, now in its 30th year, and co-founder and host of the Weekday Wanderlust reading series in San Francisco.
Opening lines: March 18, 2020
If this were a normal year, I would be in Japan right now leading a group of American travelers, exclaiming at the first cherry blossoms, savoring Kyoto kaiseki cuisine, and communing with the monks on sacred Mount Koya. But this is decidedly not a normal year, and instead, I am sheltering in my suburban San Francisco study, surrounded by books instead of blossoms and maps instead of monks.
In ten short weeks, our shared planetary journey—our ordinary-extraordinary globe-girdling human adventure—has been disrupted with mind-staggering speed and scale.
In the introduction to my book of travel stories, The Way of Wanderlust, I wrote, “Travel is my religion.” It really is. I have been a travel writer and editor—and more recently, also a trip leader and lecturer—all my professional life. My entire career has been founded on and fueled by travel.
Over four decades of world-wandering, I have learned that travel teaches us to appreciate the global mosaic of landscape, creation, custom, and belief, and to cherish each and every distinctive piece; travel leads us to approach unfamiliar cultures and peoples with curiosity and respect, and to realize that virtually all people everywhere, whatever their differences in background and creed, want to treat their fellow humans with care; travel forges unbreakable bonds between peoples, cultures, and countries. And in all these ways, I have come to fervently preach, travel paves the pathway to global understanding, evolution, and peace.
Now, the coronavirus outbreak has effectively stopped me—and all my fellow believers in the Church of Wanderlust—from practicing our religion. In ten short weeks, humanity has stumbled into uncharted territory. An unknown virus transmitted in a market in central China has transformed into a global pandemic. Everyday life has been massively interrupted and overturned, with virtually incalculable, quantum-leaping personal and financial effects.
Surveying this surreally unfolding scene, I have been wondering how to navigate this new and very foreign place: How do we thrive—and keep our wanderlust alive?
The first thing I tell myself is that this is temporary. We will find a way to contain this virus. The day will come when we will once again freely intermingle with each other and explore the far corners of the globe. We know this day will come, but we don’t know when. And so, I’m trying to make my Wanderlust more Zen.
I’m focusing on appreciating the little things that I’m normally too busy to notice: the way the sun bright-stipples the spring-green leaves outside my window, the soul-soothing heat and aroma of a good cup of tea, the richness of the artifacts—a miniature moai from Easter Island, a pottery plate from Crete, a woodblock print of Mount Fuji—that surround me.
And since travel continues to delight and define me, I’m traveling in my own backyard, literally. I’m communing with the yellow freesia that have just begun to bloom, exulting in the buds on the persimmon tree’s boughs, urging the birds of paradise to take orange-winged flight. I’m approaching home as if it were a new and exhilarating place and feeling some of the same wonder-frisson that I normally feel only on the road.
I’m traveling vicariously too. Instead of flying to Japan, I’m being transported to that poignant land by reading Pico Iyer’s wonderful Autumn Light and listening to Sadao Watanabe’s marvelous My Dear Life. I have a list of movies that will spirit me away, starting with Michelangelo Antonioni’s gorgeous and transporting The Passenger.
As I always do when I travel, I’ve also been trying to make sense of this journey. What lessons can we glean from the experience of traveling in an off-limits world?
One lesson I have re-learned is how privileged I am to be able to travel, and how precious this right and ability is to me, how it brings such fundamental meaning and value to my life. As a result, I am already making a list of the places I will go—right away, not putting off until an uncertain tomorrow—when we are free to travel again.
Another lesson it has made me realize is just how intricately interconnected our planet is. The fact that a virus in a remote region of China can spread to infect the entire globe in less than three months is stunning. Conversely, it is profoundly moving to witness the unifyingly brave and selfless acts of medical workers and first responders around the globe, and the desperate efforts of researchers working around the world and around the clock towards the creation of a cure.
And this makes me think: Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could realize just how globally crippling all manner of other “pandemics”—pollution, poverty, ignorance, hunger—really are, and work together to find a cure for these as well? Might this current pandemic make us all better planetary citizens? I know, I know, this is just crazy idealistic talk, but still… “We are all in this together” once seemed just an idealistic slogan —until COVID-19 showed us just how “in this together” we all truly are.
For the moment, my wanderlust is focused on traveling in my neighborhood and in my imagination. For the latter, we at GeoEx will do our best in the weeks to come to nurture your wanderlust with inspiring travel photos, tales, and videos, all to celebrate the ordinary and extraordinary riches of this planet we share and to prime you for the blessed moment when we are once again able to venture out there.