Wandering Mind

James Bond, metric music and moleskine memories

Winter and spring are my favorite times to travel. Usually to cold places, like Snowbird, Utah; Whistler, British Columbia; or Austria or Italy if there is a story to cover or some friendly outdoor equipment company that wants to host a grand tour. But I never go to beaches. I figure I’ve got all summer to be warm.

Along the way I’ve learned to be open to possibilities, not to sweat delays and to embrace the joy of unexpected detours (and don’t forget the value of well-stocked bars, whether they be in airports or somewhere along the open road). Here are a few more tips and random musings.

Good Books Rule

One of the—if not the—best thing about travel is the peace and quiet it provides for delving into the pages of a long book with the kind of focus you can never maintain at home—Lost Horizon and the harrowingly beautiful Blood Meridian are a couple of recently read transcontinental tomes. Right now, I’m waiting for time on a flight to finish Eastern Approaches by Sir Fitzroy Maclean, a Scottish diplomat, soldier, and one of the original recruits for British SAS (the UK’s special forces), who was one of Ian Fleming’s inspirations James Bond. A “ruthless man of action” according to the book sleeve, Maclean was an inveterate traveler who has already introduced me to regal cities such as Samarkand and Isfahan, which I never knew existed but feel as if I now know very well.

“Metric” Doesn’t Rhyme

Once you leave the borders of the good old US of A, you can expect to be assaulted by the metric system. Your powder days will be measured in centimeters, your windshield time in kilometers, and you can start translating every grade of Celsius to Fahrenheit to ascertain if you should consider adding an extra baselayer before heading out into the storm. Lauded for its simplicity and scale-ability, the metric system unfortunately has no passion, and gets very little play in poem or song. Even Brit rockers like Led Zeppelin and The Who brag about giving “another inch of my love,” or seeing for “miles and miles,” rather than strutting the stage about getting their millimeter on. And J.R.R. Tolkien, the master of Middle Earth, describes a plume of fog a “mile high” following the destruction of Isengard (rather than a kilometer). Of course, we did derive our US Customary Units from our British cousins. But unlike the Brits we kept it, just because it’s still got so much soul.

Pack a Moleskine

It’s your trip, and your adventure, so celebrate it by writing about yourself. From countryside reflections to greatest meals, wines, craft beers and hotel views, to a personal narrative of the people you meet and the places you see, nothing records it all better than a little moleskine notebook and a pen. Always in your back pocket for when you stop for an espresso or a trailside rest, you don’t need to plug a moleskine in, secure it in your carry-on, or use it to immediately share (i.e., internet blast) the minutiae of every appetizer you order. More than anything, it’s a great way to get in touch with your own observations. If you want, you can put all that down on a computer when you get home.

Travel Alone

Syncing schedules to travel—whether it be with family, friends, associates or significant others—can really suck. So if there’s someplace you really want to see, some city where you’re hitting a convention and would like a couple days to explore, or just some long weekend you’ve always wanted to take (like to Nashville for music, Portland, Oregon for books and beer and epicurean delights, or Laguna Beach just to lay in the sun), then book it. And go there. Experience as much of it as possible, maybe meet some new friends, then revel in the idea of what an independent badass you are when you get back to work.

Catch Your Breath

I’m not sure when vacations got so competitive, so that everyone had to either summit Everest, drink Charlie Sheen under the table, or swim with dinosaurs to prove that their “off time” didn’t suck. But frankly, I’m not really comfortable with it. I mean, if your idea of a free week is to be as busy and fit as possible, then go nuts. But if you want to chill, feel free to not give a shit. It’s really your call, and you should never forget that. I’ve had some of the best days just walking out into the open space on a Monday morning or idling at my local coffee house while everyone else bustles away to work. And if you don’t want to travel at all, then enjoy being a tourist in your own town for a couple days. Just be sure to take yourself out for some drinks and a nice dinner at least once while you’re doing so. You and your local community deserve it.

Elevation Outdoors editor-at-large Peter Kray is the author of The God of Skiing. More than 10 years in the making, the book has been called “The greatest ski novel ever written.” Buy it at http://bit.ly/1zTxK00

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