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April 7, 2020

Key Lessons from Aimless Wandering for Times of Chaos {Book Excerpt}

The year is 2016. Mid-summer. Here in Scandinavia, the sun hardly sets before rising again.

I’m riding from Sweden to Finland on a ferry named Grace, pondering over aimless wandering. (I’ll come back to that.) Grace is probably ten stories high. She has a club room and a casino, cafes and restaurants, cocktail bars and a dog toilet. She is more floating apartment building than ship, but she floats as she is meant to and she will bring me from Stockholm, Sweden to Turku, Finland in just over eleven hours. For fifteen pounds, that was a slow travel bargain I couldn’t pass up.

I’m the foggy kind of tired after a weekend of midsommar celebrations, camping adventures, and repeated sunrise-instigated wakeup calls at 4:30am. The weather sympathizes. Thick clouds crowd the sky and cast the archipelago in monochromatic grayscale. A drizzle comes and goes; the “sun deck” is slick and empty.

I sip sour-tasting ferry coffee, which does nothing to clear my head but successfully destabilizes my hands, and watch the procession of tiny islands. Some have just enough space for a single house, while others boast dense stretches of pine forests. I daydream up a contraption that could hitch and unhitch from the passing ferries and allow me to island-hop. (I realize they’ve already invented one better… it’s called a motorboat.)

I’m thinking about wandering. Aimless wandering. In fact, I’ve been thinking about aimless wandering since it came up in discussion in a wilderness skills training earlier in the month. Actually, I’ve been thinking about aimless wandering for much longer than that, since one of my first forays into vagabonding in early 2014. It’s just that I briefly forgot to think about it until that discussion reminded me.

Already in 2016, my wandering isn’t as aimless as it used to be. With so much work to do and so many friends to visit, I plan my travels more often than not. “You’re in London in July? Great, I’ll come to London in July.” “I have one week free after Portugal… perfect, I’ll see you in Barcelona.” “I need wifi for work this week, I’ll just stay in the city.”

But there is value in wandering aimlessly. So much value. I still believe that.

What is aimlessness? It is space, and it is time. Space to move without restraint or reservation, and time to observe without hurry. Space to expand, in body and spirit, and time to be utterly still. Space for silence. Time for reflection. Space for reflection. Time for silence.

Aimlessness isn’t purposelessness. Not to me. Aimlessness isn’t meaningless. Quite the contrary. Aimlessness isn’t absence from life, it is full-bodied presence in it. To wander aimlessly is to move through the world without the conceit that we actually know what is coming next. That is, to move through the world with grace. (Told you we’d come back to it.)

So here I am, sitting on a ferry named Grace, thinking about aimless wandering. And I’m thinking that maybe aimless wandering isn’t a choice, but a description of how we are, all of us, moving through life. Whether we like it or not. Whether we acknowledge it or not.

We don’t know what’s coming next, but we can go to it with purpose. We can go to it dancing.

There is space to expand, and there is time to be still. Why not embrace it?


This piece is an excerpt from my book, Vagabondess: A Guide to Solo Female Travel. Learn more here.

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