Every traveler is, essentially, a writer. Whether we scribble notes in an oft-forgotten journal, or type up our adventures in a weekly blog, we are all Historians and Recorders. But how do we take our stories one step further?
In this month’s Long Road Home Collection, I speak with Andy Hill, author of Mystic Fool, about publishing, traveling spirituality, and the stigma of ‘The American Tourist.’
Why did you write this book?
There were so many thoughts and experiences I had accumulated throughout the several years prior to writing it, and I had been feeling a growing need to somehow put them into clarified form, to communicate them with the world.
How and where did you write this?
I wrote the book while staying in a guesthouse in Ubud, Bali over the course of about two months. I would get up every morning, make coffee, turn on the classical station on the radio, and try to crack out 2,000 words by lunchtime… The process also involved a lot of pacing, talking to myself, and chain smoking.
What is your least favorite destination in Southeast Asia?
Kuta in Bali. It’s completely overrun with knuckle-dragging, florescent Ray-Ban and boardshort-wearing animals prowling around looking for someone to fight or fuck- the only place in Asia where I’ve been scared to leave my room. And it doesn’t resemble Bali in the least.
How old were you when you first left the US? Where did you go?
I spent a semester at university in Brussels, and it was a wonderful experience. During breaks I was able to visit Prague, Amsterdam, Venice, Paris, Copenhagen…I absolutely fell in love with Europe. I’ll go back to live there someday when I’m filthy rich.
What did you study at University? Do you think this degree has had any influence on your traveling life?
Yeah, I actually got a B.A. from a very progressive, barely-accredited, amazing college in Vermont called Goddard, where students are able to create their own study plan and work with advisers throughout the term handing in their work. I studied world religions, specifically esoteric traditions such as shamanism, Kabala, alchemy, tarot, as well as the path of the hero in mythology, and the phenomenon of initiation.
My fascination with the myriad ways that our species creates cultural systems to understand the ‘beyond’ has always been with me throughout my travels. I hope to someday study again, perhaps in a doctoral program in religious studies, but my library card and traveling is still the best education for me.
Do you think Americans face any particular challenges when it comes long-term travel?
There are so many cliches and stereotypes about Americans traveling, but I have found that they are mainly held by Westerners, and those who spout stereotypes should really be ignored. I have to say, as an American, that I have been treated with nothing less than grace, hospitality, generosity, and genuine, warm interest everywhere I have been. Even (almost most) in Vietnam, a country which America tried to wipe off the face of the planet with chemical weapons, defoliants, napalm, incredible amounts of bombs, killing at least 2 million Vietnamese who had the audacity to want independence for their country. In Hanoi I found some of the nicest people I’ve met anywhere.
Do you think the relationships you form on the road are more realistic than those back home? Why or why not?
It just depends. I don’t think they are for any reason less meaningful or more- I’ve got friends I had an amazing time with traveling that I haven’t spoken to since, and others that I still correspond with every other week (such as Rupert from the book).
I find that the intelligence of the universe brings me the people I need to know for various reasons at various points in my life, and I trust that process.
How has the transformation you sought in Mystic Fool changed the way you currently live?
I would say so…I think that writing it, and putting all of that joy, pain, desire and laughter into a sort of concrete form allowed me to comprehend that part of my life, and see it as a chapter in the larger narrative of my life. I felt a deep urge to share many things with the world (regardless of how many read it) and that was liberating and clarifying.
What advice do you have for other travelers who want to write a book?
Embrace the strange, put yourself in weird situations, learn as much as you can about your surroundings, and most important of all, always be true firstly to yourself.
~Happy trails! ~Andy Hill