Andrew McCarthy may be best known for his ’80s movies St. Elmo’s Fire, Pretty in Pink, and cult favorite Weekend at Bernie’s, but what you may not know is he has created a name for himself in a parallel career as a travel writer. As his acting career took him around the world a new passion evolved into the Andrew we know today.
Andrew is an award winning travel writer and in 2010 was named “Travel Journalist of the Year” by Society of American Travel Writers. In 2011 he won their “Grand Award.” He is an editor-at-large at National Geographic Traveler, has written for The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, Slate, Travel+Leisure, Afar, Men’s Journal, Bon Appetit, National Geographic Adventure and many others.
You will still find him in TV and on the big screen but you will also find him on the New York Times Best Seller list as he takes us on the journey of a lifetime in his latest book, “The Longest Way Home.” Andrew was kind enough to do an interview with me this week to share his experiences and his insight on the world of travel writing.
TH: Do you keep a travel journal and if yes what is your first travel memory in it?
AM: When I’m traveling now it’s usually for a story so I’m always taking notes, but that’s different. I did try to keep a journal when I began traveling. You can feel quite un-tethered when traveling solo, so I thought a journal might ground me in some way, but I found it indulgent and repetitive. So I began to write small scenes of encounters I had with people along the way, and they captured what I was trying to say in my journaling- and it led to my accidental career as a travel writer.
TH: Have you ever gotten into any dangerous or sticky situations while traveling? How were they resolved?
AM: I was arrested in Ethiopia. Well, not exactly arrested, I was led away at gunpoint and briefly detained. It was all a big misunderstanding, and I love Ethiopia, can’t wait to go back.
TH: Your acting career brought you to some unique destinations around the world. Can you credit that with introducing you to the world or has the desire to explore been a passion of yours from a young age?
AM: Acting has taken me to many interesting places, and many I’ve returned to write about -Canoa Quebrada in a remote corner of Brazil, for example. I’d never have known about it if I hadn’t been acting in a movie there. But my travel passion is a separate thing from my acting, although when they overlap, it’s nice
TH: Roughly one-third of Americans own a passport. We do not travel as much as people from other countries when you compare our numbers to the citizens of Western Europe and Canada, where 60 percent of the population have passports. Do you think it would improve our society if we did explore the world more?
AM: Of course, this is my soapbox. Mark Twain had the famous line, “travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow mindedness.” I agree with that completely. I think America is an amazing place, but we’re very insular and fearful as well. I think if we got out and saw the world, a lot of the preconceptions we hold about people and places would be shattered. I think it’s fear, first and foremost, that prevents Americans from getting out into the world. (People tell me it’s money and time, and I’ve done the math, I often spend less on the road than at home, and I’ve flown to New Zealand for a weekend, so I just don’t buy those arguments- fear is a powerful thing and it masquerades as many other things.)
TH: What suggestions do you have to make traveling more desirable to Americans?
AM: Everyone has one place they’re curious about. It doesn’t matter why or how silly the reason might seem, I say go to that place, and come back changed – forever.
TH: What places are on your list for 2013?
AM: I’m heading to Darjeeling, India to do a story about tea. I’m going back down to Brazil for a story. I hope I get to Hawaii, because I always hope I get to Hawaii. There are a lot of places I’d like to go.
TH: Do you have a travel bucket list and do you think its possible to ever satisfy it?
AM: I don’t have a bucket list. But I’m pretty curious about the world and I can’t think of a place I wouldn’t want to go, at least briefly.
TH: Do you think travel makes the man or reveals the man?
AM: Both! Travel changes people. I’m a much better version of myself because I travel.
TH: You have done a lot of solo traveling. Do you recommend that style of travel for everyone or is it reserved for experienced travelers?
AM: The reason people don’t travel alone is fear- for their safety I suppose. That’s something that needs to be considered, but my experience is that the world is a much, much safer, more welcoming place, than we are sold. The other reason people don’t travel alone is a fear of loneliness. That is not a reason. Loneliness is transitory and good for you. Besides, I’ve found loneliness on the road to be an expansive, opening of self, whereas loneliness at home can feel like deprivation.
TH: You have said you feel at home in foreign lands. Where have you felt most at home and would you consider moving your family abroad?
AM: My wife is Irish and perhaps we’ll move there one day.
TH: In a piece you wrote for Men’s Journal you described the once “undiscovered” Canoa Quebrada, Brazil as “more discovered.” Is it possible in today’s world of travel to keep any paradise “undiscovered” and unspoiled?
AM: But each place is a discovery for the traveler who has never been there before. The world has always been that way. It’s not the place, it’s the experience of the traveler in the place that is unique to each individual.
TH: Can you share the most important thing you discovered about yourself or the world in your years of traveling?
AM: I walked through my fear by placing myself at the mercy of the world, I became vulnerable and consequently more powerful and came home to myself by setting out.
Thank you for your time, Andrew. I learned a lot from your perspective and I hope it will inspire others to get up and move. We should all try to see a new place in 2013 by making the time and committing ourselves to discovery. If you want to read more about Andrew head over to AndrewMcCarthy.com to find his published work and be sure to check out his bestselling book:
Also available in the Kindle Edition
Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewTMcCarthy
See more of his work at AndrewMcCarthy.com