'Wanderlust' a recollection of travels by Don George
By Lou Fancher
A landscape of memories collects the vivid images, sounds, smells and impressions from 85 countries travel writer Don George has explored during the past 40 years.
His recollections are compiled in a new book, "The Way of Wanderlust: The Best Travel Writing of Don George."
A Commonwealth Club appearance at the Lafayette Library earlier this month moderated by travel writer Laurie McAndish King introduced the audience to George's tale of finding peace and uncommon understanding in a tiny Cambodian village, a reverie experienced on Stinson Beach, and his philosophies on writing and the ultimate purpose of travel.
George founded the Wanderlust section of Salon.com and was the global travel editor for Lonely Planet Publications. He is a frequent guest on NPR and CNN.
Professing to be a happy man who finds "happy experiences out in the world," George's typical weekdays when not traveling are divided between two days of work as a consultant for Geographic Expeditions in San Francisco, and writing all day at home, three days a week. On weekends, he writes for fun.
"I'm never going to retire," he said.
Nor is he about to stop traveling.
Bhutan, Myanmar (formerly Burma) and trips to the Amazon and Antarctica are on his "top four" list. A return to Africa and "nature in the raw" with his family follows closely as number five.
George says international travel is popular with Americans because the United States is "almost an island," with only Canada and Mexico its distant, border-sharing neighbors.
Wanderlust's 35 stories culled from more than 700 articles George has written begin with short introductions that outline an autobiographical journey. The idea for the book had been around for a long time, but it took friend and colleague Candace Rose Rardon, whose art, maps and icons illustrate the book, to make it a reality.
George chose to retain complete control of the book by foregoing a New York publisher and producing Wanderlust as part of Larry Habegger's and James O'Reilly's Travelers' Tales series. The book divides his stories into three sections: pilgrimages, encounters and illuminations.
George said gap years spent traveling provide an education at any age; his greatest travel horror story was a disastrous visit to Calcutta during which he was very ill; and about Cuba, he said don't panic if you can't visit immediately because many destinations like the newly open country that were wonderful 25 years ago will be wonderful 25 years from today.
Questions from the audience prompted George to speak about travelers' responsibility to respect nature and other countries' cultures. Thinking of oneself as a guest in pristine places on the planet and educating oneself about a destination and its people makes travel a two-way street paved with considerate behavior.
"Do your homework: logistically and culturally," he advised. "Be openhearted, be careful. Be a good citizen of the world, understand where you are on its terms. Share values you bring with you generously."