It’s been called the male version of “Eat, Pray, Love.” And while we don’t find actor and award-winning travel writer Andrew McCarthy dumping his skinny jeans for “fat pants” while devouring carbs in Italy, we do find him in a similar quandary to Elizabeth Gilbert in her now-cult favorite memoir.
The parallel? Going as far away from home as you can to overcome personal relationship fears and confusion, discover answers to “who am I?” and eventually finding “home” in one’s true, authentic self.
In “The Longest Way Home,” Andrew McCarthy (best known for his roles in iconic films like Pretty in Pink, St. Elmo’s Fire, and Weekend at Bernie’s) takes us on a journey through some of the world’s most exotic locales, but at the core is his own quest to find what he calls “the courage to settle down.”
Having been engaged for four years to his longtime love (whom he calls “D” in the book), McCarthy sets out on seven trips, from the most remote areas of Patagonia to the rainforests of Costa Rica, and from the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro to a riverboat down the Amazon.
While the travel stories are beautifully written with details that brought familiar memories from places I’d visited as well, and enticed a desire to visit those of which I hadn’t, the real star of the book is not the travel itself, but rather the lessons learned while traveling.
Anyone with a passion for experiencing the world — not just seeing the world — can relate to the eloquent phrases McCarthy uses to explain why he believes he’s his best version of himself while away. For example, he writes, “my vulnerability — like not knowing what the hell I’m going to do upon arrival — makes me more open to outside interactions than I might be when I’m at home and think I know best what needs to be done. On the road, serendipity is given space to enter my life.”
One part in particular that I related to viscerally was McCarthy’s description during his time in Costa Rica of what he calls “the freedom of being a stranger in a strange place” — the idea that the farther off the beaten path you go, the easier it becomes to be content (and even happy) in the simple joy of being alive.
Perhaps most striking about the book is how raw and revealing McCarthy was about his relationship, fears of getting married, his perceived failings as a parent and partner, and his insecurities that began in his childhood and continued in his adulthood and career. The book reads more like a novel and less like a travel guide, which makes it entertaining. It’s also a quick, easy read, with the personal anecdotes weaved brilliantly throughout so we never forget that amid his adventures on the global road, there is a future wife and children waiting for him to come home.
The reader feels that tension and pressure, while also being a passenger to McCarthy’s journey, feeling his exhilaration in discovering new experiences, people, and places, where being present and in the moment is what it’s all about. At the same time, the questions, curiosity, personal demons, and ultimate missing of his loved ones is what leads to him finding some answers, along with the courage to do the unthinkable and settle down.
In the end, the book seemed more of a love letter to “D,” McCarthy’s now-wife, or perhaps an ode to a time that he cherishes not just for the adventure and memories, but for the openness it provided. It allowed him to find the sense of calm he needed to close one chapter and move on, willingly, to the next.
Most with a passion for travel will relate. (Caveat: I mean travel that puts you out of your comfort zone. I don’t necessarily mean “resort travelers” or sitting on a lux beach and sunbathing, drinking umbrella drinks all day; though there’s nothing wrong with that and those travelers may equally enjoy the read…) Anyone with a curiosity of spirit or seekers who struggle with commitment, personal insecurities, or on a quest to find “who they are” will relate. And let’s be honest, if you’re a Brat Pack fan, you’ll love it because there’s plenty of insight into what was actually going on for McCarthy during those years.
The book came out on September 18th and is available at booksellers around the country and online. For more information and to order a copy, visit andrewmccarthy.com.
After reading the book, I had some questions for Andrew:
Q: I was recently in a mail boxes store sending my passport to an embassy in DC to get a visa for an upcoming trip to Africa. The lady behind the counter said to me, “I don’t know why anyone goes to places like that. The United States of America is the only place I want to be.” I asked her if she’d ever been out of the country. She said, “For what reason – I got everything I need right here.” My hair curled, blood boiled, and I was speechless. What do you say to people like that?
A: That reminds me of the line, “to those who understand, no explanation is necessary. To those who don’t, none is possible.” It also bring to mind Mark Twain’s famous line, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow mindedness,” if there’s no other reason to go, that’s enough.
Q: Have you gotten over the fear of flying? If so, how? If not, what do you do to get over the anxiety?
A: My fear of flying is irrational and stems only from a need to control uncontrollable things in my life that have nothing to do with flying. I acknowledge that, and get on the plane – and then jump out of my seat ’til we land.
Q: In the first few pages of the book, you write “Often, the farther afield I go, the more at home I feel.” This is a hard concept for many to understand. What are the rules or guidelines for maintaining a healthy relationship with someone whose life and “home” is on the global road? And, what does a partner or spouse of an avid traveler or travel writer need to understand to stay happy and connected through the distance and time?
A: The idea that we all need to be together all the time to be in a successful relationship is an odd one to me, and it’s an idea filled with fear – and fear as we all know, drives a wedge between everything important.
Q: How does your family feel about your constant travel?
A: It’s an interesting issue. Because I think the very act of travel is a kind of infidelity.
Q: Can you expand on that?
A: I mean solo travel. Often now I travel with my family and I love it, but at heart, I’m a solitary traveler. And that kind of travel is an emotional leaving behind and setting out searching for something — often I don’t know what that something is; sometimes it’s just a feeling, a hunch, sometimes I even know what it is I seek, but whatever the sensation, it’s private and intimate between the traveler and the world.
Q: Where did the idea for the book come from?
A: I was sitting in a cab on my way to the airport, heading to Patagonia for a magazine story (Patagonia turned out to be where an early section of the book is placed). My then fiancee and I had just decided to finally get married, after four years of being engaged. We were feeling very close — the way people do when they make decisions like that, and I was really sad to be leaving. But part of me was also thrilled to be going. I felt like I had a split personality, and I wondered how I would ever reconcile those two parts of myself. That’s really the whole essence of the book.
Q: How did your travel writing career begin?
A: Between acting jobs I was traveling a great deal, along — in Africa, South America, Southeast Asia, wherever I felt like going, often for no real reason. I began to try and keep a journal, but every time I tried to read it I felt embarrassed. It seemed indulgent and silly. It captured only a strange fraction of my experiences. One day in Saigon a young guy on a scooter offered to show me around, so I climbed on the back of his bike. I wrote down what happened, the day we spent together, I wrote the whole scene as it took place. And it seemed to capture the essence of my experience in Saigon in a way my journal couldn’t.
Once I put the experiences into story form, it liberated what I was trying to say. It felt very organic and natural. I mean, I’m an actor — I knew about dialogue, character, a sense of pace, setting the scene, the arc of a story. And I kept doing it. When I returned from my trips these pages found a place in the back of my dresser drawer — for years I did this. Eventually I got it into my mind that I wanted to try and put it out there. I met the Editor of National Geographic Traveler magazine and eventually he agreed to give me a shot. It took off from there.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: Well, I just finished acting in a television movie, a Christmas movie for Hallmark. It will be on in December. It was fun — a Hallmark Christmas movie is an irony free zone. As for my writing, I’m just finishing a novel that I’ve been working on for a while. And I’m due to do some traveling — I have a story in India, and another down in Brazil that I need to do.