Photograph courtesy of Dave Norman
Nothing keeps Dave Norman from traveling—not a collapsed lung, or irate police in Belarus, or nomads in Mongolia, or even marriage. His latest book, Following Josh, chronicled his final bachelor fling, a trip following the Trans-Siberian Railway from China to Poland. Then he got married and settled in Portland, Maine—to plan more trips. Norman still frequents his hometown, Columbia, Ill., selling his fine-art photos at Midwestern festivals.
But where do you live?
I divide my time between [my hometown,] Columbia, Ill., and Portland, Maine, where my wife is a family-practice physician.
You chose this by living out of your pickup truck for a year?
We lived for a month in California; on a Blackfeet Indian reservation in Montana; in the Appalachian mountains; in Bangor, Maine; in New Jersey; and in New York City. We wanted to see where we felt at home.
Sounds like your wife travels the way you do?
We have very little problem going to a country with a ticket in and out and making it up on the fly. But she seeks the temples and the quiet and is a vegetarian, and I love eating my way across a country like a locust in a wheat field.
What’s been the toughest thing to swallow?
It was on a beach on the island of Penang. It looked like a miniature conch shell, and I had to fish the meat out of the spiral with a toothpick; remove what they call the contact lens, pull the little critter out; and dip it in saltwater.
What’s been your scariest experience?
For fear of my life, pulmonary edema, on the side of a Himalayan mountain, in a six-shack village on top of a ridge that was a good eight-day hike from the nearest road.
The existential crisis was on my Following Josh trip [his most recent travel book, in which he follows the Trans-Siberian Railway from China to Poland]. I knew who I’d been and who I wanted to be, but not who I was in that moment.
So how’d you figure it out?
I had to finish the trip. And that’s a surprisingly profound statement.
What’s been your giddiest moment?
Every time I get off an airplane alone in a completely foreign country and have that rush of nervous excitement. It’s a feeling of freedom, of control over my own fate. It’s pretty much the opposite of going to the office every day and being managed.
As you grow a bit older, do you find yourself wanting more comfort as you travel?
Indeed. I’ve just about completely given up on hostels. I am starting to appreciate the finer things, and by finer I mean not sleeping in a room with 12 strangers who snore.
What accounts for that “click,” that weird sensation of feeling at home in a strange, new place?
In some cases, you see reflected in the people or the lifestyle that which you aspire to. You feel a connection to what you want to become. And sometimes the rush and excitement is just the promise of breaking out of stasis.
In Following Josh, you write, “I’ve fallen into the groove of being rootless.” Describe that groove.
Being eminently portable, with all your possessions strapped on your back, so if you don’t like a hostel, or you don’t like a town, you just leave and find another one. Getting over some of those atavistic fears about “Where’s my next meal going to come from?” and “Where am I going to sleep tonight?” Trusting in yourself.
What are your travel tips?
Get off the damn tour bus! Travel as the locals do. If you have cash, you will always be able to find a place to stay; just ask a local. I travel without reservations.