Mention the name “Andrew McCarthy” to any female child of the ’80s, and chances are, you’ll receive an approving nod. Girls fell hard for the actor’s boyish good looks and sly smile in iconic 80’s films like Pretty in Pink, Mannequin and St. Elmo’s Fire. I’ll admit that I was among them.
But when I heard that McCarthy had written a book, a travel memoir, no less, I was a bit skeptical. It turns out, though, that McCarthy is no beginner when it comes to travel writing.
Since his first travel writing article was published in 2004, he’s been covering destinations around the world for publications like National Geographic Traveler, Travel + Leisure, The Atlantic and others. Heck, he was even named the 2010 “Travel Journalist of the Year” by the Society of American Travel Writers.
But the real proof of Andrew McCarthy’s skill can be found in the pages of his new book, “The Longest Way Home: One Man’s Quest for the Courage to Settle Down” (Free Press, $26).
In this deeply personal account, McCarthy explores not only his outward journey to exotic locations around the globe, but his inward journey from ambivalence and fear of commitment to confidence and joy in his relationships.
Unable to fully commit to his fiancée of four years who is busy planning their wedding back home, he sets off on a series of journeys with no clear understanding of what is holding him back. Pulled by the thrill of discovering new horizons, he is torn between his love of solitude and journeying and those he has left at home.
That struggle comes to a forefront at the most unlikely times, such as when he’s out searching for snakes and other creatures of the night in a Costa Rican rainforest, and his mind is filled with images of his two children and fiancée at home.
While coming to terms with his solitary nature, McCarthy comes across others who have “left it all behind” and live a nomadic life with no attachments, only to discover that he does not want what they have. Instead, he finds himself yearning to be part of something bigger than himself, as a father and as a husband.
McCarthy is an intrepid traveler, often setting off alone without even a map. His journeys to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, along the Amazon, or into the rugged wilds of Patagonia reveal the transformative power of travel.
Andrew McCarthy’s writing is insightful and intelligent. He experiences each destination in its fullness, providing a depth of detail that makes it feel like you are there beside him. While McCarthy is quick to point out that the book is not really a “travel” book, his writing reveals those truths about ourselves that can only be unveiled by leaving what we know in order to better understand who we are.
There’s a reason that McCarthy was able to step so seamlessly from the role of actor to writer, and that is because he is a storyteller at heart. And whether that story is revealed on a screen or on the pages of a book, McCarthy’s efforts seem to have hit their mark.
Below are a few highlights from our interview with Andrew McCarthy:
Go World Travel: How did you go from actor to travel writer?
Andrew McCarthy: That’s a strange career trajectory, isn’t it? I was traveling a fair amount for my acting, and I liked it. Then I walked the Camino de Santiago trail in Spain years ago, and had a transformative experience there. It changed my view of the world. I wanted more travel, more of that feeling, that feeling of being more alive and awake. Eventually, I began to write little stories about the scenes I experienced — a guy who took me around Hanoi on the back of his scooter or an American girl I saw being obnoxious in Laos. Then I’d put the stories in the back of a drawer.
I did that for about 10 years. Eventually I convinced an editor at National Geographic Traveler to let me write a piece for him. And that led to more work. I didn’t know why I did it. I just knew I liked it. Travel changed my life and I wanted to write about that.
Go World Travel: What is “The Longest Way Home” about?
Andrew McCarthy: To me, the book isn’t really a travel book. It’s about the internal journey we can experience when we have meaningful travel. That’s much more important to me than just the place I’m in.
The book describes my effort to come to terms with my tendencies to separate. How do we come together, yet remain separate? For me, the question wasn’t “if” I would get married, but rather “how” I would get married.
Go World Travel: What is it that draws you to travel?
Andrew McCarthy: I’m a better version of myself on the road. I’m more open and more vulnerable, and very interested and engaged. When you travel, that comfortable world that you’ve created is thrown out the window. There’s a sense of discovery. I don’t find travel a frivolous, indulgent thing; I think it’s a right that we have to fight for and carve out in our lives.
Go World Travel: You often write in great detail about the people you meet. Why do you devote so much time to covering them?
Andrew McCarthy: Well, it’s all about people, isn’t it? I go to a museum and I’m tired in 20 minutes, but when I have that connection with people, I experience the culture in a different way. That’s what I’m looking for.
Go World Travel: You once said, “The very act of travel is a kind of infidelity.” What do you mean by that?
Andrew McCarthy: I’m talking about solitary travel and going out alone, not vacation travel with our families. If I go alone, I’m opening myself up to the world in a way that is very private. I’ll come back and show you my pictures and tell you my stories, but the experience and essence of what happened to me out there is a very private thing. So I’ve shared that part of myself with wherever I was in the world and not with back home. It’s a leaving, when you leave home. I’m not talking about having sex with people, I’m talking about having intimate connections with people far away from home. My family is understanding about my need for solitary travel. They’ll say, “We were just getting into a rhythm without you, what are you doing back home?”
On the other hand, I travel with my family often. I took my son to the Sahara with me last year, took my daughter to Tahiti on a story, and my wife loves to travel, so we do it a lot. It’s about togetherness.
Go World Travel: How is traveling with family different from traveling on your own?
Andrew McCarthy: When traveling by yourself there’s that entire confronting of yourself that is really rewarding, and traveling with your family is a whole different set of rewards and challenges. When I travel with my family, watching them experience the world, through their eyes, is thrilling for me.
My kids are great travelers. There are very few meltdowns on the road (most of them are mine – ha!). For me, I think it’s important to create citizens of the world. I believe that Americans need to travel more. I think we often don’t travel because of fear. For me, travel helped to obliterate fear.
Go World Travel: What do you hope readers will take away from reading your book?
Andrew McCarthy: I hope they get that a sense of identification with what I experienced. That’s why I sort of lay myself bare in the book, and let my humanness out. I hope people reading this will think, yes, I’ve felt that way. I hope it’s a way to build connection, to allow readers to have an emotional experience.
Go World Travel: What’s next for you, Andrew?
Andrew McCarthy: I’m working on several movies and stories. I did some work on a Christmas Hallmark movie which is coming out in December. And I’m still writing and traveling. I’m going to Darjeeling soon to do a story about finding the perfect cup of tea, so my work ebbs and flows back and forth. I’m finishing up a novel, which I’m hoping to inflict on the world soon. I’ll let you know.
Author bio: Go World Travel’s Janna Graber has spent the last 12 years wandering the globe for publications like Outside, AOL Travel, The Chicago Tribune, Denver Post, and many more. A travel writer, producer and editor, she is most content when she has a freshly packed suitcase in hand. Read more of Janna’s work for Go World Travel.