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Brat Packer packs his bags: Traveling helps actor find himself, settle down

Photo By: Eren Gknar/Special to the Town Crier
Photo Eren Gknar/Special To The Town Crier

Actor and author Andrew McCarthy shares how travel changed his life at the Bay Area Travel and Adventure Show. His new book, “The Longest Way Home,” chronicles his adventures.

Travel transformed actor and director Andrew McCarthy from someone who wandered his entire life into a man who embraced family life and a new career.

Previously divorced and engaged to his fiancee for four years, McCarthy was unable to fully commit when he set off on multiple trips, including one to Patagonia. His wife-to-be remarked, “I’ll see you at the altar, I guess.”

He had an excuse – he was on assignment for National Geographic Traveler magazine. He also wanted to confront his inner demons. McCarthy’s lifelong struggle became the focus of a book, “The Longest Way Home: One Man’s Quest for the Courage to Settle Down” (Free Press, 2012).

McCarthy found himself at a crossroads, “trying to come to terms with getting married, one foot in and one foot out,” he told a standing-room-only audience at last month’s Bay Area Travel and Adventure Show in Santa Clara. “Travel is about intimacy and separation, it’s about sitting in the back of the room.”

Many in the audience probably remembered McCarthy from his days starring opposite Molly Ringwald in “Pretty in Pink” and in 1980s Brat Pack movies like “The Breakfast Club” and “St. Elmo’s Fire.”

Now 50, McCarthy still projects amiability and retains his boyish good looks. Solitary by nature, he credits travel with helping him break out of his shell.

“It makes you vulnerable,” he said. “You go someplace, you get lost and you’re forced to ask someone, ‘Please, can you help me?’”

As a writer, he also needs to get quotes for his stories, so he has to engage the bartender or whoever is around for more information.

He hopes to persuade travelers to set off on solo trips.

“That’s the quickest way to find out who you are,” he said.

He confesses, however, that beach vacations make him panic.

“I always say I need a vacation after that, because a change is better than a rest,” he said.

McCarthy, like most of us, occasionally likes the “mai tai” trip, but “I don’t do all-inclusive, big-walled resorts, because … experiential travel is about getting beyond the walls.”

For example, he said, seeing the Trevi Fountain in Rome for the first time: “Now that’s insane – that brings about the sense of discovery, kind of like we see things only once as children.”

A life-changing trip

McCarthy read “Off the Road: A Modern-Day Walk Down the Pilgrim’s Route into Spain” (Simon & Schuster, 1994) by Jack Hitt and wanted to do that trip.

He set off on the 500-mile walk and soon found he was miserable, suffering from bleeding blisters.

“One day, I’m sobbing, saying all the things that were against my Catholic upbringing, and at the end of my tantrum, my bus/limo doesn’t come to pick me up,” he said.

Amazingly, the next morning, McCarthy said he woke up “without the fear that had consumed me my whole life, which was such a shock to me that I skipped across Spain.”

When he returned home, he wrote down scenes from his travels and called magazine editors to sell them destinations.

“Travel changed my life and it will change yours – I drank that Kool-Aid,” he told the audience.

Only 30 percent of Americans have passports, according to McCarthy.

“If Americans traveled more, we would loose our preconceived notions,” he said.

A woman in the audience raised concerns about solo travel as a woman.

“The world is a much safer place than we believe,” he said.

McCarthy recently traveled to Namibia – “a really spiritual place,” he said – and recommends catching the glaciers of Argentina as well as Johannesburg, South Africa.

“Travel is not an indulgence – it’s an imperative,” he said.

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