Somewhere between picking up top honors from the Society of American Travel Writers for “The Cycle of Life” and publishing the acclaimed memoir The Longest Way Home, the Traveler magazine contributing editor found time to write the foreword for National Geographic’s new coffee-table-worthy book, World’s Best Travel Experiences.
We thought we’d take the opportunity to let our readers ask him about his own time spent on the road. This is what he had to say:
Intelligent Travel: You’ve spent most of your life as an actor. What sparked your wanderlust?
Andrew McCarthy: A trip I took that changed my life was a 500-mile walk across the Camino de Santiago in Spain. It completely changed my life, and made me realize the power that making yourself vulnerable in the world can bring to you. I never looked back.
IT: What advice do you have for a first-time solo traveler?
AM: Just go. It’s only fear that’s stopping you — and fear is a phantom. So is loneliness. Remember: you can always come home whenever you want. But make sure to hang on, because whenever things seem to get really bad, they’re just about to get really great.
IT: What’s the best meal you’ve ever had on a trip?
AM: I’ve never forgotten a bowl of lemongrass soup I had in Luang Prabang, Laos. Yum.
IT: How has travel changed you?
AM: The simplest answer I can give is that it relieved my fear of being in the world, and consequently, made many, many other things possible.
IT: What advice do you have for someone who wants to travel, but is on a budget?
AM: I’ve found that the closer to the ground I travel — meaning the cheaper I travel — the better trip I have. It’s the people that make a trip, not the hotel I’m staying in.
IT: In your mind, what’s the best way to see a city?
AM: On foot. Get lost.
IT: What’s your most memorable travel experience and why?
AM: Maybe when I laid eyes on Angkor Wat in Cambodia 20 years ago. I knew nothing about the place, and I had no idea what I was about to see. There was no one there, no tourist infrastructure, nothing. I understand it’s a much different place now.
IT: What has been your most challenging travel experience and why?
AM: Getting a flat tire deep in Mozambique with no spare. It was a long few days.
IT: You have kids. What’s your favorite place to visit with your family?
IT: What’s your favorite memory of a childhood trip?
AM: I grew up in New Jersey. We went to the Catskill Mountains every winter, and there was a place that had a giant toboggan run that sent you shooting out over a frozen lake. I’ll never forget the thrill of all the tangled arms and legs, getting all twisted up, and coming apart and scattering us across the snow.
IT: If you had a travel survival kit, what would be in it?
I never travel without a small bottle of grapefruit-seed extract. I take a few drops every day when I’m in dodgy places, and I’ve never had a stomach problem.
IT: When traveling to a non-English-speaking country, what is the most important thing to know before you go?
AM: They put their pants on the same way we do.
And once you’re there, ask for help. Language is not a barrier. Repeat: language is not a barrier. Everyone — no matter how low-down a place might be — has pride in their home and will want you to have the best experience possible. Many will go far out of their way to ensure that you do.
IT: What’s your favorite place to visit and why?
IT: You wrote the foreword for the new National Geographic book World’s Best Travel Experiences. What’s your favorite place in the book and why?
IT: Your acting career has taken you all over the world. What was your favorite location when filming and why?
AM: Rome. Because it’s Rome.
Andrew McCarthy is an award-winning actor, director, and travel writer (follow him on Twitter @AndrewTMcCarthy). Learn more about Andrew and National Geographic’s new book by checking out this video Q & A with Keith Bellows, Traveler magazine’s editor in chief.