Back to Basics 2: On the essence of travel

For the last few months I have been driving a bone stock 2006 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. There was a brief period of adjustment since prior to that I had been driving a 2003 Jeep Grand Cherokee with 330,000+ miles on it. Both of these Jeeps fall in the shadow of my 2004 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited which I had spend the better part of 5 years building between 2014 and 2019 prior to starting the ill-fated LS swap.

2006 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited
99% bone stock on 31″ tall tires

in 2015 when I undertook the first No Highways Tour from Maine to Florida I did it with the expressed goal of showing not only that the overland adventure lifestyle was viable on the east coast but that you could travel overland in a near stock vehicle. At the time the ’04 was still on a stock suspension with only a 1″ body lift and 31″ tall tires. Right now the ’06 is on a stock suspension and currently has 31″ tall tires. So it’s been a bit of deja’vu rolling around in a twin of the ’04 as it was built roughly six years ago.

One of the other things that’s been interesting lately has been traveling without the trailer. I built the Poor Man’s Teardrop as a way to supplement my adventures and make the longer trips, like the No Highways Tours, a lot easier – logistically speaking. I also built the trailer to supplement my teaching at events allowing me to better manage not only the gear I needed to survive but the gear I needed at events. This combination of gear is a lot more than I’d like to travel with.

Poor Man’s Teardrop deployed at the Virginia Rooftop Tent Rally

Sadly, and I’m willing to admit this, I’m a bit of a packrat. I have a very bad habit of “filling the void” when packing for a trip. I get caught up in the old Boy Scout mantra of “BE PREPARED” and I end up justifying packing a bunch of stuff I probably don’t need, but end up wanting, “just in case.” Had I stuck to just the Jeep this woudn’t be too big of an issue. Factor in an 8′ ¾ ton military trailer and I can pack more gear than any one man should carry.

With that in mind, on two separate occasions I have forced myself to “pack light” and not only travel in just the Jeep but also sleep in the Jeep. This not only removes a lot of creature comforts that are part of the trailer but it also limits the “just in case” gear I can carry in the Jeep. This means I have gone from “that guy” with all the stuff to “that guy” who has to rely on those he’s traveling with. That’s not to say I’ve become a mooch, but it means actually coordinating with the people I’m traveling with and thinking about how essential a piece of gear is and if I truly need it verses wanting it.

That leads me to a renewed outlook and a desire to get back to basics. I’m not saying I lost sight of the reason I travel, but I think I’ve become a little distracted by some of the gear. I have been super frustrated by not having the ’04 on the road with a roaring LS V8 under the hood. I don’t need it. A stock 4.0L does fine in a stock Jeep – as evident by the ’06. However the ’04 is far from stock. It’s, well, bloated. It’s armored, lifted, re-geared, and kitted out for something far different than overland travel.

Traveling last year to a bunch of events with Dan Grec of The Road Chose Me was some of the most fun I’ve had in a long time. In many ways the idea of me getting back to basics germinated when I started hanging out with him on a regular basis. I remember a distinct moment at the Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival in Butler PA when I watched him cook breakfast on the tailgate of his four-door Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon. I was sitting under the awning of my trailer in a big bulky ARB chair (super comfortable by the way) having just cooked myself an epic breakfast on the Skottle (mmm, skottle bacon) meanwhile Dan was cooking his breakfast on a small gas stove with a small 8″ non-stick frying pan. The same stove and frying pan he had used for three years around Africa. In that moment I was like, “What the f*** am I doing with all this crap in my trailer when Dan is living his best life with a fraction of the gear I have?

Dan’s JKUR with an Ursa Minor next to my trailer

Dan is the real deal. Two years on the Pan American highway and three years around Africa. He did both trips in one vehicle, no trailer, and just the essential gear he NEEDED to make the trip happen. Meanwhile I’m elbow deep in a motor swap and lugging a 2500 pound trailer everywhere I go. It really makes you question not just how you do something, but why you’re doing it in the first place.

Am I traveling for the sake of traveling?

Or am I using traveling as an excuse to justify scratching that itch every gearhead has to build something better than the next guy in line?

In all honestly I’ve always tried to make it about the travel. Right from the start I tried to advocate for a budget minded approach to the overland adventure lifestyle. However, I’ve come to realize I was leaning too far to the adventure side of things. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with that. Not by any means. I’m just saying there’s a difference between adventure travel and overland travel. I thought, for a while, they were one in the same. Two flavors of the same sauce. Sure there were some subtleties in their manifestations, but they were really just synonyms for the same thing. Now, after reflecting on things for a while, I’m not so sure.

I think if you asked me right here right now if overland travel and adventure travel were the same thing I’d give you a flat, “NO.” I’m not even sure I’d throw in a, “No, but…”. I think I’d just sit back and say they aren’t the same thing. There is some overlap. If you stand back and look at them from a distance they look the same. But equating them to each other as synonyms would be like telling a Scotsman there is no difference between whiskey with an e and whisky without an e. (Please don’t do that.)

Luckily travel enthusiasts, be they overlanders, adventurers, dual-sport riders, van-lifers, skoolies, or road-trippers, are a little less militant than the Scots and the Irish are about their whiskey/whisky. Sure everyone pokes fun at each other and there are some minor disagreements here and there about the best way to travel, but at the end of the day the one thing we all have in common is travel itself.

So what is the essence of travel? Honestly I’ve been writing this long and I’m not sure I have a definitive answer for you. I think that’s becomes it’s a very personal question that only you can answer for yourself. Lately I’ve been asked a lot why I bought a second Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. I now have twins. Not only are they both Wranglers, but they are both the longer wheelbase Unlimiteds, aka LJ’s. They are also both silver. In all honesty I can park them side-by-side and despite the mods of the ’04 they look eerily similar.

I describe driving a Jeep with no top and no doors as “visceral.” Add to the open-element nature of the vehicle’s design the fact that you’re running on two solid axles and I think it’s the best description I can give someone. The Merriam-Webster definition of visceral is, “felt in or as if in the internal organs of the body,” “not intellectual“, and “dealing with crude or elemental emotions.” Hit a large enough pothole in a Jeep and you’re going to feel it in your internal organs. I think there is also a lack of intellectual rationale in owning a Jeep, let alone three of them. It truly is an emotional decision. There are more fuel efficient vehicles than a Jeep. There are better handling and smoother riding vehicles than a Jeep. There are much better vehicles for attracting women than a Jeep. However I have yet to feel the same kind of emotional high I get from rolling down a back road with no doors and no top with the radio cranked. It’s probably the closest I can get to what a motorcyclist feels and I’m sure they can relate to the visceral nature of two-wheeled travel.

No doors and no windows puts you right in the elements
Solid axles mean you’re feeling every bit of the road

It’s this visceral feeling that I think is the essence of travel. It’s illogical. It’s something you feel deep down inside. It’s illogical and borderline irrational. It’s something insatiable that bubbles up from that primordial inner-self that reminds us that at our very core, by our very nature, we are not sedentary creatures. Sure we could stay home, where it’s safe. We could work hard and make lots of money. We could build a great life and die happy. But would we? Would we truly be happy? When I’m in one place too long and I don’t get to travel I start to feel numb. They sky seems a little less blue, the grass is a little less green, and the sun is a little less bright.

If you’re made it this far I’m not sure what else to say. I’ve been waxing a bit poetically and I’ll have to blame my philosophy background for that. My current autobiographical summary on my facebook profile says, “A philosopher poet with an incurable case of wanderlust marching the beat of his own drum.” I think if I were to add something to that I would somehow incorporate something along the lines of, “in the visceral pursuit of the essence of travel.” That is something I hope I can pass on to you.

My mission, as ECOA, is to both educate, encourage, and inspire. I hope this article fulfills the later and inspires you to look inward and examine why it is you travel and what you think the essence of travel is – for you. Thankfully I don’t believe there is any one right answer and I’m excited to see what kinds of answers you come up with. So if you’re up for it, drop a comment down below and let me know what you travel.