Visualize the life of Candace Rose Rardon: Visiting and living in 50 countries, 19 of them in one year alone. Hiking solo on a 220-mile pilgrimage through rural Turkey. Driving an auto-rickshaw 2,000 miles across India. Bathing an elephant in Nepal. Volunteering on a Tahitian black pearl farm. Illustrating an 85-foot-long mural in Google Thailand’s Bangkok office.
For sure it’s not your average itinerary, but such is her exceedingly intrepid nature.
Candace launched herself as a full-time, self-supporting global traveler in 2008. As a writer, blogger, photographer, illustrator, and sketch artist, Candace artfully chronicles her story of newness, possibilities, courage, and adventure. She’s like no one else I’ve known.
I had the good fortune of meeting Candace last summer at a travel writers conference at Book Passage near San Francisco.
She was one of the instructors, co-leading a three-day workshop on writing for the web. I attended her session, but we had little one-on-one contact until I asked her to critique some of my writing samples in a private session. We’re more than a generation and many thousands of miles under our belts apart, yet I felt an immediate draw. I hired her on the spot to redesign my The Roads Traveled website and blog.
Slender with a cascade of long, light brown hair framing her face, Candace is warm, open, engaging, knowing, articulate, and earnest with an ever-present smile. She exudes an easy confidence – perhaps inherent, but certainly honed from her years on the road and the vast diversity of her days.
She shares her remarkable journey on her blog, The Great Affair. The name comes from this quote by Robert Louis Stevenson: “I travel not to go anywhere, but to go…The Great Affair is to move.” The great affair for her is to create a life worth living, and write a story for herself that’s worth telling.
In addition to employing words and photos to tell her stories, Candace uses watercolors. She spends several hours at a chosen location – watchful of whatever unfolds – and sketches her impressions. I marvel at how her talent allows, maybe compels, her to really slow down to absorb the nuances of place and the people she serendipitously encounters, some of them sketch artists themselves. Through her art, she forges connections and crafts a singular, tangible remembrance.
Candace is still in San Francisco for an extended stay. Happily, she agreed to a formal phone interview so I could share some of her travel stories and insights.
Conversing with Candace Rose Rardon
The Roads Traveled: What inspired your wanderlust?
Candace Rose Rardon: I grew up in Virginia with a pretty traditional way of looking at life – attend college, meet someone, have a long-term relationship, work in a stable and secure job, and get a house. A path of steps was laid out for me and I’d walk them. The only domestic travel I’d done was family trips on the East Coast. The only international travel was service trips in high school to the Dominican Republic, but I knew instantly. I loved the difference and newness of the culture. I wrote in my journal of a different air and a different way of doing life. Travel was always on my mind.
Joseph Campbell wrote, “We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”
I took a leap of faith, and followed his advice. You need to trust the universe, let go of the need for certainty and stability, and be open to what might come down the road.
How did your family respond to your decision?
Initially my parents were thrilled, because I’d chosen something after going through dozens of ideas. I went to Europe with two friends, and they knew there was safety in numbers. As I began to wander farther from home and it became a life pattern, I moved to New Zealand for 13 months. It was the opposite end of the world, and I didn’t feel plugged in like I wanted to.
I give credit to my parents for their support. A few years ago I briefly toyed with the idea of taking an administrative assistant job on the West Coast for stable income and a sense of community, and my dad said, “No. It’s not worth the cost of your freedom. You’re doing well. Carry on.” Sometimes my parents get it almost more than I do.
You travel with only two backpacks. What’s in them?
The main one is 35 liters for clothes (a couple of each – shoes, jeans, dresses, T-shirts), large pads of watercolor paper, a couple of books. The other is a standard school backpack for my laptop, scanner, camera, cords, hard drive, smart phone, and sketching materials.
I can get what I need where I’m going. I bought a heavy sweater in Norway and left it with a friend in Costa Brava. I have a fluid relationship with clothes, but my work materials are non-negotiable. I’m also a huge sucker for trinkets, textiles, tapestries, and wall hangings from local markets, so I have to be careful.
How do you decide where to go?
It’s a balance between serendipity and choice, between being open and having a plan. I went to South America because an editor wanted me there. I was in Athens to live sketch a travel blogging conference.
How do you make a living?
I do freelance writing and illustration for such media as National Geographic Intelligent Travel blog and BBC Travel. I have a personal Etsy shop called Serendipity’s Sketchbook to sell my watercolors. I published a book titled Beneath the Lantern’s Glow, and am writing another. I also have a miscellaneous stream, like teaching at Book Passage. You have to leverage the knowledge and skills you have. As I pursue paths, I hope it will lead to more livelihood.
What’s your routine when you arrive at a destination?
I ask the first people I meet – immigration officers, taxi drivers – how to say hello and how are you. I cobble together my own dictionary. I go out and have a meal where locals gather and quietly insert myself into the scene, like at the sidewalk restaurants in Asia and South America. I take out my sketchbook to meet people. I learn their names and get a bit of their story to make our connection real.
How do you stay safe as a woman traveling alone?
It takes time to develop your instincts and trust your gut. I tell women to go away for a weekend near home and get to know themselves. For instance, if you meet a guy and don’t feel comfortable, say you have friends waiting for you back at the hotel. It’s OK to white lie to protect yourself and not get into a potentially dangerous situation.
You’ve referred to yourself as “homeless by choice.”
The first few years I had a base. I rented apartments for several months in a place. I took comfort in that and felt I had a place in the world. But it wasn’t practical to rent. During one month in Delhi I was only in my apartment two days because of traveling.
I’ve lived in a yurt on Salt Spring Island. In Guatemala I rented a house. In Turkey I spent 22 nights on the trail with a tent to camp, and local families invited me to share dinner and stay with them on 13 nights. Their kindness and hospitality changed me. In India I was overwhelmed by peoples’ warmth.
I let go of the artificial construct and found home in me and my work and what I’m pursuing. It’s been a process to let go of a physical place to call home and find it in relationships, professional paths, and cultures I’m experiencing. Home is wherever you are and, more importantly, who you are. When you settle into yourself, home comes to you wherever you are.
I’ve come to realize that the community and friendships I’ve established in San Francisco over time are like a house I built for myself and never took the time to live in. So much of a friendship or romantic relationship takes place during the day-to-day rather than during intense catch-ups. I thought I stayed in tune with their lives by always skyping, but I hit a point last summer where a switch flipped. I needed to be present in my friends’ lives, and build some stillness and slowness. It felt like a necessary shift.
I don’t know if I’ll travel extensively going forward. I’ve pushed myself, grown in ways I never imagined, and honed my values. Staying in San Francisco (at least through spring) feels like the next stage in my evolution.
Candace and I said our goodbyes, and I hung up the phone, inspired, motivated, and, frankly, envious, my appetite for my own wanderlust whetted even more. After all, isn’t that the point of a great travel story?