By Sharon Knolle
After making his mark in Hollywood in the ’80s with Pretty in Pink and St. Elmo’s Fire, Andrew McCarthy found an unexpected second love: Travel writing. The former Brat Packer turned backpacker talks about how exploring the globe by himself changed his life in his new memoir, The Longest Way Home, One Man’s Quest for the Courage to Settle Down.
As McCarthy told Joy Behar during his recent appearance on The View, “Travel writing was a total accident. I found traveling an antidote for the strange life I was leading in Hollywood. It had a real transformative effect on my life. It stopped me being afraid in the world. When I traveled, I put myself in very vulnerable positions and I depended on the kindness of strangers. I found it made me a better person. I was a better version of myself on the road.”
Always a loner by nature, McCarthy found solace for many years in alcohol, but once he gave that up, he realized his life was still missing something. A chance encounter at a book store—where he grabbed a travel book at random after being caught staring at a pretty woman—led to his walking the Pilgrim’s Route (El Camino de Santiago) in Spain. He nearly turned around after being abandoned by his temporary walking companion.
“My worst fears about myself—among them that I just wasn’t man enough to handle this—were proving to be true. I had come to Spain, I now saw, to determine whether I could take care of myself,” he writes in The Longest Way Home. Instead, he decided to keep going and discovered the same kind of thrill in travel that he’d found in acting several years before.
The heart of McCarthy’s book is encapsulated in this telling line: “Travel is a form of infidelity.” He’d been engaged for four years to “D,” the mother of his daughter, but realized he was unable to commit, so he hit the road again (with her blessing).
On The Today Show, McCarthy explained the pivotal push-pull moment in his life when he decided to write this book. “As I was leaving to go on one of my trips, my now-wife and I had just decided to get married and I was really sad to be leaving,” he revealed. “I was sitting in the back of a cab, all kind of weepy to be going and at the same moment, I was thrilled to be going.
“And I couldn’t reconcile these two parts of me. Part of me wants to be with you and the other part just needs to go be me. So I thought there was a nugget for a book there, to wrestle with that theme of intimacy and commitment and how does a guy do that.”
During his travels, McCarthy found his motivation to come back and tie the knot: “I’m going on these journeys, not to escape the commitment I recently made—but quite the opposite, I’m going to use them the way I have always used travel: to find answers. I’m setting out in order to gain the insight necessary to bring me home,” he writes.
Not surprisingly, his book is being called the Eat, Pray, Love for men. He doesn’t mind. “I thought that book was great,” the actor told Today. “It’s an internal, emotional journey that plays out over these exotic locations, so that’s a comparison I would welcome.”
Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert seems to agree, giving The Longest Way Home a glowing rave on its book jacket: “McCarthy ponders some of the biggest and most frightening questions surrounding intimacy. There is much to be learned and much to be admired, in this elegant, thoughtful story.”
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