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The Constant Traveler

Among the truly devoted wanderers, however, ostentation is rare. When he's home, Freely says, he doesn't even talk about his travels: "It's frustrating, because you can't really convey what these places are like. So I don't try. If people ask, I say just enough to be polite."

Karyn Planett and her husband, Geoff Thompson, can't show off, either—their neighbors travel as much as they do. A year ago, the Monterey County, California, couple moved into their two-bedroom apartment aboard the World of ResidenSea, the cruise ship condominium that launched in March 2002. Planett and Thompson have wandered through Europe, cruised the Eastern Seaboard, explored the Caribbean, transited the Panama Canal, and sailed the Pacific to Hawaii, all without lifting a finger. "In ten months, we unpacked once," Planett says.

Strangely, when I asked the perpetual wanderers to articulate their compulsion, most were flummoxed. It was as if they've been answering a call so deep they were unable to express their reasons. After talking to enough of them, however, a common thread emerged. Many have no children or other close family ties. They had devoted themselves to work, and now, in middle age, were confronting the startlingly sneaky way that time can pass by practically unnoticed. Their response: to seek out new experiences—as many as possible, as quickly as possible. They travel not for escape or relaxation, but as a way of adding intensity to their lives.

Whenever he journeys through the Arctic, Freely says, he feels more alive: "Last summer we were on the east side of Ellesmere Island. It was eleven o'clock at night, and the sky was pink and the water was pink. The water was just totally flat, not a ripple, and you literally could not tell the sea from the sky. Behind us the wake pattern was spreading out, sending ripples as far as the eye could see. It was stunning."

At moments like that, sharing the mysteries of sea and sky with like-minded travelers, there is no longer any question why any of them has voyaged so far. Experiencing the grandeur of a strange place, there is no competitiveness, no score-keeping, no one to impress.

When I ask Russell—who's also working on his TCC scorecard—how much of the globe he has left to conquer, he doesn't hesitate to set me straight. "Not conquer. I'm just a tourist," he says. "I want the world to come in front of me. I want to touch and see and feel and smell everything."

Everything?

"Yes," he says. "It isn't a big planet. It's not Jupiter."

Anyone who has traveled to 100 or more countries can apply to become a member of the Traveler's Century Club (310/393-7419; www.travelerscenturyclub.org ; $100 initiation fee, annual dues from $30).

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