Bill Connolly is surprised that the concept is so unheard of in the U.S. — taking nine months to a year off from work to see the world.

The Australian stopped in Centerville for a few days this week for just that purpose, to savor yet again another locale not normally on a tourist’s route, the kind of stop that would elude Americans in the frenzied rush to cram fun and travel into just one or two weeks.

He took the less traveled path to Centerville because of one of those many brief connections a seasoned traveler makes. While on a day-long cruise in July down the coast of Italy, Connolly struck up a conversation with two couples from Centerville — Dr. Craig and Connie Stater and Bill and Sharon Burch. Later in the day at one of the stops, they continued their conversations over dinner.

“We had a good chat,” he says, and adds they even jumped off a cliff together during another pause for swimming. They traded addresses and the Australian said he kept in touch with them through the following months.

Invitations to visit are usually given in such situations, but often in the spirit of wishful thinking. The world is a big place and most of us don’t have time to follow up on such promises — unless you have nine months devoted just to drifting about the planet.

It took awhile. Connolly’s pilgrimage carried him through Western and Eastern Europe and into the former Soviet Union, as well as western Africa. He entered the New World by way of Canada, traveled down the West Coast with a swing through the South. After a bus trip to Chicago, he caught a train to Ottumwa.

His initial impressions of the U.S. included his surprise about the American propensity for drive-throughs. Australians do have drive-in restaurants, but they stop there. Drive-up windows for dry cleaning, pharmacies and banking were an amusing concept to Connolly.

He was especially impressed with some of the farm fields he visited here — saying Australian farmers would die for the black top soil. The majority of Australia’s “outback” is an inhospitable desert.

The country’s population rings the landmass along the coasts like salt on the rim of a margarita glass — though most Australians might prefer a simile ußsing beer

Remember, this is the country where Joseph "Jack" Thomas was put on trial for his connections with al-Qaeda leader Bin Laden. He told reporters that his own love of beer had made his conversion to Islam, which bans alcohol, a dilemma.

"I never really thought I'd be a Muslim," he told ABC. "I'd say, 'Oh look, you know, I really love your religion but I really love my beer'."

Also surprising Connolly was snow at the Grand Canyon and the deserts of the Southwest.

“Deserts are supposed to be hot and dry,” he remarked in an accent familiar to anyone who has heard Crocodile Dundee, “not cold and with snow.”

He also lamented the lack of public transportation in America.

Connolly expressed surprise upon learning that travel by bus can be considered an adventure in itself, with Hollywood often depicting such travelers as psychopathic loners or the dredges of society.

While waiting for a bus in Memphis, Tenn., he recounted, a bonding experience that occurred among his fellow travelers. A woman began calling out the clues to a crossword puzzle, with those in the waiting room communally supplying answers. Connolly admitted that he was worthless when it came to answering clues on American sports.

Keeping a well-kept appearance can be difficult on the road. Connolly said he keeps a cake of soap for washing his clothes in the bathroom sinks of bus stations and airports. In warmer climates, he’ll dry a wet shirt by wearing it over that day’s wear. Wet socks may hang from the straps of his backpack.

“Dry socks are very important,” he noted.

The wanderer was asked if he ever missed his own bed or became tired while on such a lengthy tour.

“I’d rather be tired while traveling than working everyday,” he replied with a grin. His occupation back home in New Castle is in corporate human resources.

Connolly kept in contact with his Centerville friends through email. A typical message to the Burchs was, “G'day, or B'jour, as I am trying to alter the local greeting to reflect the translation of G'day.

“I am still in West Africa, to be precise, I'm in Burkina Faso and to narrow it down even more, I'm in Ouagadougou, the greatest name for a capital city of any country on earth...

“As for the current bit of the trip, it is going wonderfully well, but could probably be going better if I spoke French and could appreciate and understand a lot of information that I am missing.

“I started in Dakar, Senegal and then headed over to Mali. Bamako wasn't a holidayer’s delight, but Mopti was nice and the three days on a boat from there up to Timbuktu (where I arrived 35 minutes before Christmas) was magic. I then visited Dogon country before heading through Burkina Faso en route to Niger.

“Niamey was all right, Agadez was glorious and the Air Mountains are truly stunning. I then headed down into Benin to scratch around the voodoo world for a bit and across Togo to Ghana picking up information about the slave trade. I'm now back in Burkina Faso on my way back to Dakar. Sounds good hey?”

But all good things must come to an end. After visiting a bit more of the States, he will be traveling back to Europe to catch a flight home.

There is nothing to say he won’t be trying it again — took off in 1997-98 to wander the world. And as a child, he traveled with his parents on an auto excursion from England through India. It seems its in the blood.

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