There’s this new fever of travel, this new wave of a cult-like obsession with backpacking across exotic foreign places, living in the slums of India, staying with Monks in Asia, but why? We need to understand no matter where we go, we’re still bringing our self with us, and wandering aimlessly through Europe won’t change that. But there is room for growth in travel, more in an experience I like to call exploring. You should pick a specific place to visit with a general purpose for going, of course leaving room for whimsies to shoot you into some unknown exploration, but it needs to have a little structure, a few guiding principles, a basic routine, all of which actually allow you to fall into something interesting or exciting, something you could have never imagined. Here’s a few guidelines that I’ve learned from a little travel, or as I say “exploration.”
1. Less is more.
You don’t need 2 years to travel all over the world, take three weeks or even a month and pick somewhere rather small to travel within, seeing the main sights, eating the local food, being open to meeting new people, etc. When you have two years, it gives you the comfort to waste so much time, time being the only commodity we can’t buy back…at least yet
2. Go alone.
When you go with friends, you’re subjected to their schedule, to where they want to eat, to what they want to do, to the places they want to visit. You also wont be as open to meeting new people, exploring interesting yet unknown sights and letting your whimsies take you somewhere when you have another person you have to convince before proceeding, what’s the point of going somewhere new with the same people from home?
3. Avoid the cult-like travelers.
There’s a group who turn their phones off and leave the world for an extended period of time, until they inevitably have to come back at some point, leaving themselves in this odd compartmentalized life of sorts, why not add travel into your everyday life? Why does it have to be some off/on switch that you flicker totally on or off? Can’t you settle in somewhere, but build a routine that you keep at home, for example, waking up then heading out for a run or some form of exercise, eating breakfast and answering some of your emails & going over any work you need to do for the day, do whatever nonsense tasks that are needed, and then schedule a wide-ranging time from say 12-6 or so to visit places you’d like to, come back shower, and then head out for some dinner in the town followed by a cozy sleep where you’re staying and repeat.
Of course things will pop up, excursions make last longer than expected, but that happens in everyday life too with meetings, calls, traffic, family issues etc. so it’ll happen wherever you travel and you adjust, but I think building this routine in as you would at home allows for more freedom to actually get into some interesting experiences.
4. Ask questions.
When you’re walking around whether you’re in Africa or Florida, keep your eyes open and ask questions, be interested in the sights, the people, the food etc. Curiosity cultivates relationships, opens locked doors, builds partnerships, to be interesting you need to be interested.
This isn’t a vacation at some resort, it’s everyday life, so if you want to have enough energy, be in a good mood, start your day with some vigorous exercise even some push-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups followed by a run around the town you’re staying in getting to find your way around while exercising is a two-for-one special.
6. Embrace the cliché.
Everyone is a “travel snob” nowadays due to the internet, and the accessibility of the wider world, people think they should skip Machu Picchu if they’re in Peru, or avoid the Eiffel Tower in Paris, or the stereotypical food in a given area, but that’s how you start. You go to the most well-known sights, eat the classic dishes, they’re classics for a reason, and then from there you expand into less-known sights, food, and towns to get a deeper understanding of the area, but don’t skip the clichés just because you don’t want to feel ‘mainstream.’
7. Be respectful.
Yes, you may think people smell funny, have an odd culture, live in a peculiar way, but guess what? They most definitely think the same thing of you, we’re all products of our environment and just because something is different from how you do a certain thing doesn’t mean its weird or odd, it’s all about perspective, so open your mind and look at the situation from their eyes and think how dumbfounded they would be if they saw your culture. We all have pieces of our culture we’re proud of, and other pieces of it not so much, be respectful that other cultures are the same way.
8. You don’t need to go somewhere far.
We all think we need to go to Africa or Antarctica or Asia to experience something profound, but have you ever taken the train to Washington D.C and went to all the museums, have you been to Times Square, have you traveled down to the historic New Orleans and experienced the vibrancy of the culture there? Far doesn’t mean exotic or interesting, it’s how you go about the trip that adds the flavor to it.
Write down your observations, how you feel, new ideas that have come to you, new ways of thinking you’ve perceived around you, places that excited you, foods you liked or didnt like, things you want to try tomorrow. Just have an understanding of where your thoughts are, and also to look back on the trip 6 months, 12 months, 18 months from now and have those words bring you back to that coffee shop, or the hike, or hotel you were staying in.
10. Use your time wisely.
We all hate the part of the travel that means we have to get on some shitty airplane with screaming babies or the asshole behind us that decides he’s going to recline his chair, but use that time wisely. Open a book, throw on a podcast, buy a wireless keyboard and do some writing. Name another time that you’re not connected to the internet 30,000 feet up in the space where you have some time to think, to read, to learn, so when you find yourself complaining just think of all the things you get to do up there.
11. Carry-ons only.
Don’t bring 6 suitcases; you need a pair of jeans some comfy sneakers, a few tee shirts and a jacket, with your laptop phone a book and some chargers for these devices. If you find yourself needing something i can assure you there’s stores where you’re going to be, it’s such a hassle to have to check stuff in, and then when you come back unpack all of this stuff back to where it was in your house. Leave the damn shampoo in your shower, you’ll have it where your going. Don’t make travel a hassle, make it a simple pack a bag and go experience, travel should be simplifying what’s around you, opening you up to new experiences, not the other way around.
12. Don’t over plan.
I know I said to have a general routine, but that doesn’t mean to have a plan. So you know you’re exploring for roughly 12pm-6 unless it goes longer, but you don’t have a specific excursion planned out, you’re leaving it to whatever happens to catch your eye or interests you.
13. Take only a few pictures.
It’s okay to take a few, but why do you need a hundred photos of an area? Are you ever going to sit back, and go through them? You have the memories with you, inside you, sometimes I feel like people just take photos so they can bring them home to show everyone else how cool of a thing they did, the amazing experience they had posted all over their Facebook, and for some reason I have the feeling that people who need to talk about it so much are the ones who got the least out of it, trying to reassure themselves just how great it was to other people, insecure people talk a lot.
14. Stay somewhere interesting.
Whether it be an AirBnb or Hotel, stay somewhere peculiar, with some history, or some oddity that intrigues you, somewhere that’ll inspire you, or envelope something new in you. This is where you spend the time planning; make sure its somewhere special.
15. Spend the first day learning.
Case out the town the first day, walk aimlessly, hop trains, take buses, get into cabs, speak to people, eat somewhere, buy something. Understand the place, how it works, where you need to visit, how the food is, this will prove invaluable for the rest of the trip.
16. Have a grounding spot.
Invariably you’ll end up trying all kinds of restaurants, visiting museums, different towns, different transportation, but when you find something interesting it’s cool to have a “grounding spot” like a coffee shop that you can visit every morning, or a restaurant you can end your day with a light meal everyday. It adds some stability to the unknown world of travel, allowing you to see some familiar faces and feel apart of the town. At this place, be unique, so whether its tipping, which in that case tip very well, and with say $2 bills, so every time you get a meal it could be $14, match the bill in tips with $2 bills. Ask the waiter/waitress or owner about himself or herself, what they like etc. not in a creepy way, but after getting to know them a few times. Before leaving, connect via social media, then upon leaving, send them a gift based on one of those conversations, if they love cupcakes, that’s a basket of cupcakes with a special note. Now when you go back to all of these towns, you have friends in New Orleans, Pakistan, Peru, California and you’re cultivating a network of some wide-ranging interesting people. Be unique and they wont forget you.
17. Leave a few days without lodging plans.
If you’re staying for a week in New Orleans, leave the last 2-3 days open so that you’re able to explore somewhere interesting which may come along unexpectedly, a new friend invites you to stay, a cool Hotel happens to catch your eye, or an AirBnb listing that was booked now opened up. Leave room for whimsy to strike.
18. Take something you like to do at home, and try it where you’re staying.
I love to cook at home, so instead of eating every meal out, I’ll find a place that has a small kitchen that I can cook in, head to the local market and make myself a little dinner, noting the differences of here as opposed to home, etc. That could be a yoga class for you, or reading in the park, taking a hike, painting, etc. Not everything has to be different, do the same, and note the differences within it.
19. Get your sleep.
I know you want to squeeze every minute out of your travel, but how can you possibly feel good if you’re not sleeping? You wouldn’t at home, so don’t on the road. Earplugs and an eye-mask might be needed. Depending on where your staying it could be loud, so bring those they’re a lifesaver.
20. Avoid drinking excessively.
You can get shit-faced at home with your friends, but why do it here on the road when it just dulls your senses, leaves you feeling terrible the next day, and kills your energy. Of course a bottle of wine with some new friends at dinner is great, but shots of vodka at a club maybe aren’t.
21. Be Frugal, but not cheap.
Spend money on the same scale you would at home, you shouldn’t be blowing through money on the pretext that its ‘vacation’ because it isn’t, you’re traveling. Of course, there’ll be a few more expenses since you’re eating out a little more, visiting more museums, getting around via public transportation, but if at home you wouldn’t eat at a fancy restaurant, there’s no need to here. You’re trying to make this a sustainable practice, yes it’s a practice, you get better with time, it opens you up more & more, and if you live beyond your means and don’t keep to basic responsibilities, traveling will not be sustainable and will end up as a once a year thing for a week to some resort that’s more Americanized than Disney World in July.
The best way to put this advice into one thought would be to live just as you do at home: with a routine, within the same financial means you do in “normal life”, with a few activities you keep at home, keeping to work & exercise responsibilities splitting your day up evenly, but just with a little more open-mindedness, a little more wonder about your surroundings, a little more exploration by taking buses, cabs, and trains to a random corner allowing whimsy to find something interesting around you.
Travel needs to be sustainable because like i said its a practice, and a practice isn’t sustainable unless it’s affordable, and you keep to your responsibilities of everyday life. Traveling, or exploring as I say, can be one of your greatest sources of growth and learning, the novelty of new places, different culture, and new people opens your mind to a world you’ve never seen before, transforming this plastic mind into something utterly better, with more understanding & respect for diverse people, a more curious mind, and more empathy for the world around us so different, yet so similar all with wants, needs, desires, fears, worries, and anxieties. It’s so easy to perceive a certain group of people as one thing, until you actually see their day-to-day life, living with them, seeing what they see, and feeling what they feel, that’ll be with you forever, adding richness to your life.
It’s not where you go, its what you come back with.