How To Travel Better

“Do not follow where a path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

How many times have you returned from your vacation only to find its positive effects have soon worn off entirely?

We’ve Forgotten How To Travel

“It’s not more vacation we need — it is more vocation.” — Eleanor Roosevelt.

It’s hard to break the habit of life’s 9–5ish routine.

When we go away we find it hard to relax and find ourselves dashing around madly with our guidebooks, checking off all the tourist sites, and drinking too many margaritas like it’s a permanent happy hour.

The one period of time we have to ourselves to think, to grow, to recalibrate, is often wasted.

Invest In Your Time Off

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” — Oliver Endell Holmes, Jr

I have an honours degree from a British university, I consider myself well read and yet travel is always my best teacher. Exploring multicultural destinations with an independent mindset has given me endless ideas and stimulated my creativity.

Research has shown that when your brain is completely relaxed it consolidates new knowledge and skills more effectively.

Imagine the benefits of travelling in a relaxed state and learning as you go.

Travel Like The Romans

“Everyone dreams of the perfect vacation — in the country, by the sea, or in the mountains. You too long to get away and find that idyllic spot, yet how foolish…when at any time you are capable of finding that perfect vacation in yourself.” — Marcus Aurelis, Roman Emperor and practitioner of Stoicism

If you visit the same places that everyone else does on your vacations, you’ll see and think about the world in the same way as the average person.

Wealthy Romans had it right; they would travel the lengths and breadths of the Roman Empire and aspire to get away for up to two years. The most famous of them, according to Tony Perrott — author and historian, such as Julius Caesar, Pompey and Mark Anthony combined their beach holidays with self-improvement in the form of reading poetry, writing philosophy and debating with fellow aesthetes.

If you want to make your vacations impactful, consider these alternative ways of travelling. It helped me determine how I leave my mark on the world.

1. Only Travel With Hand Luggage

Don’t be burdened by carrying unnecessary luggage. Often I’ll arrive at the airport early, with just my 38-litre Osprey Kestrel backpack, hugging my back like a designer jacket. And I’ll weave my way past the holidaymakers and their luggage and glide effortlessly through security control. And before I know it, I’m enjoying a nice glass of vino in the departure lounge.

Unless you’re going to a desert island you don’t need to pack for all eventualities; they’ll be shops at your destination if you find you can’t live without something for a week.

Arriving stress free and with a positive mindset assures the best way to start your vacation.

2. Go To A Bar And Avoid Museums

When I backpacked around South America and arrived in a new town or city I made a habit of heading to the centre and parking myself in the busiest looking café or bar. My Spanish was pretty poor then but when I had the courage to make conversation with a local I was enthusiastically received. And I soon learned that the language of gesticulation is universal.

It’s easy to make a new foreign friend that way, and of course a local guide, who will take you off the beaten track. And you’ll witness things that don’t appear in dusty museum exhibitions or guidebooks.

It always puts a smile on my face when I remember the time I was in Cuba and I was invited by a new Cuban friend to an open-air salsa disco, and trying my best to follow the steps of professional salsa dancer he’d introduced me to!

3. Get Lost And Don’t Have An Agenda

Explore the alleyways and side roads of the cities you visit without a map. As long as you have the address of where you’re staying, you’ll never be lost for long.

You’ll be surprised at the adventures that emerge!

In Venice, I’ve always enjoyed getting lost in its labyrinth of cobbled streets, and on one occasion of exploration, I stumbled across a favourite haunt of the gondoliers. Inside the café, these hardy rowers shared tales, grappa brandy and some memorable chat up lines!

4. Don’t Try To See Everything

Tear in half your sightseeing list, or better still bin it altogether. And spend longer in one place getting to know it, rather than attempting to see it all.

Less is certainly more in this instance. Taking the time to slow down and look around has helped me to really engage with my new surroundings.

During my backpacking tour of South America, my companion and I rented an apartment for six weeks in Cusco, Peru. During our time there we settled into a slower pace of life (partly helped by the lack of oxygen in the air — Cusco is the fifth highest city in the world!). As a result, my travel journal flowered with observations, insights and my knowledge of the local culture flourished.

5. Take Local Transport

A new place can often feel disorienting and it’s tempting to take a cab or an Uber to the places you want to visit.

But travelling on public transport, such as a bus, will show you much more. They don’t always follow the direct route and of course, they’re a great way to interact with the locals.

Consider this: sitting in in an air-conditioned cab, cut off from your driver and the environment outside, or sitting at the back of a bus squashed in-between a monk and a woman taking her rooster to market. Of the two situations, which one do you think will present the opportunity to discover where the best monastery and market from a local’s perspective might be?

6. Travel On Your Own

Getting out of your comfort zone and thinking for yourself, is what really builds confidence and helps you prosper in all aspects of life. Psychologists call it self-efficacy.

When you travel in a group, you’ll speak in your mother tongue, and you’ll take more interest in gossip from home than learning about the foreign places you’re visiting. Plus you’ll be led like sheep.

But travelling alone forces you to be resourceful and affirms that you’re capable of much more than you imagined. I once walked 800km across Spain on my own and that experience has helped me to believe I can succeed with most challenges that come my way.

7. Stay In A Hostel

Hostels no longer cater just to backpackers on a shoestring; there is now a new trend of designer style ones or co-living dwellings that caters for the ‘digital nomad’ or just people who are tired of staying in antisocial hotels.

In such hostels, I’ve met a wide array of people and gained fascinating insights into the world from them. Such people have also introduced me to life-changing books.

My favourite hostel is Casa Miraflores, in Colombia, which I describe as an adult’s boutique hostel. One of the reasons I keep going back is because of the fascinating guests it attracts. I’ve met an Olympian weightlifter, environmentalists, one of Colombia’s leading software entrepreneurs and biotechnology professors, amongst others there.

8. Take A Class

How many times have you felt guilty for putting off a commitment to study another language or cancelling that dance class? We’ve all done it; making the excuse we can’t afford the time.

Well when you’re on vacation, you can’t use that excuse anymore. And taking a class in a foreign country is the perfect way to meet locals, gain a better understanding of its culture and obtain a new skill.

I’ve attended Spanish classes in Guatemala, learnt to cook paella in Valencia and become completely frustrated at myself while trying to dance tango in Buenos Aires. Although all of these activities presented their challenges, they all taught me something about myself, beyond their direct benefits.

9. Volunteer

During my time in Peru, I volunteered for a programme that offered extra education to the kids of market stallholders. The drop-in centre at the market was an opportunity for the kids to catch up on their schooling, as often they were expected to work in the market.

To begin with, it was a humbling experience, seeing at first hand the extent of their poverty, and discovering, for example, that many parents couldn’t even afford to buy their children pens and pencils. And it was easy to fall into the trap of comparing their way of life to the standards we have in the West.

But as time went on I realised I wasn’t there to judge or offer solutions; I was being taught a lesson in how people living difficult lives deal with their realities. And I was reminded how something as simple as a smile, goes a very long way.

10. Quit The Job

After experiencing the positive benefits of travelling differently, it’s no surprise that many people consider taking time out to travel longer.

Unfortunately fear prevents many of us from achieving this dream. How will I pay the mortgage, who’d want to rehire me, or I couldn’t take the children out of school? These, however, are just excuses created by the common consensus.

But consider these points: the skills and insights you develop on your travels will make more hireable; renting your home on Airbnb; imagine the skills and confidence that your kids will gain from seeing the world.

Let Me Take You On A Journey…

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