A friend asked me once what is it that makes me travel so much, and this might end up being why you should travel too.
Life is short, so eat dessert first
There’s absolutely no doubt: a lifetime will never be enough to explore the delights of our world. We’re living on a beautiful, rich and colorful planet that holds a natural diversity, gorgeous landscapes and we, through the ages, have created a majestic culture and built environment that spreads across all continents.
From Mayan caves in the middle of Belize to Santorini, a spectacular Greek volcanic island, you can always find places that will impress you, give you goose bumps, or warm your heart.
In today’s world, we have the unique chance to have more time for ourselves. While some prefer to use this time for a “staycation”, I always make sure each day is used to discover something new. Nobody knows what the future holds.
Whether you plan on travelling for vacation or to settle into a new home, the planning part is exciting: you get a chance to read about your destination, learn from others, and gather places you think you might be interested in. The internet has a humongous amount of resources to aid in this (wikitravels, tripadvisor).
Your second challenge will be to find a place to sleep. Compared to just a few years ago, you now have plenty of options: from the free (and awesome) couchsurfing, to the diverse options of AirBnB, to the tried and true hostel. One advice for hostels: if you go during high season, you definitely want to have a reservation.
Planning takes time and patience. But hold on tight because the reward is always greater. One of the trip my partner planned a while back brought us from Cancun (landing) all the way down to southern Belize. This 7 day trip in 2012 included being on a wooden sail boat for 3 days, sleeping under the stars of the Milky Way on an isolated island (with literally 3 palm trees), and visiting the relatively undiscovered Actun Tunichil Muknal (gorgeous Mayan cave in the jungle).
Not enough time to plan?
That’s not a reason to not travel (you thought it would be this easy?). Pick a country or place you’d love to explore, and let Intrepid Travel guide you. I did a road trip from Costa Rica to Panama with them. You use local transportation, stay in unique accommodations, and have a guide that will give you advice on what to see and do at each stop along the way.
Not enough money?
Traveling doesn’t have to be expensive either. It really depends on where you go and what you do when you arrive. There are many ways to get cheap flights, good deals on food, and even find free places to stay. If you’re short on money, one option is to plan trips during the low season (which can often be a good thing), or even take up a temporary job on a farm that will cover your room and board.
Be an Explorer
When you travel, your mindset should be about exploring what the world has to offer. It’s not about home and your comfort zone anymore. It might not be perfect all the time, but it will give you a better understanding of each place you’re visiting.
Countless times, I’ve seen friends who travel and just do the same thing as what they would do back home. In 2011, I went to Hawaii (Honolulu) with a few friends. One of them went to the same beach everyday and ate crepes (He is already French). That’s how much he will know and remember Hawaii. He’s travelled half of the world to have an experience he can have a few miles away from his home.
Exploring also means forgetting about places you go to when you’re at home. It’s about experimenting with the local supermarkets and restaurants in order to find that special place you will go to everyday until their owner eventually remembers your name and what you usually order. It’s making habits, mingling with the locals. I never went to Starbucks while I was living in Rio de Janeiro, but instead I went often to Terzetto Café. There you get a taste of Brazilian coffee and their delicious sweets.
Exploring is also finding your own comfort food. Wherever I go, I always look for at least one dish I can bring back with me. It means tasting a lot of different local dishes until you find the one you can say “this is delicious”. My top three from Brazil: açai, feijão, and picanha.
Your own Betterment
The world is incredibly complex. Each country has its own language, dialect, and culture. This rich diversity makes our planet a very interesting place, and when you travel, those end up being challenges for which you quickly have to adapt to in order to have a good time.
Through your different experiences you learn about the world, but also about yourself and your own boundaries as you reshape your zone of comfort. What would have shocked you before simply doesn’t anymore. Some of those experiences end up being stories that will one day be told to our grand children. Tales of the past.
You only know
When you travel, you get a chance to understand our world. It’s not anymore what’s written in books, but rather how you perceive it. Even if it might not be the full picture, you get an opportunity to experience an ever-larger piece of it.
When I told my San Francisco friends about my temporary move to Rio de Janeiro, they all looked at me as if I was going to a war zone. When you actually get there: it’s safe and they have better public transportation than pretty much anywhere in California. I went out at night, went to events. Partied with the locals. Aside from having a good time, nothing out of the ordinary happened that caused me to have concern for my safety. We stayed out until 3am at least once a week.
One day, I got sick. A simple sore throat. While it wasn’t easy to find the necessary drugs to relieve the pain, the local friends I had made offered to bring me food. And they did. It was a nice surprise and a reminder that Cariocas and Brazilians in general don’t necessary have a lot, but what they have, they’re happy to share.
As a point of comparison, during my first year at Pinterest: there was a double murder on the same street. Cops were all over. In the same block as where I used to live, body parts were found in luggage.
Safety is really a matter of perception, like most other things. The best advice is to never to let your vision of the world be distorted by some quick article. Instead: be inspired, travel, and make an opinion of your own.
Shit happens, you learn to deal with it
We were driving from Naples to Rome when our rental car broke. Even if we were using a known company (Europcar), nobody there was speaking English nor French. After spending hours in the hot sun by the side of the road, we finally ended up having a garage tow us.
It all worked out in the end: We found our way to the nearest train station to complete our journey to Rome and enjoyed a great (if compact) afternoon and evening there.. The day after, we woke up at 7am to head to the airport to go to Athens.
Due to a fire, the Rome airport was a mess: the luggage drop off wasn’t working, and the lines were growing every minute. They finally told us to leave our luggage and head to the security checkpoint to get on our flight.
After arriving in Athens, we discovered one of our bags didn’t make it on the plane, and it took roughly 5 hours to fill a form reporting it missing. Still fighting throughout the day, we arrived at the only open kiosk to buy the subway tickets to get to the city center and our airbnb. Even though there was a line, the attendant at the window closed it at 4pm sharp. A few minutes later, in the subway, a pickpocket tried to steal my phone. It wasn’t a major drama, but a lot of those small challenges makes you wary of certain aspects of travelling.
Thankfully, our MisterBnB rental was not only cheap but modern, clean and the bed was comfortable. Our host gave us a lot of local recommendations, things to do, places to explore, and where to have food. When experiences like this go from bad to suddenly very good, it makes you realize that you shouldn’t get too stressed over the bad things, because good things are always around the corner. Life’s too short to only focus on the little inconveniences.
When you move abroad or travel, you quickly realize all the things you don’t need in your life. We’ve all had this question asked once: “If you could bring only one thing with you to an isolated island, what would it be”?
All the things that you’ve held so dear suddenly become useless while at the same time taking a considerable amount of space. From the teddy bear you’ve had since your childhood to the school books you thought you would open again but never did. One key thing I learned from travelling is to be a minimalist. Don’t buy what you don’t need, and only buy what is necessary for the moment.
When I moved from Paris to Miami in 2009, my entire life was fitting into two small pieces of luggage. 5 years later, this remained true: moving out of San Francisco, I sold all the furniture, and what couldn’t be sold and the clothes that couldn’t fit in my luggage were given to charity. It’ an opportunity to both give back and start fresh.
All those experiences contribute to your own betterment. You’re not in your zone of comfort anymore — you’re in the unknown. Ready to learn and explore.
These are some of the reasons why I love to pack a bag and go. Regardless of the challenges, you get a chance to build your own understanding of the world that surrounds us.
And you? What’s your story?