Taking Your Vacations to the Next Level

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Taking Your Vacations to the Next Level

Whenever you’re looking for adventure, it’s going to find you more frequently than you’re going to find it. The problem is being ready for adventure when it comes.

So go easy on the planning. You don’t have to plan out every hotel you’ll stay at, every restaurant you’ll eat at, or even every travel arrangement you’ll make between destinations. If you’ve planned everything in advance, you’ve effectively chosen what looked best from a distance. Now that you’re on the ground, things might look different, but you’ve already got a schedule locking you into place.

To some, the idea of not reserving hotels in advance seems ludicrous. “But what if they’re all full?” these people whimper. To them, I offer this gedankenexperiment of consolation: think about every event you know of that could book allthe hotel rooms in an entire city. Chances are, if you’re going to any place that is having such an event, you will hear about it ahead of time. So the odds that you’ll be stuck in a city somewhere without any option for sleeping are pretty miniscule. You’re pretty much guaranteed something. If you want to play it safe anyways (or if you’re arriving late in the evening), book the first night, and then play it by ear from there.

If you can refrain from booking all your accommodations ahead of time, you can often find cheaper, cooler, or more convenient things when you’re actually on the ground. How?

  • Talk to other travelers. This is simple. Find a tourist site, find a tourist, and strike up a conversation. Ask where they’re staying and what they like/dislike. Yes, some of what they say will be the stuff you could’ve found out online, but a) you can ask them questions and get answers as you speak, b) they are going to have up-to-date information and c) as a rule of thumb, meeting people leads to more adventure than not meeting people.
  • Find local experts. Same gist as above, only with residents. If you find someone who seems to know a lot about whatever you’re interested in, ask them questions for all you’re worth. For every reason you should talk to another traveler, there’s twice as much sense in talking to a knowledgeable resident. Residents also know where’s cheap—most lately, local knowledge has landed me a few nights in a villa on the Adriatic Coast for as little as that can cost.
  • Explore. Heck, just walk into hotels and hostels that look decent. If you’re really on a budget, try this. Walk into the lobby and look at the key rack. If there are a lot of keys on the rack, they have a lot of vacancies. Use this knowledge to your advantage, and see if they will lower the price for you. While you might think that the person at the desk wouldn’t necessarily have the power to do that, they frequently do, and you can save a bundle while practicing your negotiation skills.

With your accommodations and transportation a bit less structured, you can turn a dense schedule of destinations into a series of waypoints (a festival in city X, visiting a friend around Y, and a plane ride home on Z) that allow for the most adventurous paths to be chosen and filled in from on the ground.

Pack Light

This is the other side to the “Go Easy on the Planning” principle.

While it’s not necessary for all of us to be Rolf Potts and travel around the world without luggage, I think packing light can be a significant advantage in the search for adventure. Simply put, you’re more mobile, which means you’re tied down less.

After graduating college, I spent about a month in Europe with nothing but a smaller-than-average school backpack. Freed from having to go back to the hotel to pack up and from dragging luggage from place to place, there was not an opportunity on that trip I couldn’t jump up and take advantage of. Everything I needed was frequently on my person.

Here are a few things I learned from that experience:

  • Matching clothes rock. I always enjoy not looking like a bum while traveling, so the only way I could pack light and fulfill my sartorial duty was to make sure every single item of clothing matched with every other thing I could wear it with. It worked wonderfully. Khakis and browns for the win.
  • Bring good shoes. An old pair of Topsiders did the trick. I could dress these down to a desert safari and dress them up to dinner in Paris. When they got too dusty, there were a thousand and one places to get them shined on the road.
  • You don’t need much besides clothes—maybe just a camera, some toiletries, a journal, and their respective accessories. Knowing that you don’t need that much is the first step to packing light.
  • Buy stuff as you travel. Not sure if you’ll need sunglasses? Maybe! But if you don’t bring them, you can always find the cheapest pair abroad and just get those if you do need them. Multiply this rule by 10 or 15 and you’ve saved some serious space.
  • Don’t buy souvenirs. Ah, souvenirs—the bane of the light traveler! Bringing only a small backpack allows you to reject souvenirs on principle. Anything you get, you will be carrying around for the rest of the trip, and it won’t be pleasant. If you already went and promised all your living relatives various permutations of vases, rugs, and traditional outfits from the country you’re visiting, fine. But don’t say you weren’t warned.

Even if you need to bring more than a cubic foot of stuff, however, there are still ways to retain your mobility. We live in a day where it’s easy enough to get home from just about anywhere with your passport, a credit card, and some cash. Keep those tricks up your sleeve next time the country you’re in suddenly breaks out in violent, political riots.

Volunteer

Volunteering is one of the best things you can possibly do while traveling. Here’s why.

First of all, the touristy stuff gets old. Fast. Once you’ve seen one Eiffel Tower, you’ve seen them all, and cities the world round generally advertise few things to do for the solitary or small-group traveler besides a) tourist destinations, b) restaurants, and c) museums. I’m serious. Try googling for “things to do in X” where X is any city anywhere.

But you can always volunteer! Volunteering has a few benefits. First of all, it puts you closer to the people in the place you are. Second, it gives you something to do for an extended period of time. Third, volunteering offers a host of related benefits. And finally, volunteering and service are worthy uses of any man’s time.

Volunteering allows you a unique opportunity to get to know the locals. Whether you’re teaching in a school, working at an orphanage, building a house, or whatever, you will find that excuses to interact with the residents will become much more common. If you don’t interact with the residents, foreign places become little more than outdoor museums. But shouldn’t travel be a way to see how others live and appreciate what they call home? Teaching, building, and volunteering all give ample excuses to interact with people.

And because volunteering takes place over a greater period of time, when you dointeract with someone, it’s typically not just a one-time shot. This allows you to get to know people better.  Some of the most meaningful conversations I’ve had while travelling have been with people who I’ve done service for. If you aren’t planning on staying long enough to settle down and get a job, volunteering offers the perfect balance between being a casual sightseer and moving to a place whole hog.

When you volunteer, there might be other benefits as well. Lodging and food can frequently be included in a volunteer gig. In every foreign place in which I’ve volunteered, I’ve never once had to pay for lodging, and even when I’ve paid for food, it was a) usually cheap and b) more than made up for in cost by the fabulous people I ate with.

Beyond all of that, however, it goes without saying that volunteering and service are activities that every man should find time to do. Incorporating them into a trip can be a way to experience first-hand how some people live (a life-changing experience in and of itself) and simultaneously have a much more rewarding voyage.

Obey The 10-Year Rule

The 10-year rule is a simple algorithm for determining what you should do when you’re seeking out adventure. Basically, whenever you are presented with a choice, ask yourself which option you would prefer to have taken in ten years.

Sometimes this rule will cause you to spend more money than you otherwise would have. Sometimes it will cause you to spend less. It will almost universally force you to do more, socialize more, and go outside your comfort zone more. In fact, if you’re going to obey the ten-year rule, then going outside of your comfort zone will become almost a norm.

The natural corollary is that you must be open. Be open to new people; be open to new experiences; be open to things that you might not normally be open to. If something makes you a little uncomfortable, travel is the time to try it out. But if something makes you really uncomfortable, stay away. Don’t go against your gut.

Also, for some odd reason, I’ve found this rule particularly applies to sports. While I’m terrible at sports that require any coordination at all, the 10-Year Rule tells me never to turn down an invitation to play. Subsequently, I have found myself in a number of really awesome sporting events, including a game of soccer against the men of a native tribe in the Darien Jungle and a game of cricket against a group of Indian schoolchildren—both experiences of a lifetime!

Of course, I lost both games. Badly.

This list is far from exhaustive, but it covers a few key ideas to keep in mind to make for better vacationing. With any luck at all, your next trip will have the spontaneity, mystique, and surprise that takes travel to the next level. During the trip you will grow more—you will experience more things, meet more people, and learn more than you would have ever expected. And when you become president, you too can wow your guests with the best dinner conversation of the century. So here’s to adventures—may our lives be full of them!


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