We’re one week into the Indie Travel Challenge, and so far it’s been a wonderful affirmation of my commitment to taking a long-term trip. Today’s challenge, however, is the most rewarding yet.
For the first time, I’m having to think critically about my priorities in travel and my purpose. What makes a good traveler? I answer with 10 quotes, 10 values, and 10 promises to myself.
Everything in moderation, including moderation.
~ Julia Child
The world is a big place and there are lots of never-ending debates about the right way to travel. Should you book accommodations ahead of time or wing it once you arrive? Should you fly from point A to point B or take the bus? Should you visit that bucket-list monument or avoid it like the plague? In actuality, there is no wrong way to see the world. The answer to these questions will vary from traveler to traveler, and oftentimes the best experiences will come from striking a balance between two extremes. Guidebooks are neither holy scripture nor useless rags. Popular tourist attractions can be both awe-inspiring and frustrating. And always taking the cheapest or always taking the most convenient route may not be the most practical approach.
I will seek the middle ground and exercise moderation in my travel habits.
Friends and good manners will take you where money won’t go.
~ Margaret Walker
So much travel writing relies solely on the introspective narrative. “What I got out of a place.” While personal growth is a huge part of long-term travel and my work is hardly devoid of the first person, I hope to never become so absorbed in my own personal journey that I lose sight of my surroundings and those who occupy them.
I will treat others with compassion and not view destinations solely in terms of what they do for me.
It is not fit that every man should travel; it makes a wise man better, and a fool worse.
~ William Hazlitt
Travel, and especially long-term travel, isn’t for everyone. But the reasons for that aren’t the ones many Americans assume. Travel is not the exclusive realm of the wealthy, young, and unattached, nor is it a pipe dream to motivate busy worker bees to save for retirement. All the same, travel, and especially long-term travel, requires patience, humility, open-mindedness, and a whole host of other traits and skills, and some people may not be ready for that kind of investment or may not get enough out of the experience to be worthwhile. That’s okay. But far too many people do have the desire to travel and believe it to be unattainable. That’s what needs to change.
I will show how accessible travel can be.
There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will have truly defeated age.
~ Sophia Loren
I used to swear up and down I wasn’t a creative writer. Magazine articles and the occasional essay were my realm, not novels and poetry. Over time, I’ve come to terms with the fact that creativity is much more than what we view as traditional art forms. Bansky’s stencil graffiti is creative, just as Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is creative. An improvised social dance like ’40s style swing is creative, just as a choreographed, professional ballet is creative. And the witty one-liner I throw out in conversation with a friend is creative, just like a fictional short story would be.
Creativity is in everyone and takes infinite forms. Even the simple act of day-to-day living can be a pursuit in creativity. By making the decision to live more simply and take to the open road, I and others like me are engaged in the active craft of living and making our everyday lives our art.
I will foster my own creativity and that of those around me.
The best measure of a man’s honesty isn’t his income tax return. It’s the zero adjust on his bathroom scale.
~ Arthur C. Clarke
Travel of all kinds is relentlessly romanticized. So many stories of RTW trips gloss over the early, unglamorous stages of saving and planning I currently find myself in, and it can be hard to find narratives that showcase the challenges, difficulties, and just plain bad days that one inevitably encounters on the road. But those very stories detailing the hard work others have done to buy their freedom are just the stories I wish I had, and I’m willing to bet there are others in the same boat.
So to keep myself motivated and hopefully to be of some help to those who come after me, I’m filling that need myself. I will faithfully document not only the wonderful parts of the journey, but all the hard work, challenges, difficulties, and just plain bad days. To do otherwise would be misleading not just to the outside world, but to myself and would ultimately make those bad days feel like a failure.
I will be honest with others and, perhaps more importantly, with myself.
I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.
~ Robert Louis Stevenson
Embarrassing confession time. I like airports and train rides and getting lost on foot in a new city. All those nuts and bolts of travel that most people seem to despise as mere means to the end make me tick as much as the postcard views that initially draw you to a destination.
Getting on a plane is like popping open a bottle of champagne. The latter we associate with celebration and special occasions, so even though the cork isn’t supposed to make a loud noise and the wine isn’t supposed to bubble uncontrollably out of the bottle, we still love it when it does. So why don’t more people take an airplane’s association with going someplace new as a reason to love the whirr of the engines at takeoff and that first illumination of the seatbelt sign?
After 10 years and I don’t even know how many flights, checking in at the airline counter and meandering through airport security are still exciting to me as the first steps of a new journey.
The fact that I have those feelings about the most mundane parts of travel prove to me that slow travel is very much within my wheelhouse. Tempting as it is to careen headfirst into the world and never stop, taking a more deliberate approach and traveling overland wherever possible will be the real way to ensure I don’t miss a thing.
I will move slowly and deliberately to appreciate the little moments.
The essence of the beautiful is unity in variety.
~ Felix Mendelssohn
All travel is enriching, but varied experiences will help you get the most out of the journey. I’m a big believer in the one day on, one day off model. For every day of active pursuits or working on the road, spend another day relaxing.
Likewise, spending all your time swinging a hammock on a tropical beach, trekking through rugged back country, or museum hopping in bustling cities is a one-way ticket to burnout and boredom. Swapping out solo time for travel with companions or guided tour groups can also be a means of spicing up an adventure.
Mixing up destinations, activities, and even companionship is the secret to happiness on the road.
I will embrace and encourage variety.
Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.
~ Neale Donald Walsch
Long-term travel challenges the status quo, and some people will always interpret that as a personal challenge. While making sure my personal journey doesn’t cloud my view of the outside world is a top priority, to deny that such a personal journey takes place would be entirely counter-productive.
Being open about my life choices and encouraging others to consider them isn’t a declaration of superiority nor is it a means of passing judgment against those who determine they want to take a different course. All the same, personal growth is a big part of long-term travel and even though it isn’t my sole focus, it is something I will pursue.
I will push my boundaries and remain open to personal growth.
Many ethno-tourists aren’t traveling the world to interact with exotic people – they’re traveling the world to interact with exotic clothing.
~ Rolf Potts
Authenticity is the travel buzzword of the 21st century. Why get on a plane just to experience things you could do at home? Although true authenticity is an admirable goal, the term has long been co-opted by arrogant ethno-tourists who are more interested in seeing their own idealized vision of non-Western culture than they are in experiencing destinations as they actually are. The romanticized fantasy of pure, primitive life is one of the greatest dangers of the modern travel circuit. It’s a denial of the fact that societies have always changed and evolved. And it’s a surefire way to be nothing but frustrated and disappointed with your travel experiences.
True authenticity isn’t about piously avoiding all traces of the modern West, or about judging cultures for upsetting your preconceptions. Having authentic experiences on the road only requires an open mind, a positive attitude, and the willingness to step outside your comfort zone.
I will seek authenticity by accepting the world as it is, not as I might wish it to be.
Contrary to what the politicians and religious leaders would like us to believe, the world won’t be made safer by creating barriers between people.
~ Michael Palin
Anyone who has ever left home can tell you that travel is as much (if not more) about the people you meet as the things you see. Being compassionate and courteous towards others is just the beginning. It’s that very attitude that opens the door to once-in-a-lifetime chances and long-lasting friendships.
We often think of community as location-based. Your community is your hometown – a place where you put down roots and support the people physically nearest you. But what if we were citizens of the world instead? What if anyone and everyone could be your neighbor?
Even in the early stages, I’ve seen firsthand how incredibly welcoming and supportive the long-term travel community is. And that is as much a motivation to hit the road as the road itself.