If you are a product of the 90’s educational system there are two games that were influential in your education: Oregon Trail and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? In Oregon Trail you blaze a path out West, fording rivers, hoping your oxen don’t die from exhaustion, and praying that your children don’t contract cholera, diphtheria or some other ailment that kills them off. But the biggest obstacle was always the teacher limiting your time on this game that didn’t hold much educational value. If I made it to the end I always died trying to float the last river.

In Carmen Sandiego you chased a detective, turned criminal all over the world, thwarting her attempts at malevolence and evil. You were part of the ACME detective agency, and chased that red haired, red coated vixen all over the world learning geography and history as you went.

Our goal is to increase our brain efficiency and no longer take the lazy way when it comes to thinking.

Never before had a game made elementary aged boys so excited to learn. But, then we went on to middle and high school, leaving our sleuthing days behind. As adults we removed ourselves further from such things as insightful observation, selective memory formation and razor sharp reasoning. We lost these skills, very important skills, that we now marvel at in people like Sherlock Holmes.

Being a detective gave us immense powers of curiosity and discovery. The skills of a detective helped us lead richer lives and travel better. Over the next couple weeks we’re going to delve into all the pieces of becoming a travel detective, and strive to once again catch Carmen Sandiego, who always seems to be one step ahead. These skills can also be used outside of travel to live a more present life, as being a detective transforms your thinking from passive autopilot to actively engaged. Today we’ll be be talking about insightful observation.


Can you remember the color of your best friend’s house growing up? Do you know how many pictures are hanging on the walls in your house? Most people can instantly answer the first question and hesitate on the second. A good majority don’t even know the correct answer to the second question. So how is it that you can remember the exact shade of a house you haven’t seen in 15, 20, or even 30 years but you cannot remember something that you currently walk past every day?

This sums up how much our powers of observation have changed from childhood to adulthood. It’s not a bad thing, but rather an evolutionary feature to help us save brain power for the things that do need intense focus. While it may not matter how many paintings are in your house the point is that the same thing that makes us overlook the number of paintings also makes us overlook spectacular things elsewhere in the world.

Stop for a second and think about how much of the world we’re missing because we coast on autopilot versus actively thinking and engaging with the world. We miss all the small details on our morning commute, fascinating moments at the grocery store or mall, and once in a lifetime moments when traveling.

Our goal is to increase our brain efficiency and no longer take the lazy way when it comes to thinking. We can do this, we can build up our brain muscle by increasing our skepticism about the world. We are too trusting, and this trust causes us to miss things of importance. In addition to having trust issues with the world we also have this pretty sweet inhibitor know as stress which destroys our focus completely.


Stress captures our mind and distracts us from the world. Stress often grows when traveling until we travel enough, become inoculated and make it no never mind. Observation, stress and travel are like tuna, peanut butter and ketchup, they don’t mix. Short terms stress sharpens our powers of observation on said stressor. As a fight or flight mechanism we block all other parts of reality out of our mind so we can give all attention to the main problem, the stressor.

Good luck observing anything else during your travel experience. Say good bye to seeing the playful glance from someone of the opposite sex. Forget about noticing the stepping pattern of the guards changing spots at the Vatican. Don’t even try to enjoy and remember the feel of damp sand on your warm feet at dusk on a Greek Island. Your mind is too busy thinking about your stressor. Plus, in the long term, stress can destroy your mind, leading to psychological disorders and anxiety attacks.


Do you want to improve your powers of observation like a true sleuth? Be warned, the below exercises will give you incredible, possibly even superhuman, powers to read people and understand the world around you.


I just played this game today and it is still one of my favorites. Post up at a coffee shop or mall, somewhere with a steady flow of fresh faces. Your mission is to figure out the professions of the people you see. Tips:

  • Focus on clothing and tan lines
  • Is body weight and posture important (kyphosis is common for those spending a lot of time on computers, for example)
  • Can tell a lot about a man by his shoes
  • What did he or she buy/order?
  • What is he driving?

These are just some questions to get you started, but with enough practice you’ll be able to not only figure out a person’s profession but also their personality and life story. Creepy, but in an awesome sort of way.


This is an easy one… and great for checking your six against nefarious pick pocketers and other unsavory characters. How long can you stare at someone without them noticing? Once agin, you’ll need a good location with lots of people. Time yourself and see how long you can stare at a person before getting caught, or best case scenario, they walk away without noticing. If you get caught just smile and look away. Do not do the whole 6th grade, awkward, quick turn away thing. Tips:

  • Play with friends to up the ante and competition
  • Don’t stare at young children, only adults
  • Sun glasses can act like mirrors, so can car windows, shop doors, and a variety of other glass objects.
  • Don’t stalk, just stare and try to notice as many details about the person as possible then let it go when they walk away.


Study up on body languageKnow when someone is friendly, hostile, or filled with deceit. Then test out your skills by observing people in one of the above games and trying to read their mood and behavior.


The above games aren’t just ways to creep on people undetected but actually serve a beneficial purpose. When you are in a new environment or traveling somewhere foreign the ability to see the little things in people and places will make all the difference. Your insightful observation powers will help you pick out subtle differences in people across cultures, giving you a deeper understanding of your home and theirs.

You will thwart pickpockets, understand who is your friend and who isn’t, get more out of life by seeing more than those around you and impress all your friends at the next get to tether by correctly reading someone’s personality and profession. Instant party trick.