Travel is a balance of freedom from and freedom to. Freedom from work grants you the freedom to sit on a beach and drink beer all day. Or, the freedom to camp and hike through the back country. One of these choices is an illusion of freedom and one is real freedom; can you guess which is which?
If you said sitting on a beach drinking beer all day is only an illusion of freedom you would have guessed right. Confused? Let me clarify. Beach sitting and drinking doesn’t meet any of the criteria for finding freedom. (defined as having the ability to increase the scope of your knowledge without coercion, striving to exercise your passions, and having the ability to achieve greatness.)
When you sit on a beach drinking you do not “run” from the expectations and tangle of duties pressed upon you. Instead you succumb to these expectations. This is what a vacation should be like, you’re told, so this is your vacation. When you slave away in an office for 50 hours a week this is the way to celebrate your precious time off.
But, nine days later when you return from the Bahamas are you really satisfied? Have you grown or changed in your time off, or have you squandered it laying on the sand? If you have squandered this wonderful opportunity for a break from the drudges of life than you are living passively, or just bouncing through life like a bumper car at a carnival.
Travel is daunting, I admit. The foreign words that sound like deep guttural grunts or sing-song tunes, the city maps with streets weaving in and out of each other like the stitches of a well sewn tie. And the exasperation of waiting an hour for a bus that only runs on Sundays not on a rainy Tuesday, or missing the last train to your destination by five minutes because you couldn’t find which of the thirty-five train departure gates to leave from. With so many barriers to traveling, and in an age of convenient everything you might as well just have someone else plan that 2 week trip to Beijing for you and put yourself on autopilot. Wrong! As with most convenient things, like fast food, instant coffee and powdered milk, the benefits do not outweigh the costs.
For some, just leaving home and venturing out into the unknown is travel enough. But, for those that want more, passive travel will just not do. The passive traveler walks with an entourage of travel bags, books private guided tours of “remote and unique sights and regions of a country” such as the Eiffel tower in France or the pyramids in Egypt, and eats at the “local spots.” You might know this sort of traveling and traveler, usually the organizer is some corporate trip planner that churns out safe, pre-packaged vacations. This type of passive traveling, gleaning only main attractions and sights of a place, is more than enough to fulfill the travel bug in some people. But, for those that want to run as fast as possible from their old lives and discover a new identity, if only temporarily, there are several things you can do.
DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH
Researching and educating yourself on another culture and country shows your commitment to the trip, deepens your knowledge of the world, and makes you a well-informed citizen of the world. Rid yourself of passive travel and take an active part in your life experiences, do the planning yourself. Get down and dirty with life, interact with cultures and the places you are going. Plus, becoming aware of a place eliminates ignorance, which in turn eliminates fear.
Since before Lewis and Clark curiosity has driven people to map out all corners of the Earth. People have been there before, where ever you choose “there” to be. So don’t head for a destination with paper and pen in cartographer-like style trying to rediscover the world. Learn from people who have traveled before you. Get advice from friends and family who have been to where you are headed. Read up on those who have traveled extensively through the area.
For example, if I am planning a trip to the Middle East I’d grab a book by Freya Stark and read some of her thought-provoking passages on her travels. Humble yourself to the world and commit to learning if you want to travel. You don’t have time for research and planning? You have the same hours in the day as Albert Einstein and look what he accomplished. The key is planning. Prioritize your time. Before you go to bed take 20 minutes and read. Not only will you learn a lot about the world but you’ll build excitement for a trip, which is just as important as the trip itself.
PLAN ONE CRAZY ADVENTURE
In your research you will discover many cultural traditions, adventures, and extreme experiences. We’ve actually put together a list of adventures that will change your life.
Pick one on our list or one you found during your research and commit to doing it. In parts of the world you can take part in sacrificial animal killings. There is sky diving, eating grasshoppers, and running with the bulls. Expand beyond the destination travel and engage in something experiential. Put yourself out there and take a risk.
Challenges like the ones we are suggesting are life-altering. You learn about yourself in how you react to the situation at hand. Studies have also shown that the more you struggle and fail while trying to master something, the more the lesson and information is solidified in your brain.1 This “learning paradox” means that when you find yourself in situations with less structure and direction, where failure and struggle is increased, you will also learn more because you are required to actively engage the world and the situation you find yourself in. Stepping outside of your comfort zone, and engaging in an activity that you know nothing about, can increase what you learn.
We wrote a whole article on traveling lightly and eliminating clutter. But, as a recap, use travel as a way to make a break from the burdens that weigh you down. Travel allows you to switch identities the way you would switch to a different language. Become someone different. Develop a new you. Travel, and travel planning are both an adventure.
Make it a habit to do three things when you travel:
- Undertake an intellectual pursuit
- Challenge yourself physically
- Combine the two
1. With so many resources available to you today, from the library, to free, online education programs like Coursera, to language learning and cultural podcasts the only complication is finding the time to learn a language, a new custom, or activity specific to the region you are visiting. But, finding the time to learn will make your trip even better, as you will appreciate the history, architecture, and culture of a place more than you ever thought possible.
2. Take up Krav Maga if you are going to Israel and study at an Israeli martial arts school. Learn to cook in Greece. Go hunting in Russia. Compete in a half marathon in Berlin. Pick a new physical activity of some sort and use your time abroad as a chance to reach add another dimension to your personality.
3. Work at a vineyard in Italy or a tea plantation in Japan. Find somewhere to volunteer or work that requires you to speak the local language and immerse in the local customs and learn some sort of technical skill.
By developing different aspects of yourself you become not only a more interesting and extraordinary person with unique stories but you will find that your trips will hold more value than just sitting on a beach or drinking in a local pub. Use your vacation time wisely and see it as an opportunity to further yourself as a person. Always commit to challenging and improving your lot in life.