Turning Vacations into Adventures – Part II

by A Manly Guest Contributor on January 17, 2011 · 19 comments

in Blog

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Erik D. Kennedy.

In Part I, we covered the first two principles of turning vacations into adventures: stay with residents and go easy on the planning. Today we round out the list with three more.

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 with no 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 (or pants leg) next time the country you’re in suddenly breaks out in violent, political riots.


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 do interact 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!

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Matthew Charles Bronson, III January 17, 2011 at 7:29 pm

Love this article. Very good advice I will be taking in a couple months. I was wondering if you could offer some wisdom about taking less exotic domestic trips. For instance, I’m going to visit a friend in Seattle that recently moved and we’ll both be looking to do or see something memorable aside from the usual sights (Pike’s Place, Space Needle, etc.).

2 Brandon January 17, 2011 at 7:36 pm

For another way to meet locals and stay with them, check out couchsurfing, and don’t forget travel wiki for more information on any location.

3 Bryan Schatz January 17, 2011 at 8:31 pm

I love the “10-Year Rule.” I haven’t heard that before. It’s something to consider even when we aren’t traveling.

4 Jason Stambaugh January 18, 2011 at 7:46 am

This article got me thinking…you see in the last 8 months I got married, bought a house and am in the process of fixing the house up. To boot, my wife is pregnant and our first child is due in the beginning of August. It seems as though on the financial side and on the whole I have a baby side, we aren’t going anywhere for a while. Anyone have inspiring stories of adventure in a similar situation?

5 James January 18, 2011 at 8:17 am

Good artical. I have been trying to apply most of these principals to my 7 year work/vacation in the Marine Corps. Knowing that you will only be at any given place for a few months to a year, you need to soak up as much local knowledge as quickly as possible. It a great feeling when you can help the locals discover things they didn’t know were in their own backyard.

Couchsurfing has been a good place to get some of that local knowledge. On shorter trips the Irish pub is great, especialy when your language skills are limited. I have yet to go to a city without a Irish pub, and yet to be in an Irish pub without a few English speakers.

6 Matt January 18, 2011 at 11:31 am

I love the sports recommendation! I took an extended-family trip to a resort in Punta Cana back in 2006, and barely got out of the resort or touristy excursions. That being said, my two most vivid memories of the entire trip were 1) watching the US play Italy in a World Cup match… in a room full of Italians and 2) joining in a game of water polo (which I’d never played before aside from about a week in high school gym class) in the pool with these same Italians. I got mauled, and we could barely converse, but the match and drinks afterword are memories for a lifetime.

7 Evan January 18, 2011 at 11:43 am

I wish I had followed these rules on my trips to Australia, it would have been much more fulfilling, but nonetheless I still had a blast. But on my next trips I definitely will keep these tips in mind to make my vacation an adventure!!

8 DY January 18, 2011 at 4:10 pm

Awesome post and great ideas… I hope to trip like you someday.

9 Marc S. January 18, 2011 at 4:46 pm

Great article!

Does anyone know good website to find adventurous travel/volunteering?

Thank you

10 Pete Cooper January 18, 2011 at 5:59 pm

I have only been reading AoM for a few months but think this is your best post. Keeping it real. Thanks heaps.

I live in Sydney Australia and often offer tips to travellers that are simple local things we enjoy doing that you simply can’t do elsewhere in the world.

Cheers, Pete.

11 Tom January 18, 2011 at 6:04 pm

Great Article! I think the overall idea is to be a traveler and not a tourist. Get off the beaten path and look for something unique.
DON’T BE SCARED!!! Just because a place isn’t popular doesn’t mean that it isn’t safe or doesn’t have anything to offer- it might have a lot to offer BECAUSE it’s not a popular spot. Conversely, popular doesn’t equal safe (I was excited about Morocco, my girlfriend was just the same about Majorca -Spanish resort isle in the Med.- a few weeks later we watched the news carry stories of bombings and murders in Majorca, while she commented about how gracious and welcoming everyone was in Morocco).
And I totally agree with getting to know some locals. Try to learn at least a little bit of the language, it goes a long way… no one cares about the um-teen-hundredth person who belittles them by asking, “Why don’t you talk American?!?!” CAREFUL though, my friend mentioned her grandmother’s “family” name in Sicily (we were living there, spoke the language and knew the culture- and it was still iffy). We had a great time, but as our newly appointed private driver whisked us around to private beaches and HEAVILY discounted fancy restaurants, I reminded my friends that it could have just as easily gone the other way!
Bring a smile, an open mind, and common sense.

12 Matt Boynton January 18, 2011 at 7:30 pm

I love the 10 year rule. A rule I’d add is to walk as far as possible without thinking ahead or giving yourself a reason to return at any certain time, get lost on foot, bring just enough cash (if any at all) for sustenance, and you can end up in some really interesting places and circumstances.

13 Bryan Schatz January 18, 2011 at 8:43 pm

@ Jason – Sometimes all it takes is finding a new hobby/activity to get involved in that can keep you having adventures close to home. For example, before long I’ll be moving to CO, will be staying stagnant in terms of having opportunities for travel, and therefore intend to look into “adventure racing.” Though, with a kid on the way, I imagine you’ll be in for a whole new adventure.

@ Marc S. – Google “volunteer abroad” and you should find plenty of options. I’d recommend getting in touch with people that have done the programs you are interested in before signing up though. There were a bunch of people doing volunteer programs when I lived in Ecuador that were pretty unhappy with their situations…

14 Bill January 19, 2011 at 12:14 pm

I would love to be able to travel lighter…. take everything I need in a backpack…. put it in carry-on, not checked luggage…. EXCEPT I like to take my trusty Swiss Army knife, and my Zippo lighter… or my Leatherman multi-tool (you know for those emergencies). Trouble is they won’t let me on a plane with these things…. and I don’t feel like paying the $60 to purchase them everywhere I go…. if I can even find them.

15 Justin Hamlin January 20, 2011 at 5:11 pm

The 10 year rule is a very interesting concept. I refer to the same thing as the “what if…” syndrome.

I don’t ever want to look back on life and ask myself “what if I would have done ”

With that being said, embrace adventure, seek out the impossible and challenge yourself every day, whether you are travelling or not.

Keep up the great articles, love ‘em.

16 Carter January 21, 2011 at 1:48 pm

The ten year rule is great.

Always have a goal of going somewhere new and writing your story instead of doing the more familiar alternative.

P.S. I would love to find that “travel lighter” advice in a women’s magazine or blog. That is where my plans of traveling lighter are usually destroyed.

17 Ashely April 18, 2013 at 7:46 am

I love the volunteering part of this post. I would never even think to volunteer while on vacation. It seems like the perfect way to get to know the locals. The soccer and cricket games sounds amazing, I would love to do stuff like this. Thanks for these great tips!

18 Dan November 21, 2013 at 3:33 pm

I’m a HUGE fan of the adventure vacation. Just last year, I took two road trips bringing nothing with me but clothes, my computer (I’m writing about my adventures), and a few “road snacks”. I live outside of Philadelphia, and spent a week hopping around New England last October. The ONLY thing I really had planned was to walk the Freedom Trail in Boston. Other than that, I just had to be back a week later. That was absolutely the trip of a lifetime. I urge everyone to do that. I opted to stay at hotels on that one, simply for the fact that I know no one in New England, save one person, who lives in Maine.

The second trip, however, was to meet up with a few friends in Tennessee. The only thing planned there was that we rented a cabin in the Smokey Mountains for the initial weekend, and that we spent the rest of the time outside of Nashville. Same concept on packing, though I brought an air mattress for the cabin, since I wasn’t sure if I was the odd man out of a bed that trip (I wasn’t). Absolutely nothing was planned for the Nashville leg.

Both these trips I took illustrate the importance of least planning. I want to take an epic 17 day, multiple state road trip at some point, planning on the destinations. I’m going to camp most places, and crash at friends homes the rest of the time (I’ll be as far west as Denver).

19 Adventurer December 26, 2013 at 2:51 pm

Good article.

I’d be careful with the emphasis on having adventures to tell good stories though.

it’s a good starting point, but can’t be the ultimate reason for “adventuring”.

At some point, people will start getting tired of hearing your adventures- (probably after the 30 minute mark in my experience, unless they’re a parent or significant other). Travel buddies are an exception- because they actually got to experience the same thing you did, instead of just listen to your story.

I think there’s gotta be more intrinsic motivation to travel.

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