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.
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!