Buying plane tickets, booking accommodation and squeezing way too many bikinis into your backpack does not, on its own, a successful getaway make.
Nope. Because travel – contrary to popular belief – is not (always) easy-peasy, when on the road, you’ve gotta work towards a truly kick-ass trip.
Even though it may look different to home, while overseas you’re still on planet Earth and therefore subject to the whims of bad health and the laws of physics. And this means: people fall ill, logistics can splutter and die, stuff gets lost and finally, your mind, that all-powerful tool, can decide to bite you in the ass.
As the old adage goes, “Wherever you go, there you are.”
And for you, future fearless world traveller, this means that all your little quirks, insecurities, issues and general odd-ball problems are coming with you on that plane; whether you packed them, or not.
Of course, heading out into the big unknown is a great way to learn about what makes you tick, and an almost sure-fire ticket to becoming a generally better, more well-rounded person. But if you don’t choose to keep yourself in check, you can (and will) get in your own way. And that’s just a ticket to botching what is otherwise shaping up to be a wonderful, buzzing time away.
How many of these sneaky, self-sabotaging travelling snarkies have you committed?
Making and sticking to rigid plans
Seriously, mapping out your every move in advance and then forcing them flow like clockwork is just way more stress than it’s worth. Not convinced? Just picture yourself trying to say this without needing a stiff drink to get you through: “Right, so on April 10th, I’ll sleep perfectly in my tiny economy class plane seat and complete customs in record time before catching my (already booked) airport transfer and finding my hostel without a moment’s looking lost in foreign streets. Then, I’ll stay for exactly three nights and four days, check off all my already-booked activities and leave (without running into any traffic) in time to print my bus reservation and make my connection at precisely 4.55pm. After that, I’ll proceed to arrive without delay nor motion sickness at my destination, where I’ll…”
Seriously, this should make your head hurt. And rest assured, the universe is conspiring to mess up your obsessively laid out plan.
Allow for flexibility. Try visiting places without knowing when you’ll leave – hey, maybe you’ll like them a whole lot more than you thought you would! Or, if you’re travelling in the low season, rock up without accommodation and see where the wind takes you. Oftentimes, you end up meeting really interesting folks doing just that.
Not enjoying the “mechanics” of travel
In Alain de Botton’s lovely meditation, The Art of Travel, he suggests that learning to enjoy the “mechanics” of travel (that is, time spent in waiting rooms and generally performing the logistics of transporting yourself through time and space), is enormously helpful for a traveller’s peace of mind.
And it makes sense.
If you hate the logistical side to travel, then depending on how long you stay in each destination (and by comparison, how many days you spend getting to your next) you’ll soon to start dreading a good 10 – 30% of your days away.
The way out of this? Learn to enjoy pricing transport, checking out, waiting for buses and negotiating taxis. As de Botton says, “Journeys are the midwives of thought. Few places are more conducive to internal conversations than moving planes, ships or trains.” Try taking along a little playlist of enjoyable bus-ride music. Use the time to read or jot down your thoughts. Meditate. Learn to revel in the bizarre gestures involved in bargaining with taxi drivers.
But don’t hate these “off” hours. They’re as much an experience of your trip as every other part is.
Being intensely, crazy-person scared of getting ill
While in Peru, I hiked up a storm with a great group of Swiss med students, one of whom refused to drink the local (drinkable) water or eat anything even a little wild. “Gastro,” he’d cite, when questioned about his over-cautious habits, “Don’t know where this meat came from.”
Guess who was the only person to become intimately acquainted with a toilet bowl?
Obviously, while being cautious doesn’t always equate to fighting explosive diarrhoea on a long-distance bus, there’s certainly an enormous amount to be said for tucking into local food without fear. Don’t go eating meat off any old warm, fly-ridden surface. Instead, exercise an amount of care on par with a normal, aware person – and you and your gut are likely to be just fine.
Being worried (but, again, crazy-person worried) about muggings and pick-pocketings
Some people become incredibly worried about the idea of travelling, as they imagine they’re going to be continually left high and dry by the shifty muggers and pick-pocketers lying in wait in each corner of every major city. And yes, sometimes people do get robbed. But guys – the way to avoid that isn’t to go around wrapping your backpack in a steel protector net and padlocking it to every post you see.
You know what that screams to the dodgy guy at the bus station? “I’ve gotta dang lot of expensive gadgetry in here I’m totally worried about losing. Wanna see?”
The best keep-your-stuff-safe tip I ever heard was to reject money-belts, metal netting and other bizarre, bulky devices, and do the following: Have someone make you a passport-sized calico “pocket.” Then, when out exploring (or, as it might be, mouth-openly, droolingly asleep on a bus), chuck your bank cards and other small valuables in there and pin it to your waistband, inside your jeans.
No one can get there without you being very aware of the fact. And, unlike a granny money belt, it’s basically invisible.
And, finally, all this talk of guarding your masses of gadgetry with your life brings us to point 5…
Travelling laden down with all the commodities and amenities of home
Essentially, this sneaky, self-sabotaging snarky comes down to needing to understanding your reasons for travelling before going. If your great goal is to experience an overseas version of your life exactly as it is at home, then yes, maybe you’ll have to carry each and every one of your screens as well as eighteen dresses and various shoe/bag combinations.
But travelling so as to recreate another version of your home life begs the question, “Why?”
Why kill you back with a heavy pack, overstuffed with comfort? Why not use your time away to downsize and experience life with less? If you’re not a highly fashionable digital nomad, then travelling with a pack full of electrics is insane, and basically the same as being That Family who you always saw camping with an RV full of flat screen TVs, king-size blow up mattresses, cable, enormous fridge and an eight burner BBQ.
(And you remember how ridiculous that snobby family looked pretending to camp, don’t you? Pretty dang ridic.)
So enjoy your destination and life on the road for what they aren’t: Your regular life and surroundings.