How to Live Life at Your Own Pace (Part 4): Travel

Travel at your own Pace!We tend to think that all we deserve is two weeks of vacation in a nice hotel complex down South each year. No matter if we’re entrepreneurs, regular employees, or pro-bloggers. Actually, most pro-bloggers don’t even think they deserve that.
And when it comes to business trips or location independence, many of us stress out, heading from meeting to meeting, from event to event, unable to find some time to enjoy the voyage and get to know the place we traveled to in the first place.

As so often, things don’t have do be like this. Life isn’t about working 50 weeks a year, just to be able to travel during the remaining two. It’s about integrating your own kind of travel into your own kind of life. If you want to travel happily and sanely, with as much adventure, business and idleness as you like, the answer is to travel at your own pace. In this part of the Tempo Giusto Series, I want to share some strategies with you on how to travel the way you want.

1) Get Out

The first mistake people even marginally interested in travel make, is to stay at home. This is a triteness, sure. But, as so often, it’s here where trouble starts. People think there’s not enough time, not enough money, not enough security. Food will be different, the culture will be different, and – God forbid – people might even speak a different language.

Now, there are some people who are really really comfortable at home, and enjoy life to the fullest having barbecues in their backyard and bowling with their pals in the neighborhood. A good friend of mine lives like that and there’s obviously nothing wrong with it. If you’re like him, I would suggest you to stay at home and be happy. You can still see the world on Discovery Channel.

But for the rest of you, these are just bad excuses to miss out on life. Those of you who secretly want to “[see] Istanbul, Port Said, Nairobi, Budapest. Write a book. Smoke too many cigarettes. Fall off a cliff but get caught in a tree halfway down. Get shot a few times in a dark alley on a Moroccan Midnight. Love a beautiful woman”, please pack a bag of clothes, take your savings, and get on a bus to the airport.

Avoid package deals!2) Avoid Package Deals

Ever wanted to prepare a vacation and the clerk at your travel agency offered you a great package deal, including airport shuttle, return flights, six nights of chain hotel accomodation, three warm meals a day, guided tours, and animator entertainment?

Don’t take out your credit card!

While these deals sometimes can be low-priced, most often they aren’t. An all-inclusive resort in Cancún might be cheaper than the same thing in the US, but it is still way more expensive than the beautiful local-owned guesthouses a few miles down the road. What’s more, package-deals like that certainly won’t allow you to travel at your own pace! There will be no adventure, no time to explore the world, and you will probably have to suffer under the ugly and unhealthy hotel food. You would be better off staying at home and join the barbecue party at your neighbors.

3) Use Slower Transport

If we only have a few weeks of vacations each year, we will try to get to our destination as fast as possible. Depending on the distance, this is normally achieved through traveling by airplane. But if you are able to free up some more time – for example, by leaving for a longer sabbatical – challenge this practice by traveling as slow as you can: by local trains, chicken buses, by bike or even by foot. This way, you can start with your vacations at the moment you leave your house, instead of waiting until the hotel animators tell you to.

I consciously don’t propose traveling by car, even if this allows you to decide upon your pace. That’s because I don’t like cars. They make noise, they smell bad, they kill people, they stress you out. Sure, driving them can be fun, but honestly it’s one of the worst ideas of mankind to build huge engines into two tons of steel to move around a person that weighs 160lbs. Thus, I do not own a car, nor do I want one.

As for transoceanic voyages, you might consider taking the boat. While freighter voyages are expensive and don’t really have too many ecological advantages (CO2 emissions will be lower, but nitrogen output and other factors pretty much mess things up), they certainly provide an opportunity to slow down and relax. You may also travel practically emission-free by boat: Take adventure a step further and become a crew member on a sailboat. There are several sites where you can find boat owners looking for crews, like 7Knots and Cruiser.

4) Stay Longer

A few weeks ago, I interviewed a Franciscanian nun that had lived for several decades in South America. At one point, we came to talk about her experiences with European travelers she met after her return to Austria. “When they hear where I lived in America, they say to me, ‘Oh, I know Ecuador'”, she commented to me. “But then I have to ask them: ‘So you know Ecuador? That’s great. Did you ride the donkey for hours and days to get to the remote villages in the Andes? Did you cross the wild rivers, almost freezing to death when leaving the water? Did you sleep on the floor of the shacks up in the mountains, and did you eat nothing but plantains, with no cutlery but with your hands? Did you go to the feasts with the Indians, and did you dance all night long, having eaten nothing but coca for days? You never did anything like that? Then why do you say that you know Ecuador?'”

I think there is a lesson in this story. Some people don’t have the time to travel for months a year. Others enjoy airport hopping and day trips. But my experience is that you only really get to know a place if you stay there for several weeks or, even better, months. This way, traveling becomes less a matter of ticking off a list of “1000 places to see before you die”, or similar nonsense. You can see these 1000 places for free by browsing Flickr, but if you really want to experience them, you’ll need to take your time.

Go where the locals go!5) Go Where the Locals Go

When at a new place, don’t get tangled up in sightseeing. Sure, if you come to Rome, you’ll probably want to see the Colosseum and the Pantheon, but there’s more to the city than just the tourist attractions. I personally spent my greatest nights there drinking in an obscure bar near Termini station, and kicking off a spontaneous rave party at an ice cream parlor (!). By pure coincidence, we found out that the owners were huge fans of German techno music, and a friend of mine had brought a tape with a few DJ sets from a Love Parade of the 90s. Honestly, I never saw Italians dance like that before…

The lesson: Go where the locals go. This gelateria wasn’t too far from Fontana di Trevi, but the employees didn’t even speak much English. As always, this didn’t turn out to be a problem – being mostly ignorant of Italian, we just communicated through gestures and smiles. I made similar experiences on many travels through Europe and Latin America.

6) Get Lost, Get Uncomfortable

Related to the former tip is never to bring a map, nor a Lonely Planet, and consciously get lost while walking the city. While you don’t have to exaggerate this, getting lost is one of the greatest ways to really experience a city or even a whole country.

Remember, most people on earth are friendly. Take this fact to your advantage, allay your fears, and practice traveling in a manner that at first might feel slightly uncomfortable. I repeat, you need not to exaggerate this and give papaya, as people in Colombia say, walking with your shiny new DSLR camera through the poorest neighborhoods in Southern Bogotá. Try to follow your instincts, but if you’re intrigued to get on that bus, or walk through that market, just go for it. If things turn out to be ugly, you can always hail a taxi.

7) Do Nothing

Exhausted from your trip, exhausted from wandering around, exhausted from getting uncomfortable? Remember that traveling is not a performance review. It’s about you, feeling good. So whenever you feel it’s enough, just sit down and relax. Breathe. Look at the sky, if you like. Don’t buy a beer. Don’t take a picture. Don’t make a call. Just sit around, wondering, and let your mind wander until it likes to come back. This is the essence of tempo giusto travel.

Comments? Questions? Feel free to contact me at any time! Did you enjoy this post? Please help me spread the word by recommending it on Twitter or posting a link on your blog. Thanks!

Other posts in this series:
How to Live Life at Your Own Pace: An Introduction
How to Live Life at Your Own Pace (Part 1): Your Speed of Mind
How to Live Life at Your Own Pace (Part 2): Communication and Media
How to Live Life at Your Own Pace (Part 3): Work and Study

Comments 9

  1. Tim May 18, 2010

    I would like to pick out one or two of your points to compliment you on, but they all make so much sense to me.

    1) A walk around the neighborhood does me so much good when I know I need to be not where I am at the moment.

    2) Are you buying what I’m selling? Well if by “you” I mean Fabian and by “I’m” I mean the travel companies, then no; you most certainly aren’t buying what I’m selling. We design our own plans and destinies.

    3) Getting there is half the fun.

    4) Who wouldn’t want to “know” Ecuador?

    5) I can only think of what a foreign traveler would think of where I go in my city. I’m a local here, but there aren’t that many places to go… except for all of the really cool places that I just thought of right now.

    6) There is no growing in a comfort zone, and there is no comfort in a growing zone.

    7) It’s the exact thing I consider myself doing right now.

    I don’t mean to make this comment a whole extra article. You, Fabian, did an excellent job at making the points you did. I just want to show my appreciation of the information contained above.

    This comment is more for me than for anybody else. Thanks.

    • Fabian May 19, 2010

      Tim, thanks for sharing your thoughts, man. Point 4 came exactly like that to my mind when the nun was telling me the story. And I think your point 5 is so true as well. They want to sell us Rome, but they wouldn’t want to sell us the small cities around it, as there would be nothing to see, supposedly. Bullshit, EVERY place on earth has its magic, if you only dare to look for it.

  2. Earl May 21, 2010

    Hey Fabian – Your point #6 is a big one for me as I generally enjoy visiting countries where the simple act of walking outside of my hotel/guesthouse room is all the planning I need to do. From that point, I just start walking and hope to get lost, which I always do…and then 7, 8 or 10 hours later when I return to my room (usually!), I again have been reminded of why I’ve become addicted to travel. We don’t need guidebooks to tell us what to do when the most rewarding experiences occur on their own with very little effort required.

    • Fabian May 21, 2010

      That’s the spirit, Earl. There’s nothing better than getting lost for me. :)

      What’s more, nowadays, if we really need some specific info, Google and forums will always help.
      Concerning guides, we don’t even know if they were good in the moment they were written. There was a scandal some time ago about a travel writer finishing his Loneley Planet Colombia without even leaving San Franscisco. While this on the one hand explains why the guide was so horrible (I once had the opportunity to check it out when meeting other travelers), it still was an impressive accomplishment considering it was written form the US.

  3. Tom May 24, 2010

    Having taken quite a few long distance train rides, I would add something to the idea of taking slower forms of transport: Break up the journey. I traveled from Phuket to Chiang Mai (the entire length of Thailand) via two 12+ hour trains. The first was a sleeper train to Bangkok, which was nice. The second was rough. Had I stopped and had a day in Bangkok I’m sure I would have enjoyed the experience a lot more. So if you’re already traveling slow, consider going even slower at times.

    • Fabian May 24, 2010

      Great addition, Tom – thanks for joining in! And if you’re reading to break the journey up, you may also consider taking the long instead of the short way and see a few more things on the way… I did this last year in the Amazon and it was totally worth it!

  4. Joel | Blog Of Impossible Things June 9, 2010

    Just ran across this.

    Love #6 – Get Lost, Get Uncomfortable.

    All of my best adventures have been when I have either been in a terribly awkward situation or just went somewhere and figured out what I was doing there later =).

    Sounds counterintuitive, but not planning can be the best plan.

    • Fabian June 9, 2010

      Absolutely, Joel! Practically all my travels through South America and Europe worked this way, too. Thanks for dropping by!

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