(Photo credit: Moyan Brenn)
This is a tactical post on travel from Ryan Holiday, who’s written on this blog before about the pragmatism of Stoicism and lessons learned as Director of Marketing for American Apparel.
To his 21 rules, I’ve added a few of my own tricks. Please share your own rules and tips in the comments!
Enter Ryan Holiday
Why are you traveling?
Because, you know, you don’t magically get a prize at the end of your life for having been to the most places. There is nothing inherently valuable in travel, no matter how hard the true believers try to convince us.
Seneca, the stoic philosopher, has a great line about the restlessness of those who seem compelled to travel. They go from resort to resort and climate to climate, he says, and continues:
“They make one journey after another and change spectacle for spectacle. As Lucretius says ‘Thus each man flees himself.’ But to what end if he does not escape himself? He pursues and dogs himself as his own most tedious companion. And so we must realize that our difficulty is not the fault of the places but of ourselves.”
It’s hard for me see anything to envy in most people who travel. Because deep down that is what they are doing. Fleeing themselves and the lives they’ve created. Or worse, they’re telling themselves that they’re after self-discovery, exploration or new perspectives when really they are running towards distraction and self-indulgence.
Is that why you’re packing up your things and hitting the road?
Not that I don’t travel myself–I did my fair share this year alone. Both coasts of Australia. I was in Amsterdam for a speaking gig (and I found myself at a tulip farm with Tim where he caught a chicken with his bare hands). I researched for my next book in Rome. I went down to Brazil. I went to Copenhagen. I spent enough time in New York that it felt like I lived there. I road tripped across the United States more times than I can count–New Orleans to New York; New York to Miami; Miami to Austin… The list goes on. If there was a chance to go somewhere I’d never been, I tried to take it, especially if it was historic.
But are you, as Emerson once put it, “bringing ruins to the ruins?”…
The purpose of travel, like all important experiences, is to improve yourself and your life. It’s just as likely–in some cases more likely–that you will do that closer to home and not further.
So what I think about when I travel is that “why.” (Some example “whys” for me: research, to unplug, a job or a paying gig, to show something that’s important to me to someone who is important to me, etc.) I don’t take it as self-evident that going to a given famous place is an accomplishment in and of itself. There are just as many fools living in Rome as there are at home.
And when you make this distinction, most of the other travel advice falls away. The penny pinching and the optimization, the trying to squeeze as many landmarks into a single day, all that becomes pointless and you focus on what matters.
I am saying that saving your money, plotting your time off work or school, diligently tracking your frequent flyer miles and taking a hostel tour of Europe or Asia on budget may be the wrong way to think about it.
In the vein of my somewhat controversial advice for young people, I thought I’d give some of my thoughts not just on traveling but on how to do it right.
My 21 Travel Rules and Criteria
1. Don’t check luggage. If you’re bringing that much stuff with you, you’re doing something wrong.
[TIM: I second this and encourage you to take things to extremes. Here’s exactly how I travel the world with 10 pounds or less.]
2. Instead of doing a TON of stuff. Pick one or two things, read all about those things and then actually spend time doing them. Research shows that you’ll enjoy an experience more if you’ve put effort and time into bringing it about. So I’d rather visit two or three sights that I’ve done my reading on and truly comprehend than I would seeing a ton of stuff that goes right in and out of my brain. (Oh, and never feel “obligated” to see the things everyone says you have to)
[TIM: Need some inspiration? Here are my highlight lists for Tokyo and Buenos Aires.]
3. Take long walks.
4. Stop living to relive. What are you taking all these pictures for? Oh, for the memories? Then just look at it and remember it. Experience the present moment. (Not that you can’t take photos but try to counteract the impulse to look at the world through your iPhone screen)
5. Read books, lots of books. You’re finally in a place where no one can interrupt you or call you into meetings and since half the television stations will be in another language…use it as a chance to do a lot of reading.
[TIM: I strongly suggest that non-fiction bigots (which I was for 15+ years) read or listen to some fiction to turn off their problem-solving minds. Try The Graveyard Book audiobook or Zorba the Greek.
6. Eat healthy. Enjoy the cuisine for sure, but you’ll enjoy the place less if you feel like a slob the whole time. (To put it another way, why are you eating pretzels on the airplane?)
[TIM: If you want to follow The Slow-Carb Diet, my default cuisine choices in airports are Thai and Mexican food. Also, keep a *small* bag of almonds in your bag to avoid digressions in emergencies.]
7. Try to avoid guidebooks, which are superficial at best and completely wrong at worst. I’ve had a lot more luck pulling up Wikipedia, and looking at the list of National (or World) Historical Register list for that city and swinging by a few of them. Better yet, I’ve found a lot cooler stuff in non-fiction books and literature that mentioned the cool stuff in passing. Then you Google it and find out where it is.
[TIM: I like to spend an afternoon visiting hostels, even if I’m staying in an apartment or hotel. The hostel staff will know which free and low-cost activities get the best reviews from the non-museum-going crowd.]
8. I like to go and stand on hallowed ground. It’s humbling and makes you a better person. Try it. (My personal favorite is battlefields–nothing is more eery or quiet or peaceful)
9. Come up with a schedule that works for you and get settled into it as soon as possible. You’re going to benefit less from your experiences if you’re scrambled, exhausted and inefficient. Me, I get up in the morning early and run. Then I work for a few hours. Then I roll lunch and activities into a 3-4 hour block where I am away from work and exploring the city I’m staying it. Then I come back, work, get caught up, relax and then eventually head out for a late dinner. In almost every time zone I’ve been in, this seems to be the ideal schedule to a) enjoy my life b) Not actually count as “taking time off.” No one feels that I am missing. And it lets me extend trips without feeling stressed or needing to rush home.
10. When you’re traveling to a new city, the first thing you should do when you get to the hotel is change into your work out clothes and go for a long run. You get to see the sights, get a sense of the layout and then you won’t waste an hour of your life in a lame hotel gym either.
11. Never recline your seat on an airplane. Yes, it gives you more room–but ultimately at the expense of someone else. In economics, they call this an externality. It’s bad. Don’t do it.
12. Stay in weird-ass hotels. Sometimes they can suck but the story is usually worth it. A few favorites: A hotel that was actually a early 20th-century luxury train car, a castle in Germany, the room where Gram Parsons died in Palm Desert, a hotel in Arizona where John Dillinger was arrested, and a hotel built by Wild Bill Hickok.
13. Read the historical markers–*actually* read them, don’t skim. They tend to tell you interesting stuff.
14. Add some work component to your travel if you can. Then you can write it all off on your taxes (or better, be paid for the whole thing).
[TIM: Here’s how an entire family moved to a tropical paradise in Indonesia and continued to earn income.]
15. Don’t waste time and space packing things you MIGHT need but could conceivably buy there. Remember, it costs money (time, energy, patience) to carry pointless things around. (Also, most hotels will give you razors, toothbrushes, toothpaste and other toiletries.)
16. Go see weird shit. It makes you think, shake your head, or at least, laugh. (For instance, did you know that there is a camel buried in the soldier’s cemetery at Vicksburg?)
[TIM: If you go to Japan, don’t miss the incredible Ghibli Museum, made by animator Hayao Miyazaki and located in Inokashira Park.]
17. Ignore the temptation to a) talk and tell everyone about your upcoming trip b) spend months and months planning. Just go. Get comfortable with travel being an ordinary experience in your life and you’ll do it more. Make it some enormous event, and you’re liable to confuse getting on a plane with an accomplishment by itself.
18. Regarding museums, I like Tyler Cowen’s trick about pretending you’re a thief who is casing the joint. It changes how you perceive and remember the art. Try it.
19. Don’t upgrade your phone plan to international when you leave the country. Not because it saves money but because it’s a really good excuse to not use your cellphone for a while. (And if you need to call someone, try Google Voice. It’s free)
20. Explore cool places inside the United States. The South is beautiful and chances are you haven’t seen most of it. There’s all sorts of weird history and wonderful things that your teachers never told you about. Check it out, a lot of it is within a drive of a day or two.
[TIM: Here are 12+ gems of the Pacific Northwest, encountered on a road trip from San Francisco to Whistler, Canada.]
[TIM: 21. OK, this one’s from me, just because it’s so much fun. Take pictures of yourself jumping in different places! It can turn a boring “adult” afternoon into a giddy kid-like experience. The below is from Burning Man 2010.]
(Photo: Mike Hedge)
In other words…
Travel should not be an escape. It should be part of your life, no better or no worse than the rest of your life. If you are so dissatisfied with what you do or where you live that you spend weeks and months figuring out how to get a few days away from either, that should be a wake-up call. There’s a big difference between *wanting* a change in scenery and *needing* to run away from a prison of your own making.
To me, there is more to admire in someone who challenges their perspectives and lifestyle choices at home than in some Instagram addict who conflates meaning with checking off boxes on a bucket list.
[TIM: I’m a fan of bucket lists, but different strokes for different folks…]
So ask: Do you deserve this trip? Ask yourself that honestly. Am I actually in a place to get something out of this?
Over the years, I feel like I have mastered the art of something I wouldn’t call “travel.” I’d call it living my life in interesting places.
These rules and tricks have helped make that possible, and maybe they’ll work for you, too.
What rules and tools have worked for you? Please share in the comments!
(A much shorter version of this piece, without my comments, first appeared in Thought Catalog.)
The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.
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230 Replies to “How to Travel: 21 Contrarian Rules”
For me, it’s taking the time to disconnect (over and above not using my phone). not checking emails or going online. The point is to enjoy the place, not replace the life you had at home with the same tasks but in a different surrounding.
I too am a fan of travelling light. Can’t remember the last time I checked in luggage – what a chore!
Awesome tips – talking to hostel staff about things to do is great !
Well said Razwana! Travel is indeed a time to disconnect.
However, I disagree strongly with Ryan’s assertion that “most travelers . . . are fleeing themselves and the lives they’ve created. Or worse, they’re telling themselves that they’re after self-discovery, exploration or new perspectives when really they are running towards distraction and self-indulgence.”
If I’m running away from anything, it’s that I’m running away from things I don’t enjoy that much, like:
– A boring life
– A standard 9-to-5 job
– Living in the same place all the time
– The 3-weeks-of-vacation-per-year job
But that’s a negative way of looking at what I’m doing. What I am really doing is running TO things I love:
– Seeing places that few get to see
– Learning about the world, geography, life
– Enjoying the beauty of our planet
– Exploring cities, villages, and wilderness
– Understanding the differences and similarities across humans
– Speaking foreign languages
– Camping in remote areas
Today I wrote a whole blog post about this because Ryan’s comment irked me.
Still, I agree with many of his other excellent points.
” when really they are running towards distraction and self-indulgence.” what proves that? everyone is so complex, you just can’t generalize…
A few additional tips that might help:
1. Use couchsurfing to find locals to show you around – on my recent trip using hostels I got really tired of just hanging around westerners all the time
2. Totally agree with no checked luggage! I managed 2.5 months in SE asia with only a 46L pack (this is about the biggest size that you can fit in a carry on space)
3. Regarding #19 – Google voice – WRONG!!!!! Be very careful here! Google voice when making calls dials a US phone number and then transfers you. This will result in very expensive long distance bills. Use Skype for calls, but you can still use Google voice for text messages (or apple’s iMessage if you are careful that it doesn’t drop to “green” for regular SMS’s)
I’ve been using Google voice for the past year and a half and I never had to pay when calling US and Canada.
If you’re using Google Voice with your mobile phone you can make calls for free using the free GrooVe IP Lite app. Just make sure you use the GrooVe IP app itself to make the call (it connects to your Google Voice account) and not the Google Voice app.
What do you do to avoid getting infested with bedbugs as a frequent traveler? Also, what are your thoughts about listening to audio programs instead of reading books during waiting time?
1) Stay in nice places
2) Whatever works for you. I prefer physical books because I can take notes better but audiobooks really work well for some people.
1) Not true. Bed bugs don’t discriminate.
1) Bad advice. Bed bugs don’t discriminate.
I couldn’t disagree more about the bedbugs comment. I’ve traveled off and on in Southeast Asia for four years and stayed in $4 a night places. I never got bedbugs. They’ve been found in nice hotels as well. I think you just have to chalk up the possibility of dealing with bedbugs as a risk that might be taken while traveling. Just know what you’re going to do if it happens such as taking all your clothing to a laundry mat and even having your bag cleaned.
Bed bugs leave nasty stains on the bed frames that are easily spotted. Prior to paying for a room, ask to see it, and lift the mattress to check for dark brown stains.
A small piece of urinal block in your pocket works well (preferably retrieved from the janitor’s closet, rather than the urinal), but black pepper scattered on the bed also works.
I like to download a bunch of podcasts or audio books that I haven’t kept up on to listen to while on the plane, on public transportation or driving in a rental car across midwest states to see family(lots of farmland, not too exciting). Also lyric-less music like regular classical music, movie scores, jazz or something fun like Keiko Matsui type stuff kind of enhances travel without added lyrics interrupting thoughts.
Great tips Ryan (and Tim!)
My tip – you CAN travel with KIDS!
It does makes things more interesting and accommodation a little more challenging, but the rewards are HUGE! We spent 8 weeks in Italy and France (we’re Australian) and took 3 small suitcases (NOT checked!) It was the most amazing thing to do together.
Now we are planning a US assault!
Constructive criticism for the author:
“To me, there is more to admire in someone who challenges their perspectives…than in some Instagram addict who conflates meaning with checking off boxes on a bucket list.”
“Over the years, I feel like I have mastered the art of something I wouldn’t call “travel.” I’d call it living my life in interesting places.”
Yikes! Maybe mastering the art of a self-deprecating joke here and there would lighten things up a bit.
I definitely second the tip about eating healthy when traveling abroad. I think it helps to make the trip an energizing experience upon returning home.
P.S. I really like Neil Strauss’s talk on writing from his Creativelive with Tim.
Thanks for the guest post Ryan, lots of great tips which are so easy to forget when you’re daydreaming of travel plans.
My favourite one was definitely the long walks. There is nothing like getting lost in a foreign city and just wandering around for hours, immersing yourself in local culture and staying away from the other tourists. Many fond memories of doing this in different places.
Definitely love the walks. I should also mention: this is a great thing to do where you live RIGHT NOW. Love walking around so-called “familiar” environs until I find something totally unfamiliar.
Very true Tim! When you’re in Sydney for the seminar I recommend doing that around Newtown. Fantastic food, culture, art, etc.
I once took a walk in unfamiliar area. It was quaint historic place. After taking rights and lefts. I ventured in a darker place. Suddenly, I felt out of place. I took look at those ladies lined up on corners of intersections. I just realized of what I read up about the area I was exploring. I stumbled in the notorious streets where the shemale streetwalkers making a living.
I went from the birthplace of American to shemale streetwalkers. Definitely a timeline of America evolution.
amen to wandering around. I have enjoyed impromptu music, learning new games with locals, milking a cow in the core of Rome, the joy and exuberance of elections in a newly independent country, local foods (and beers), and more, simply by striking out away from the madding crowds.
Here are some tips I have on sleeping while traveling:
With so many changing sleep environments it is essential to create a fool proof system to be able to sleep anywhere anytime, below is my system. The system might change a little depending the environment but this post will cover the essentials:
1. Eye Mask
The eye mask is really the best tool for blocking light. Your face structure will depend on which mask works best for you. I have gone through a few. If you fly business they usually give you a pretty decent one, or you can pick them up at most airports.
Hoodies are an essential tool for traveling on planes, ideally zip up. Not only do they keep you warm and can be used to block light by putting the hood over your eyes (make sure hood is big enough to do this) but they are also great because you can hide your headphones without the flight attendants seeing that you are still listening to an electronic device (you will see why this is important below).
P.S. I have not turned my electronic devices off on the last 40 flights I have taken… Don’t worry, you won’t bring down the plane.
White Noise App
This is a super hack. The White Noise App is available for both iOS and Android costs around $2 (there is a free lite version too) but is totally worth it. Even for 1 nights good sleep, $2 is a small price to pay, but for countless nights sleep, the value is infinite. Possibly the highest ROI app I have ever purchased. Get some quality noise cancellation headphones (sport headphones work well to if your roll around in your sleep a lot), close your eyes and listen to the world fade away. Use this in conjunction with a hoodie on flights, and sleep right through the safety announcements, takeoff and landing to get a sold extra 30-45 min sleep on a flight.
I currently use this on my Nexus 7 tablet and really like it. It allows you to wake using any music on your device, I have it just play randomly from my playlist, it fades in music so you are not woken suddenly, it tracks your sleep patterns if you keep your tablet on your bed while you are sleeping and only wakes you when you are in a light sleep pattern within your given window and it makes you do math problems to turn it off!
There you have it. With this combo you will be able to sleep through the next world war and wake up fresh for work on Monday.
Great tip on the White Noise app! Downloading now and will try on my flight tomorrow. Can’t believe I never thought to search that before…
I set every station of FM2 on my car radio to. 89.5 – all static. Ive experimented on my daughter and predictably she reflexively covers her ears, a reaction everyone feels because it sounds like angry hornets.
like brillopad for the ear drums, I love what i hear after listening to big bang static, or god static for the deistic.
Simply noise is my favorite white noise app — they actually have a variety of colors — pink noise, white noise, brown noise. Use the website when the office humdrum is getting on my nerves and use the app all other times. Love it!
Totally agree on the eye mask and white noise app. Get used to using them at home and they won’t seem weird or new when you’re travelling.
I’m a big believer in slow travel as it give you the opportunity to really get to know the people and culture in a country. When you stay in a place for a few months you can learn the basics of the language and actually communicate with locals.
It allows you to connect with the people who don’t speak any English at all and that makes all the difference. For example ordering your noodle soup in the local language from a street vendor or haggling on with a vendor on a night market.
Even if you only speak the basics of the language the locals will treat you completely different. It removes a cultural barrier and creates a much deeper connection.
Good tips Ryan. Gave some really meaningful insights for traveling and adding value for the journeys. Agree with you on, do not just take photos and miss the moment to see the pics later. Something I was doing a lot in my European travels. When I think back the last Scotland trip, I feel I need to go back and live the present and experience the beauty again as I missed by taking a hell lot of photos to share with others 🙂
Thanks for the share, loved reading.
Interesting take on travel, and great tips. However, number 11, don’t recline? Hogwash. Reclining is a function of the seat that you purchase. The person behind has the same option to recline. That being said, I’m 6 foot and on a rare few flights I’ve asked the person in front to not come all the way back because I literally couldn’t fit. Daytime flight, I might slightly recline. If I want/need to sleep, I’m reclining. If someone asked me not to, daytime flight no problem, night flight I’d accommodate briefly but explain they needed to ask a flight attendant for another seat.
I might recline one or two notches. Had a man in front of me once who wanted to recline as far back as the seat would go. I asked nicely for him to move up some, he refused. We almost came to blows as he was a total jerk. Took some gentle persuading, but he finally relented. At 6-2 250, size can be a big help.
I completely agree. Especially on long flights, we need to recline the seat to sleep. I would flip that rule around and say that everyone should be required to recline their seat after takeoff. Also, non-reclining seats should be removed from all planes.
You don’t NEED to. You like/want to and it comes at the direct expense of the person behind you. Go for it–it’s perfectly legal–but let’s call it what it is.
“let’s call it what it is”. What’s that, “selfish”? In typical “bleeding heart” fashion, Ryan Holiday has perched himself on the moral high ground and deemed what everyone NEEDS, because he’s “self-less”. Do something as mundane as to use the functionality of the seat, and the only conclusion is “your selfish choice has directly affected the comfort of the person behind you”. No grey area. Don’t consider your own comfort, ignore your back pain, on a red-eye and need to sleep, too bad, if Ryan doesn’t NEED to recline, well let’s just call you what you are…
Play nice, guys. Let’s keep it civil.
Sorry Ryan, I NEED to. I have a herniated disk in my lower back (due to a surgery). The slight upward tilt of the plane while it is flying transfers all of the weight onto that disk. The only way to get the weight off the disk is to recline. I also use lumber support, take meds as needed. But the biggest preventive measure against mutli-day back spasms is reclining.
I hope that you can stay injury-free and NEVER have to experience that kind of pain.
Remember, dudes: If you want (or have determined that you NEED) more space or creature comfort, just ask for last-minute free upgrades to first class. Or spend 15-20 minutes researching which plane models on which airlines consistently have the most space, in the form of: fewest tickets sold = more leg room, larger seats in coach, smaller aisles may mean more elbow room, etc… Also when given the option, I always reserve seats in an exit row or immediately in front of, as there’s more space there.
In any event, find the airline that most consistently flies the planes that suit you, then book with them exclusively (and become a preferred customer). Then if you’re price-conscious, book those seats on those planes on the times/dates that make the most sense.
Or use a free trial on something like Zirtual to do this research for you.
Also try to remember that Ryan is offering a lot of principle in his ideas. Typically in economics (as he references), but also in life in general, it’s healthy and practical to have more of an abundance mentality – acknowledging that there is more than enough for everyone, and you haven’t necessarily hurt or stolen opportunity from someone else if you’ve gained in your own life. But, externalities are an exception here. Just be conscious of that.
Remember, anytime you sacrifice your own creature comforts for the sake of another, you’re making big deposits into the Karma Bank, others will notice and be more inclined to reciprocate and/or pay it forward, and you’re practicing self-discipline (which of course is an important practice in any venture toward bettering ourselves).
Safe & adventurous travels to you all!
Happy medium: “hey, do you mind if I recline my seat? I’d like to be a little more comfortable, but don’t want to cramp you up too much.”
I’m 2 meters tall and when somebody reclines that makes my life miserable for the duration of the flight. Yes, I’m trying to get an exit row seats when it is possible (they are hard to get; most often there is some shorty relaxing his short legs in the exit row),
By your logic I could do knock you down, cut you off, step on your foot, etc. because, hey, we all have the same option. How about the virtue of courtesy and respect for others?
“To me, there is more to admire in someone who challenges their perspectives and lifestyle choices at home than in some Instagram addict who conflates meaning with checking off boxes on a bucket list.” +1
I understood this when I was working abroad, thinking that a “cultural change” was the perfect escape of my boring life at home.
1 month later I discovered it was not about living abroad or at home, because if the lifestyle was the same (corporate job life), everything was the same.
It was about changing my perspective and defining my core values and priorities in life.
Now I am freelancing and developing personal projects, and despite I could go back into the corporate world in a future, the fact of changing my perspective, defining my goals, and living a different lifestyle, is providing me a better experience than any rtw trip for just the purpose of escape (although I must say I love travelling for that purpose also).
Thanks for these tips!
I especially agree with pack less, and go for runs / long walks. While staying in the walled city of Lucca, Italy, the run each morning around the top of the wall was magic.
Additionally, take long walks in your own neck of the woods. We were designed to walk, it feels great, and chances are you will discover something new.
With aloha from Hawaii Island,
I head for a place where i know friends and ask as many as possible people
Whats the best place they know in their country.
I did it when i went to sao paulo and planning to go rio afterwards and everyone sugested me to go to florianopolis instead. Florianopolis was amazing.
Well, most people take a vacation abroad as a time off.
The biggest Tip from me is try and not use your Internet connection, looking back you’ll see that world kept going and Facebook stuff wasn’t that interesting, free your mind to enjoy the “now”.
Some good stuff here, but #17 (Don’t talk about and plan trips intensively) has been shown to be pretty much all wrong, although it was obviously meant in a good spirit. As it happens, anticipatory joy is one of the best ways to add pleasure bang-for-your-buck with travel.
I propose that data trumps what Ryan Holiday decides to just make up.
The difference is that I don’t have anything I feel I need to take a vacation from.
Befriend a local if you can. Sometimes you can’t scrape the surface otherwise.
Thanks for the post Ryan.
A tip I would add
– Instead of bringing maps and guide books with you, take a photo of them and just zoom in on the photo you took when you need directions.
You can also download certain maps or lists from Trip Advisor
True, but there’s something great about holding a map in your hand. Have you guys seen these zoomable paper maps on KickStarter – http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/423153152/map2-the-zoomable-map-on-paper
Quite thought provoking.
FYI there’s a typo before “japanese animator”, should be “by” instead of “my”
Thanks, David. Good catch. I’m on it…
I travel because I get to explore. Everything is new and I feel like a child. I also love to meet new people from different cultures.
Recommendation for no.16: Go see weird shit.
You must see the Salvador Dali museum in Figueres (near Barcelona) – strangest shit I’ve ever seen
I like to sit on some stairs and just watch how people live their daily lives.
Agreed! One of the most pleasant days I’ve ever had was spent in a hotel in Richmond-on-Thames in England at an open window watching the people and the houses and the cars, while listening to music on my headphones. It was a blissful, peaceful moment at the end of a long trip.
An addition to point 4 – if you want to remember a specific scene try to draw it, rather than taking a photograph. Now, I am no artist, but the amount of detail that becomes apparent when you sit and try to draw something enhances your memory of it irrespective of what you actually put down on paper. You will see and remember so much more if actively engaged with the scene rather than superficially looking and trying then to recall it later.
There’s no doubt about it travel broadens the mind and this list has definitely inspired me for my next journey.
I’m going to follow as many of them as I can. I really like the idea of never checking your luggage, you can get to where you need to go a lot quicker and there’s no chance of it winding up on another continent!
The next time I visit a museum I’m definitely going to be casing it as if I was about to pull some kind of heist. It forces you to pay attention to the details that most people miss. And it’s those details that add depth to the whole experience.
I also like the idea of not taking so many photos, instead spend more time looking and absorbing it all in the now. Great advice.
1- Connect with locals – If you really want to experience the lifestyle and culture of a city, immerse yourself to it. Eat their food and don’t be afraid to be with people who don’t speak your language or give you “weird look”. Show genuine interest in their culture/language.
2- Stay long enough – I love traveling but never felt excited by the touristic ways to discover a city. If you feel the same try to stay for at least 2-3 weeks. (Example: I didn’t quite like Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam the first week but ended up loving this place after 3-4 weeks.)
3- Don’t judge, put yourself in their shoes – If you travel in places with different cultures, you will see things you’ll be tempted to judge negatively. Observe and try to understand where it’s coming from. You will rarely see those things the same way after you really put yourself in their shoes.
One of my favourite is “running into” local people and having genuine interaction. I frequently travel alone, and at most in a pair, and find people detect it if you’re open to befriending locals (and fewer people helps – less intimidating for a local to come say hi; especially in remote areas, so many people are just interested to chat to a foreigner and share their culture). Learn some basics of the local language, try and go to the “local” places… be willing to be a bit of a laughing stock (many hilarious times in SE Asia while not quite sure exactly what I was eating and letting the locals see my reactions). True joy :). People are people everywhere, and across the world I have repeatedly found that some of the poorest people are also some of the most generous. Never fails to restore my faith in the basic goodness of humanity.
I’d add #22. “Emphasize listening over talking” (shamelessly stolen from Rolf Potts’ brilliant Indie manifesto – http://indietravel.org/) which has several parallels to Ryan’s list above 😉
Regarding #14: “Add some work component to your travel” – We have recently relocated our startup company to Morocco (I’m currently typing about 10m from the Atlantic ocean!)
We moved mostly for the sake of doubling our startup’s financial runway – but there is also a good argument to be made for escaping distractions and focusing on what really matters. Working in the US, we found that although the constant stream of meetups and coffee meetings were great for intensive learning and networking, we struggled to focus on building the product as much as we would have liked. Out here in Morocco, removing all unnecessary distractions has done wonders for our team productivity!
(I wrote in more detail about our experience so far on Quora: http://www.quora.com/Startups/What-are-the-coolest-startup-culture-hacks-youve-heard-of)
Although I agree with many of the 20. I somewhat disagree with his attitude and philosophy for travel. Ultimately people are different and their aspirations for travel are their own, and do not require justification.
I have friends who love nothing better than running from tourist spot to tourist spot. Whilst on the opposite side of the fence, their are those whose idea of a good time is lounging on a beach drinking Mojitos. Myself, I lean on the side of pandemonium, an assault of the senses. Slumming it in hostels or couch surfing, eating street food and drinking beer. And I do it all without the desire for approval.
In the end the blogger is required to have a strong opinion if they want to get read. The stronger the opinion, the greater the level of discussion (I never post comments. So this being a perfect example). So I don’t blame him for that, I’m just having my rant aswell.
But to me travel is a goalless exercise and only pre-req should be enjoyment and fun. Travel doesn’t have to be a philosophical journey nor does it have to achieve anything. Although I do think travelling is important, it should be free of pretentiousness and without living up to anybody else s expectations.
In the immortal words of Dr Hibbert from the Simpsons “If it feels good. Do it!”
Also a note on the 7th point, you can use asknative too. It connects you with natives for all around the world.
My favorite way to travel is to rent a house or an apartment some place for two months and kind of live like a local. I am an artist and musician and I try to hook up with other artists and do some collaborative work. This has lead to some great experiences such as playing a set of Black Flag songs in St Petersburg Russian, doing an art instillation at an S&M club in London and painting and building some low riders ( cars) in Los Vegas.
+1 on minimal packing. I used to take a lot of books with me. Now all I take is a blank note book to write in. Buy clothes when you travel it is a lot of fun buying shirts in Paris or shoes in Mexico.
Two months is LONG, I prefer to think in weeks but I agree. Don’t live like a traveler, live like a person
There are no rules.
Travel in whatever way makes you happy. Depending on you personality, goals and needs at the time that can mean different things for different people.
Even one individual could travel for different reasons – to escape, to awaken or to recuperate at different times.
Of course, there are no rules. But if you’re escaping, something has gone wrong where you live, where you spend the majority of your time. And you should ask yourself if that’s a result of choices you’ve made and if there is something you can do about it. Running away is not sustainable.
Exactly. I enjoyed some tips in this and will likely implament some suggestions, but I found his overall tone read like travel snobbery. People enjoy things in different ways. That’s ok.
Why take any advice ever if you fall back on: “well it’s different for everyone…” Of course it is, but that shouldn’t stop people on saying what works for them and why and what you can learn from it.
I have to say, while I agree with a few of the points here. Ultimately my belief about travel is that it is a personal experience, and you make it your own.
So what if someone has problems at home they want to run away from? Likewise what is wrong with being self indulgent on travel? Who are you to tell them that’s wrong and they should work on their home life first? Travel I’m sure has actually helped a lot of people in itself
10. Change into work out clothes and go running? Does that apply to equatorial and tropical places too? The last thing I want to do in a hot environment is go for a run, although a long walk (your third point) would be a fine alternative.
11. Don’t recline your seat on the aeroplane? What if you’re getting reclined on? That extra inch doesn’t give much, but it is a psychological edge which helps when being stuck in a metal tube for up to 18 hours or so. Even more so for taller people I imagine.
I take 2 bags (carry on) myself when I travel, one is the usual pieces like clothing and passport, the other my photography stuff. Not just for memories (although that does come from the camera), but because photography is a hobby of mine, so I like to combine it with travel.
Anyway, going back to my main point, travel is personal. Maybe the aggressive wording of this article (at the start in particular attacking peoples reasons for travelling, including boasting about places visited, followed by listing the places the author himself travelled too) made me respond like this, but this article could have been written more as as advice piece, rather than that rules people must abide by before they set off which would make it much easier to focus on the better parts of it.
ha you should read his book. The best way to go viral is outrage!
But I think it was a valid point: if you’re running away from your normal life for 2 weeks out of the year how is that a healthy thing? You should probably work on getting the 50 weeks happier and you’ll live a fuller and richer life.
Ryan, I really enjoyed #9, halfway through a vacation after graduating I became antsy because I wasn’t working on anything. I had a strong urge to contribute something, instead of ghosting through towns.
#11 was interesting, it makes sense, and probably also improves plane posture, that’s #winning for sure. I always change my shirt right before the plane lands. That way, when I’m navigating the city for the first time, I don’t feel like a grimy airplane passenger.
PS: Tim’s comment on #16 has a typo: made *my* animator Hayao Miyazaki.
Great post. Really liked #11 too. My rule is “if I don’t want to lose it, then I won’t take it.” Obviously, this cannot be avoided when I’m relocating but generally speaking, this is what I’m thinking when I pack for short trips. Cheers!
far too many “shoulds” in this article, try to judge other travelers less, it’s their life. Tip number one is good, the rest… meh. Tip 12 and 16? what if you’re a solo female traveler who doesn’t want to stay in “wierd-ass” places or see “wierd shit”… geez. Also, my experience with the fish markets in tokyo was horrible (twice ive tried to go), the locals working in the fish market don’t want you hanging around their workplace.
Great article, I enjoyed reading it and felt connected at the same time.
I started traveling abroad from my native Colombia when I was 19 with almost no money. Leaving university, friends and family really felt like running away until not too long when I understood that those incredible feelings of freedom, challenge and rebellious thoughts of ” I do what I want when I want” can be addressed in a more productive way of a life-style design.
Parting from the fact that many travel junkies I’ve met spent years on the go without accomplishing much in their professional life, I decided to put some deep meaning or purpose into my traveling in order to avoid that terrible feeling of not doing much with my life down the road, consequently, I founded and international trading house specialized in food products and Agricultural commodities, this activity allows me to settled for a few months in different countries, live their culture and have my mind and soul entertained by working hard on conquering different markets while making a living.
The Advice ?? let your passions be the engine to something greater in your life, accomplish your dreams be happy and prosper, at least that is what I’ve learned by reading Tim’s books and blog.
P.S. For those professional writers out there reading this, accept my apologies if there is any typo or grammatical mistake, English is my second language and I am working on improving my writing skills.
Good list however I disagree with #7. I do find guidebooks useful for the restaurant recommendations and other historical facts. I always pick restaurants on my own and through the guidebook and many times the guidebook recommendations win. I found the best restaurant in Prague this way and it was down an alleyway I would have never discovered had I not had the guidebook.
Other favorite tips:
1) I love figuring out the metro or bus system in cities where I don’t know the language. I get lost a lot of get off on the wrong stop (there seem to be a lot of St. Peter’s basilica’s in Rome) but it kind of makes it’s own adventure,
2) Be spontaneous as much as you can. My favorite trip was when I was in College studying in Spain. A friend and I brought back packs and bought one way tickets to Athens. We had three weeks until our flight from Spain left. We made no reservations in hotels and had no idea of where we were going on any given day. Since it was summer, there were times when it took us a little while to find hostels with vacancies. We also mistook a ferry ride from Greece to Italy as a one-nighter and it wound up being a two night trip. (Note: this mistake was compounded by the fact that we bought the cheapest “deck” tickets and everyone around us started pulling out down sleeping bags at night; we wound up having to charge whole new tickets to get a cabin). Things went wrong- we got kicked off of trains for failure to validate our tickets, etc but It wound up being my favorite trip ever.
My favourite thing to do when I’m first in a city is do the horribly vacant hop on hop off tour. It takes a few hours, does the skimming of places that I’d never go, but it gives me that “overview’ of the city because I’m not a runner. From there I also make a note of areas that look interesting or I’d like to revisit!
I also find that any guide to ‘free things to do’ in the city, geared to locals or locals with kids, is usually amazing — you can find things to do that are equivalent of the tourist trappy things, but not spend a million bucks… like taking the staten island ferry instead of paying $50 for a boat to get a bit closer to the Statue of Liberty…
I also suggest instead of taking a ‘tube’ or underground transit, take a bus. You get a better chance to see everything, have better opportunities to explore by foot and it’s a lot more interesting… When I was in London, I only took the tube twice, but I now know my way pretty well from West to East London without a map… I’d have been perplexed if I just took the tube and I wouldn’t have been able to chat with all the rest of the folks on the bus! Ya, it takes a bit longer, but again – it’s a journey not a destination. 🙂
Nice tips Liz, pragmatic, helpful, not snobby – and I have to say that i lived in central london for 8 years, and guides to free things to do were always rich sources of fun and education at any stage during that time
Nice Ryan. Best one? Just go.
Thanks for the post Ryan. I like going for a long run right after checking into my hotel or hostel as it seems to reset my internal clock (while allowing me to be present and get lost in the city).
My favorite trips were mostly unplanned. M wife and I went last minute to the Oregon coast and had a great time. We had no idea where exactly to go (except Cannon Beach) and found hotels and attractions while we were there.
Terrific list- I’ve learned a ton about packing from reading Tim over the years, so much so that I’m living for 10 weeks or so out of what can be packed on my Vespa as I roam across the US.
Fun attractions: I’ve been doing a bit of Rt 66 and just NE of Tulsa is The Blue Whale, a family swimming hole restored into a fun attraction. Met one of the family members while I was there enjoying the shade and a game of fetch with my 3.5lb Yorkie travel companion. His statement: “There’s only one of these in the world. You know, France has their Eiffel Tower, we have the Blue Whale.”
I still laugh when I think of it! Just one of many amazing conversations to be had when you open yourself up to life.
What an incredibly patronizing post.
Why do you say that? I didn’t get that vibe, but I’d love to know what you think did. Definitely not the intended tone.
Thank you for the comment,
I usually get “aggressive” so that’s a bit of a surprise. Would be curious to hear more.
I can’t speak for Bob, but I understand how he perceived the article as patronizing.
After re-reading it and examining my own initial irritation I get that the intent was not to patronize. Yet I understand how someone who does have to save for a vacation and plan it for a variety of reasons (work, family needs, medical issues, etc.) could get caught up in the semantics and feel judged.
Interestingly, I agree with you wholeheartedly, Ryan – with the exception of running (my running shoes take up too much space in my carry on!) – I travel as you suggest. It wasn’t until re-reading your post that I understood you were merely asking your reader to ask “why” before traveling. No right or wrong answer in my opinion, but rather a good idea, I think.
And THANK YOU for pointing out that reclining an airplane seat into someone’s space is just not cool.
One trick: I always tie my running shoes together and hang them from a carabiner on the *outside* of my carry-on so they don’t take up any internal space. Another option: putting them in a plastic bag along with any other carry-on luggage. I’ve never had an issue with TSA.
All the best,
I agree with some of the other posters criticizing the “tone” of the post. I get it, opinionated writing gets people riled up and provides views, links, etc. The angle that many people travel to “escape” and the ensuing lecture about sustainability is a bit much. Hmm, I wonder when the Ryan Holiday book about travel is coming out? Guessing this was a good test for interest.
Hi Tim, Ryan, Becky, Jaqusto,
Only the first line of my post went through, not sure what happened there, sorry about that. However Becky did a good job at deciphering my minimalistic comment, thank you!
My point was that, if anything, traveling taught me to be humble and to accept all kinds of people and all the reasons they may have for traveling. I did not sense this humility at all in Ryan’s post and that is what bothered me. He has some very good points (some are questionable too, I will put a few comments below), but the way they were presented was in my humble opinion righteous, cynical (“There is nothing inherently valuable in travel”; most people who travel flee themselves and the lives they’ve created”, etc.) and slightly judgmental to those who don’t travel the way he does. It reminded me of some people I’ve met on the road, usually on backpacking trips. The kind of people that explains you at length in how many countries they’ve been, how alternatively they’ve done it, how cool and experienced travelers they are, etc. In comparison, I find Tim’s approach to traveling more refreshing and positive, it has this child-like sense of wonder which is for me the essence of traveling.
1. Don’t check luggages -> have you ever traveled with children? 🙂
2. Don’t do a ton of stuff -> This is very much up to one’s personality. My girlfriend and I we love our trips action-packed, especially when we travel far away from home: who knows if we’ll ever get a chance to come back. In Tokyo we were out from 6.00 to midnight every day for a week and we got to see so much, on and off the beaten track. It very much depends on the vibe of the place too, one should adapt to it. Tokyo is calling for being hyperactive. Tampere, much less.
4. Stop living to relive -> Time goldens memories… unless you don’t have good memory, which is my case. For major travels I take a lot of photos, and at the end of every day I write down a few notes about the fun/quirky things that happened. Once back home, I put it all together in a travel diary. We both love to get back to it every now and then and re-live the little details.
7 Try to avoid guidebooks -> The most hysterical point of this post. Wiki and Wikitravel certainly have a lot of interesting content to use for traveling, but there are a lot of excellent guidebooks out there. Lonely Planet for example are full of resources and regularly updated, I’ve used them for a decade and they’ve always delivered. It’s best to combine: guidebook + online research. I like to read blogs of expatriates living in the country that I will visit. It’s a semi-immersed view.
17. don’t spend months and months planning. -> preparation is half the fun! It’s the key to a successful trip. If it works for you to be spontaneous and just show up at the place, good, but my experience is that if one wants to make the best of their travel, they should prepare: It will save time and you’ll be more efficient.
I hope this is seen as constructive feedback too. I did find some points great. Going for a run as soon as you arrive is a great idea, never thought of that. Or When you mentioned “Never recline your seat on an airplane”, I thought “FINALLY!”.
Take care everyone.
I actually believe you can travel the world with no bags at all. That’s how I did it –
This version is much improved and comes off a lot cleaner than the TC one.
Funny how the comments on this version are like “Thanks for the guest post Ryan” while on the Thought Catalogue version it’s “durr this sucks bro [insert negativity]”
Loved the beginning! Running away from yourself. A common error whether it’s travel or business building.
Most who do it compulsively have no idea what drives them. A clear voice suggesting that each of us take a look at why we are doing what we are doing and that the effort applied may make life more rewarding was refreshing to read.
Ask random people where to eat. This once led me to brunch in the awesome Siggy’s, a vaguely alien themed organic cafe in Brooklyn. That’s proof.
If you’re accidentally in a big crowd of agitated people it’s best not to say anything or try to take pictures. Relax, they’re probably not angry with you.
Download a Google map to your phone before you leave home (‘Make available offline’ feature) so you’ll always have a map to hand even in dodgy WiFi/cell signal. This may also save you a fortune in carrier roaming charges.
Get up early and wander about. You’ll see interesting things early, and if you take pictures, they’ll look great in the morning light.
Take some decent reading and/or play book roulette, buying random books along the way or swapping in hotels/guest-houses. If fussy, always have a back-up – something long, that you always meant to read and in paperback.
History books and novels are better prep than guidebooks. I’m not anti-guidebook though – they are pretty handy as a starting point to standard stuff to see and do. Don’t limit yourself to standard tourist stuff but don’t feel bad about doing popular things, a lot of them are good fun, that’s why they’re popular.
Great list! I would add figuring out which festivals and events take place when and seeing as many as you can. It practically guarantees you a unique and authentic experience, even at the better known ones. Great examples: Las Fallas in Valencia, NYE in Sydney, whaleshark season in Western Australia, balloon festival in Taungyi, Khumb Mela in India, full moon in SE Asia etc. Sporting events are also great, even in regular season. Aim for games with local rivalries for the best atmosphere. Enjoy!
Every time I read about travelling without checked luggage, I begin to daydream. Heavy photo tripods and related equipment don’t get along with airline cabins. Oh, to be a writer!
Great list, overall. #16 is one of the best and one nobody ever seems to think about.
I like the premise behind this list, but first off, there’s no right or wrong way to travel. What works for one person may not work for others.
There’s no one-size-fits-all, and just because lessons can be learned from traveling light (which I like to do as well), doesn’t mean it suits everybody.
That said, I agree with a lot of these rules. If I read at least one book, fiction or non, about a country before/during a visit, it’s a richer experience as a result.
“Try to avoid guidebooks”
An exception is the new trend by expats to write guidebooks. I think this is better than Wikipedia or Lonely Planet. People who live and breathe a foreign city have the potential to write the best guides.
Except that crosses off a lot of French food, and most Latin cuisine. They don’t use a lot of vegetables in Colombia, I can tell you that much.
Most countries outside the US had far lower obesity rates based on their regional cuisines. It’s the American fast food culture that’s invaded and fattened people up.
“Never recline your seat on an airplane.”
Sure, you can live by that rule, but if I’m on a discount airline, and someone reclines, removing any gasp of free space, you bet I’m reclining my seat as well. It’s a domino effect, and I don’t usually start it, but I’m not going to suffer by it either.
“14. Add some work component to your travel if you can. Then you can write it all off on your taxes (or better, be paid for the whole thing).”
This is the biggest over-simplification of how Americans (at least) can take advantage of the IRS rules. I think you know better than to make a blanket statement. At a minimum, you should’ve advised people to consult a tax expert or the IRS website for more information.
I like to read up on the local language and cultural values while on the plane to my destination. I also love to journal when I travel. I find the hardest part of travel is deciding where to go… For that, I recommend choosing your favorite artist, author, inventor or musician, and then going to a place that has inspired them.
As someone who is getting ready for an extended trip abroad, I an appreciate this post. It helps to have a specific goal in mind for travel, not just to get away or hide from yourself (although there is something romantic about the notion of going to interesting and weird new places).
When I travel, I try to acquire as much (a) knowledge and (b) experiences as I can.
For knowledge acquisition, I visit museums, sights, take tours, read, etc. I generally believe guide books are pretty helpful for this purpose – they summarize everything, saving one time.
For experience acquisition, I either try to things that bring me immediate gratification (food, beach, etc) or that are unique and memorable.
I think that’s a good methodologically to think about travel.
-Don’t worry about getting lost. Finding your way back is an adventure.
-Find excuses to talk to as many people as possible.
-Have a local kiss+
-Kill an animal in each country
-Overthrow local governments
“Eaten alive by lice and fleas
Now the horse beside my pillow pees.”
– Basho, Oku no Hoso Michi
Good advice I’ve taken (and given) myself – I try, as best I can, to connect with a few locals interested enough to give me their opinion on the “things I need to see that no one ever asks to see that you think they should.” This applies to cities as well as menus.
I really enjoyed this post. My wife and I will be taking our first international trip this year (don’t know where, yet). I just need to convince her, somehow, to not pack anything. lol
Great, great post. Full of interesting, well articulated content. I enjoyed reading it. I especially love this paragraph, “Fleeing themselves and the lives they’ve created.”
My tip, is just pack one bag and go. Once you’re on your way, that’s it, you’ll figure the rest out- one way or another.
Great post, I agree with every word. One point I’d add is: if you’re going to be somewhere for more than a few weeks, learn at least a little bit of the local language. It’s SO worth the effort and will completely transform your experience.
Second the ‘no checked luggage. My aunt always said ‘take luggage that you can pick up and run with, you never know when you might need to.’
On guidebooks, etc. I like to try to read books of fiction or non-fiction about the country/city/place before visiting, especially memoirs and essays. Favourites include: Orhan Pamuk’s ‘Istanbul’, Joseph Brodsky’s ‘Watermark’ for Venice, Italy, Ivan Vladislavic’s ‘Portrait with Keys’ for Johannesburg, South Africa, and Joan Didion’s ‘Miami’.
My wife and I love to travel to view art. Growing up and only ever seeing so much of it in the pages of books, we love seeing it up close, materially. In galleries, we play a version of Tyler’s game: after a visit we have to tell each other about three pieces we’d steal and why (and where we’d put them in our home). We’ve found it makes a fun game of close inspection and increases our enjoyment of art & of galleries. Also, it sometimes motivates reading the wall text because if you were to steal something, you’d want to know its story. Also, remember, art galleries are almost always closed on a Monday.
Not to punt a specific site, but we’ve had the most fantastic time travelling and using airbnb instead of hotels. We’ve met awesome people and gotten great advice. We’ve used airbnb in Germany, Wales, England, Turkey, the US, and South Africa and we’ve yet to be disappointed either by the places or the people. [I have no financial interest in airbnb, I’m just a happy customer.]
On “just go”, sometimes that doesn’t work. I recently went on a not particularly planned trip to San Francisco and I was hoping to go to Alcatraz (having read some history). Stupid me – it was booked up until mid-August and there were no other providers. It’s OK though, we plan to return, but we’ll definitely book that trip in advance. Just a reminder that not everything can be done in an impromptu way (OK, we probably could have gotten a scalped ticket or a cancellation, but we weren’t sufficiently motivated or worried that we wouldn’t return). Otherwise, cool post.
Great posts, I travel to change mindsets of my usual routine and to breathe new experiences into my life. I love the engagement of new people and their outlook on life that challenges my ideas and experiences to that point in time along with loosing myself in the new environment and its senses it brings to the travel experience in that moment.
My husband and I just completed a 24 month trip, and it was purposely not around the world. We spent a lot of time in my home country of Bulgaria, several months in Thailand, and a few places in between. Reading a book or watching a historical movie about the place you visit, really gets you to connect with it in a different way. Even watching the Lord of the Rings while traveling New Zealand in a van with a futon bed in the back, made the trip magical and exciting when we saw the scenery from the movies, especially when we climbed Mt. Doom!
The best resource for us was Wikitravel! We usually found quirky and cheap (and good) guesthouses and the local joints for food through the site. We also never checked our bags and wrote about our packing in our blog here – http://www.fieldsofindulgence.com/1/post/2013/06/how-to-fly-around-the-world-without-ever-checking-a-bag.html. The Osprey pack was perfect and the fact that it opens like a suitcase was so convenient.
As far as healthy eating, we usually had small fridges in our rooms, so we always went to the market, which is a great local experience, and purchased fruits and nuts and yogurt, and that was always a healthy and easy way to start the day!
Also, as Tim has written before, learning some of the local language is key. We always learned the basics like the numbers, how do you say in…, hi, etc. and that got us major points and some of the most unbelievable experiences!
And lastly, try Couchsurfing. Sometimes we slept on the ground just to get an authentic experience. Some of the best times in our travels!
Whenever I see an article on your blog, the quality is always off-the-charts good. I eagerly came over expecting the ’21 travel rules’ to be so revealing that it would knock the socks off even the most seasoned traveler. Instead, it’s a mishmash of contradictions and patronizing one-liners.
I don’t doubt that Ryan travels all over the world following these rules and is quite thrilled by the results, but the rules don’t remotely apply to everyone out there who travels, nor are the exhortations going to improve their traveling. A bit of testing (I’m channeling you and Ramit here) and additional detail on why/how-to would have added a lot more dimension to these rules. “Because I told you so” isn’t good enough a reason.
Frankly, I’ve found your travel conversations with Kevin Rose, other random posts containing gems like buying passes that can speed up security checks, and posts by seasoned travel bloggers about travel hacking far more useful with respect to traveling than this list.
love the tips , especially the idea about getting a book to help switch off. Going to get the graveyard audiobook today, cant wait.
I’m currently traveling the US for the Idaho potato commission for 7.5 months. It probably goes without saying but don’t turn on your TV! I have two partners that spend their free time holed up in our hotel. The whole country looks the same inside a holiday inn.
I loved the tips and can’t wait for the next book Ryan.
SOOOO true. I once did a round the world trip and every time I turned on the TV, it was showing the EXACT same shows. True in every one of the 12 countries.
My other one is: “Don’t buy wifi on the plane.” This is the ONE time where no one can reach you. Enjoy it.
For the chicks – I’d also add in a trip to your local beauty/hair salon – you can learn some really interesting things about a culture by their beauty routines and beauty therapists the world over like to talk.
It’s a fun and intimate way to get to know real locals through the international language of grooming!
A bonus is that you don’t have to travel with hair/beauty supplies.
Make an effort in the local language. I prepped myself in Italian before I went to Milan and Florence da solo. So glad I did. Got great restaurant and nightlife tips from locals and was treated so well. Ended up eating and drinking in parts of the city I’d never have found and feeling much less like a tourist.
After spending the past 5 weeks studying in Rio de Janeiro, I can confirm that much of the above (going for runs around the city, buying things upon arrival, eating healthy, etc.) has enhanced my experience here, despite (I’m guessing) this trip being considerably longer than the type imagined for the purposes of the post. For advice on longer stays in a new locale (whether for work or study), I’d recommend buying groceries at outdoor markets rather than supermarkets (depending on your part of the world), and joining some organization (esp. athletic) with the understanding of a temporary membership. The outdoor markets because I’ve had some great deals/spectacular finds (amazing fruits)/interesting conversations at the weekly market in the square outside my apartment building here in Rio, and the temporary membership because this enables you to develop real connections with locals. I joined a gym while I’ve been here, a friend joined a squash club, and we’ve both become pretty friendly with the people at our respective organizations. And, of course, you get to stay in shape.
As someone who travels for a living, some of this advice is pretty solid, some of it is a bit off. I do agree that the traveler – really tourist is the right word – who goes to as many places as they can without actually involving themselves in the local culture has missed the point of what travel is about.
Travel encompasses people, place and food. Neglect one of these three pillars, and you’ve missed quite a lot. My favorite memories are actually the wonderful people I have met on my travels. A quiet lunch with a Tibetan family in their home around the monastic mountain communities of western China, catching fresh seafood with Greeks, or having one hell of an island jam with Arubans. All rewarding memories.
I find it a bit disparaging that you lump most travelers into the group of people traveling to flee their reality. I think that’s a rather pessimistic view of the general public. No doubt there’s some of them out there, but I believe most people enjoy the simple explorations of immersing themselves in a place and culture different from their own. I’m a glass half full guy – but that’s what travel has given me.
I’d actually recommend still picking up a guide book. They’re not meant to be an end-all be-all, and if you’re using them as such you’re apt to fail. But they do provide a great launching point. From there, meet the locals and ask them what to do and where to go. Forget the other books – go out and meet people and immerse yourself! You’re there to experience, you can read anytime back at home without having paid to be somewhere else.
Lastly, in case it hasn’t been obvious what I’ve been harping on the whole time here… go out and meet people! Stay at a home instead of a hotel if you can manage it. I’ve rarely ever been somewhere where I’ve thought – man I wish I didn’t go out and meet new people.
Dude, you nailed it. It is the journey not the destination. Way too many people spend a maniac week or two weeks trying to hit every known tourist stop within 2000 miles of their landing point.
Live it, experience it. My younger days were spend in the military and I was in almost every country in Western Europe, parts of Eastern Europe, Africa, Southeast Asia and Central America. I wish I had known what I know now and spent far more days in funky hotels, just taking in the culture and enjoying the journey. No worries though, I have plenty of time still.
Ryan (and Tim),
Long time reader, first time poster here. Great read. After the first few paragraphs I had to stop and reflect as your statement about distraction was spot on.
Many people (myself included) see traveling as an escape from reality, which is needed every once in a while, but as you said it — ’Thus each man flees himself.’ But to what end if he does not escape himself?
All of us need to answer this question. Are we traveling for the experience or for the escape? Thank you for pointing that out to me.
Best — Sean
Ryan (and Tim),
Long time reader, first time poster here. Great read. After the first few paragraphs I had to stop and reflect as your statement about distraction was spot on.
Many people (myself included) see traveling as an escape from reality, which is needed every once in a while, but as you said it — ’Thus each man flees himself.’ But to what end if he does not escape himself?
All of us need to answer this question. Are we traveling for the experience or for the escape? Thank you for pointing that out to me.
Best — Sean
Allow me to add – rent a car & drive! My wife & I drove Alaska from anchorage to Homer, Homer to Denali & back down to Seward. Hiked, fished, camped & saw more wildlife from our car than anything else.
We also did Costa Rica, Panama, Florida Keys & several islands this way. There’s nothing like it!!
If you need something places interesting, amazing and …. beautiful, try ROMANIA! 🙂
You never regrete!
1) Do it off-season (more authentic impression of place)
2) Once there, use bus/train and hop to other towns and find your fave
3) Stay too long/find apt 4hww style (learn how to slow way down)
The “eat healthy” tip is a highly under-appreciated aspect of enjoyable travel. As Ryan points out, enjoying local foods is a major part of travel, but this must be balanced with eating foods that optimize the function of one’s brain and body (especially for those who travel within—and for the purpose of learning—foreign languages). Whether you do slow carb, low carb, or paleo, the more you can minimize sugar/starch and maximize healthy fats and proteins, the better your noodle will perform and more enjoyable your travels will be. As Tim suggests in the 4HB, you can always schedule a bing day for enjoying local foods that are great on the tongue but bad on the body.
My number one tip for having more fun on a trip: Stay in cheap hotels! After years as a corporate traveler, staying in the standard Westins, Hyatts and the like, I now run my own small business which requires me to travel a lot in Asia and Europe. At first I did it for my budget, now I do it (also) for my enjoyment: I stay in local “businessman’s hotels”. They are clean (enough), come with internet connections (a must have for me) and generally with a breakfast room where you will see how local people live, travel, eat. I am often the only western female in the breakfast room, and most days strike up conversations with other (local) travelers. These interactions set me off for a great day and are often fascinating, and always more fun, heart warming, and simply a more human experience than being seated alone in the restaurant of one of the upscale chain hotels where chatting up another traveler seems mainly frowned upon.
God! The timing for this article is so amazing for me it’s amazing. I’m starting to work on the 4HWW lifestyle and I plan / can leave on sept 25th, finally, after years of working my ass off 70-80 hrs per week.
Now a friend of mine asked me “why” i wanted to travel and i had some trouble explaining that. I want to travel because i feel stale if im breathing the same air for too long and seeing the same people. I love to see weird things, tasting amazing new meals and seeing new people.
In other words, i dont care about “the eiffel tower” etc because the goal is not to get photo trophies in order to tell your friends (and enemies) that you’re “successful”. Do shit that are fun and that you love.
Why is learning to not care about what other ppl think SO hard?
Live in the present moment with ppl around you, friends, family in the end that is gold
Casing a museum is an interesting perspective for adults. With kids, check online before you go to see if their collection is shared online. Kids can pick a few favorites, then map them out at the museums. We flagged long before our then 9 year old daughter did at The British Museum. At 21, she can still recall what she saw on that first visit.
Families, start early, travel often, and drive that old car a year or two longer if you need to. We’re solidly middle class, but my daughter has a lot of travel experience under her belt. Her friends may live in larger houses, but a few have never left California. That’s just sad.
Oh, and if I can travel for 25 days in Europe with a carry-on, anyone can! Color coordinate, hand launder what you can, and find a local laundromat–that’s a great travel experience in itself!
Awesome blog. Use many of these same rules. (3) days from (6) months through Central and South America. Now from Texas tommorow, off to Denver, Colorado, and then Miami.. … Not sure if am going to apply the plane the plane rule 🙂 Lol.
Never use a hotel concierge for restaurant advice (with the possible exception of your business dinner at a high end steak house). The best advice I’ve ever received on restaurants is from everyday people.
My wife and I were in a shop in Rome and asked the lady working there where she would recommend for dinner. We had one of (okay, THE) best meals EVER. (Taverna Trilussa – ravioli mimosa appetizer is unbelievable…we ordered two of them)
Along the same lines of taking pictures of yourself jumping, I’d say take pictures of yourself going crazy at least once every time you travel!
For example, do you remember “Challenging the Status Quo vs. Being Stupid” from the 4HWW?
“Most people walk down the street on their legs. Does that mean I walk down the
street on my hands? Do I wear my underwear outside of my pants in the name of
being different? Not usually, no. ”
Well… I did exactly that (walk down the street on my hands with my underwear on the outside of my pants) last year in Tokyo 🙂
Tim or Ryan,
Other than your current residence, which city would you choose if you had to stay there 80% of the time for the rest of your life?
Other than SF, I’d still choose somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, Portland or Seattle, perhaps. That said, I have no plans to leave SF. Love it here 🙂
Great stuff !
I haven’t checked a bag for 5 years – it’s changed my thinking on everything.
I’d also suggest :
1. Try travel modes other than air. I love train and overnight ferries.
2. Read a book with historical context of where you are at : In Istanbul I read “Portrait of a Turkish Family”. In Prague I read some Kafka.
3. Get a local Sim card and use Skype In / Out.
4. Pre load Google Maps for your travel city on your phone before you depart or when on free wifi.
5. Get up early and find the major food wholesale market of the City. Did that last year in Bangkok – amazing – and I was the only Westerner in sight. Gives you great insight into how a city functions.
6. I always “forget” to see a great sight. It gives me something to see next time.
7. Get up early and gave breakfast where the locals have breakfast.
8. I prefer not to have a departing date locked in – I move on when it feels right. (I hate being locked-in. It changes the way I feel.)
9. Agree with #8 “standing on hallowed ground”. One of my most profound personal moments was visiting the Western Battlefields of Northern France
and reflecting on the Australian Farm boys who entered that hell of war.
10. Don’t be bound by anyone else’s rules. Experiment and figure out your own ! then feel free to break them if appropriate!
I always ask several locals what the best family owned restaurants are. I like getting away from the chains and they always recommend some out of the way amazing place.
I’d add meeting people! I find inherently social activities that I enjoy, like dancing, acroyoga, and other sports so I can meet the locals. It’s one of my central pleasures of traveling.
Reading this from a cheap (nice) flat in Budapest Hungary. Vienna next, then Prague, Berlin, Amsterdam, London, and who knows where next. It’s a one way ticket. I sold all my shit, including (3) bad sports cars, one to a Fast & Furious star (small world). I slept in today, doing some work, coffee on balcony watching locals chat below. I’m right in the center of the city, it’s awesome and I’m learning a lot about myself and why I left America. Just do it, that’s the only advice I have so far, the details work out, if your running you will stop (like Forest Gump) when your ready. I agree with Tim, live an interesting and fun life in lots of different places – that’s what travel is for me.
Thanks R + T,
Dan Pink has 12 travel tips that I also found helpful.
I have invented something how do I go about patenting and safe guarding my idea has anyone been down that road
This might be summed up as “don’t flee yourself when traveling.”
The missed nuance is in the different ways one might travel:
* Travel as holiday: flee yourself temporarily
* Travel as experiment: see other ways to be should you decide to flee yourself in the future
* Travel as identity: cement who you are by comparing to others (ie stay healthy in a new place)
* Travel as production: leverage travel to improve who you are
There’s nothing inherently wrong with travel as holiday, its just better to avoid doing for too long, like going clubbing for 200 days straight.
As a retired hobo, my joy was in the journey, not the destination. As long as a freight trail was moving, I was happy. Around and around it goes. Where it stops nobody knows. When it did stop, after getting cleaned up in a gas station restroom, I went eagerly exploring. I saw the “real” America this way. And in my reclining years, rather than a roomful of smooth stuff, I have a ragged pocketful of memories. I prefer the latter.
Good list, but I disagree with number 17 – planning and anticipating travel is SO much fun for me, almost as fun as the actual travel! Sounds weird but it’s true.
If you have friends in places that you’ve never been, visit them. My best experiences have been as a guest rather than a tourist. You go to the best restaurants that locals go to where they know the owners. You meet their friends, eat home cooked meals that you help with from the local markets. I don’t shun the tourist spots, but a local friend may know a great place off the beaten path.
I NEVER check bags and can’t resist telling friends “I told you so” when they tell tales of lost luggage. I have carefully chosen fabrics that are light, not bulky for winter travel and summer togs are easiest of all. Get a Patagonia Nano Puff…the perfect warm,light jacket!
Great post & comments. I’d be curious to know what both of you have to say about traveling alone vs. with companions and how those experiences might be different – especially abroad. I’m considering walking in Darwin’s footsteps in the Galapagos, alone…
Having a problem. I’m no longer receiving Tim’s latest posts at my email account. When I try to re-subscribe the blog tells me I’m already subscribed and to check my inbox. Anyone else having this problem? And, more importantly, did anyone have this problem and figure out a way to fix it?
Thanks and all the best,
I like your last tip about taking a photo while jumping.
My Taiwanese friend done that across Australia and got a book deal out of it when he went home.
The tips are definitely spot on, and I agree with Seneca in that a lot of people travel because they’re escaping something (usually boredom).
Most travel bloggers actually make it worse and sell a false bill of goods. They advocate quitting your job to travel, which is so enticing that many people make it their goal to quit their job to travel. Then they travel and realize that while travel is fun, they’re still unsettled, that they haven’t really figured things out.
Travel by itself doesn’t make you fulfilled in any meaningful way. Making progress in an endeavor that is important to you (career, business, etc), having good relationships, and following through on commitments is the recipe for a meaningful life.
That being said, there are unique things about travel that you can leverage to improve yourself, it’s just important to do those things deliberately and not just hope that you’ll travel and all of a sudden be a better person.
If you’re interested, google “Travel as Mastery Manifesto” and see if those values resonate with you.
Warning – Rant Following:
“There is nothing inherently valuable in travel, no matter how hard the true believers try to convince us” – How in the world could you say this… it’s completely opposite!!!
“Fleeing themselves and the lives they’ve created. Or worse, they’re telling hemselves that they’re after self-discovery, exploration or new perspectives when really they are running towards distraction and self-indulgence” Excuse me?!? – I find this very offensive… saying that people that travel are just running for distraction and self indulgence??? REALLY?
How about i travel for meeting new people, new experiences, actually seeing the world through my eyes and not some stupid reporters biased view on tv?
I honestly like your posts… but this one from your guest Ryan ..it’s a little dissapointing (the intro at least).
Thank you for your books, and i hope this comment didn’t upset you.
Traveling enlivens the mind, body and soul. It makes you a more interesting and compassionate person. I have traveled to most of the continents in the past 20 years, and will be beginning my heaviest traveling years going forward. Here’s some other ideas:
1. Hook up with a family in the country of your choice. They will show you their own culture that guide books would never do. I hooked up with a family in Greece, ended up going to a remote Greek country wedding where I was the only blond, white person. It got a little dicey when the Uncle of the Bride demanded that I bring the whole family back to the U.S. Needless to say, that didn’t happen and I left on good terms.
2. Ask locals where to eat. You will find some amazing restaurants that no one else knows about.
3. Learn a little of the country language. It is respectful and much more enjoyable relating to locals.
4. Go hiking. Soak up new air, new plants and animals.
5. Take a small notebook and draw a special scene instead of taking a photo. You will absorb everything much more and be in the moment.
Perhaps being part of the older generation I missed the point of this rather patronising article. While I accept that many who travel on a regular basis for work may find it becomes mundane,others like myself who have had lifetime commitments to jobs and family ,actually look forward to travelling. It is a contrast to a more rigid lifestyle-old school 9-5 kind of work. It is an expansion of horizons and a savouring of tastes, feels and smells of other cultures. It is the fulfilment of places read about,dreamed about and hoped for.
I’m not escaping from a prison of my own making as I love the work I have chosen and am committed to,but It’s magical to stand on mountains in Scotland,France and Austria and see and feel the differences in the air. Or taste a real Spanish paella.
As for life at home -it’s as good as I make it. My career is people focussed so I choose to be here. For some of us, travel lightens the heart and soul. Can’t be bad.
“10. When you’re traveling to a new city, the first thing you should do when you get to the hotel is change into your work out clothes and go for a long run.”
Why “should” I? Running is not my thing, I can’t stand it. (I realized it after doing a half marathon). I’m a kickboxer. But, going for a long walk, yes, I can do that.
In fact, I’m writing this from Budapest, on a tail end of a 2 week trip by myself, and I have been walking, on an average, for 4-5 hours a day. Sometimes more.
Packing light? Definitely! I don’t check luggage. I only take a small backpack. That and the long walks, and reading books, no TV and not having a phone are the tips that I liked the most. No brainers, in my book. (This is the first time ever that I took my laptop and I have it with me only so I can Skype my husband every day).
But what was the absolute takeaway for me, a 42 year old set-in-her-way mother from the Midwest? This. This I loved:
“There is more to admire in someone who challenges their perspectives and lifestyle choices at home than in some Instagram addict who conflates meaning with checking off boxes on a bucket list.”
I’ve always had the saying:”Where ever you go, go local.”
Ride a bike where ever you go. Preferably not a tourista looking bike. You see way more since you are able to travel further and you get to know the street layout. After being in New York City for only a couple of months I could say I knew the streets better than most locals.
And one more thing Ride a Bike! It is the most efficient form of transportation known to man. If you tour around you can take a bit more with you since you have a pack mule with you.
I’ve never been a big bike fan but I rented one in Amsterdam this year and it was amazing. I like this idea. Still more of a long walks guy but it’s fun.
I always say ‘find a better way.’ If this isn’t a better way to travel, I don’t know what is. Thanks for taking the suck out of traveling Ryan. Definitely going to try some of this. You really got into the head of the typical traveler here. Nice work dude.
Now reading 4 hour work week I’m so excited!!!
The wife and I just moved to Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico. One of the things I love doing is jumping on a bus and letting it take you somewhere, anywhere, jump off and eat at the first place you see. Then walk around after. Very spontaneous and totally keeps you in the moment.