The Magic of Travel

[Co-Authored by Chiara Lo Bianco (@_behind.brown.eyes_) (http://focusonyourbreath.it)]

 

Travel is an elixir that can heal many many wounds.  It starts with the initial thought, where would I really like to go and what would I really like to see?  Then comes the planning. How far away and how much will it cost? How long do I intend to stay there? Do the people there speak English (or whatever your native language is)?  What are some local activities that I can anticipate and plan around? What is the weather going to be like? All of these thoughts spin around your head as you start to daydream about travel.  For most, travel is not an easy experience. Traveling doesn’t have to be something overwhelming and you don’t have to travel to the far ends of the earth. You can actually start very small and expand as you go.

 

I work in a place that allows me to travel all over.  I am usually on the road at least a few days a month traveling to different parts of the country.  My kiddos live in Germany and my girlfriend lives in Sicily so that allows me to experience Europe many times a year.  My only real constraint when it comes to traveling is time. Like so many others in America, I don’t get a lot of vacation time.  When I do have a few days I take them because usually, I have to in order to see my kids or my girl. I know many people who let their vacation days sit and sit until they have months worth of days to travel.  They simply do not take them. It hurts my heart to think about the few days I get to experience every year compared to how many days go unused and eventually cashed out. I know it is not about comparison and essentially we all get the same amount of days but it is a little sad to think about.  

 

I am not advocating breaking the bank trying to fly all over the world or putting yourself through undue stress just because I said you should get out and see things.  Everyone takes traveling differently. Here are a few ideas that might get you on the road this weekend rather than hanging around the house watching the grass grow. I will also explain a little about why I think travel is so important for a healthy life.

Changing your surroundings

“Discovery consists of looking at the same thing as everyone else and thinking something different.”

Albert Szent-Györgyi

 

We all go through our daily lives and get to a point where we want something just a little different to happen.  We are surrounded by the same people every day, doing the same routine, in the same town, with the same weather. It’s not that normal life in one place is boring, it’s just that in order to get a slightly different perspective you have to have a slightly different vantage point from which to observe.  I’m sure Chiara has sent me the clip many times from “The Dead Poets Society” where Robin Williams is in the classroom trying to get his students to open up to poetry and prose. He asks some of them to recite a personal poem they were instructed to write for the class.

 

Captain (Robin Williams), steps up on his desk and tells the class to learn to look at the world from a different perspective, totally different from what is normal.  he asks them to step up on his desk in order to see the world a little differently. One by one they step up on the desk and take in the view. Looking at the world from just a slightly different angle.  In another scene, Captain asks the class to compose a poem and bring it to class to read in front of everyone. Captain tells Todd that he knows this is a scary thing for him. At some point during the readings, he brings Ethan Hawke up front and tortures him to the point of releasing his demons and his fear. He tells him about “YAWP”, which is a majestic manly roar from that comes from the bottom of your abdomen to the top of your lungs.  He gets Todd up front and has him perform his best YAWP! Shortly after Captain persuades Todd to just close his eyes and tell him what he sees. Todd delivers a magnificent bit of prose from the very depths of his soul. Captain, is opening their minds and getting everyone in the class out of their comfort zone.

 

“That is the purpose of our practice (mindfulness)—not to avoid life, but to experience and demonstrate that happiness in life is possible now and also in the future.” –Thich Nhat Hanh

 

Aimlessness is something which is very taboo in the western world.  We think that everything must be calculated and planned for accordingly.  This is partially correct. Plan for possible outcomes but also let things flow and see where life takes you.  You will be surprised. Have you ever been lost driving around town? For most this can be an awful experience.  For me, usually, it is something wonderful and beautiful. I love to get lost and let the road take me where it may.  Many years ago before Google Maps, I would have been a little less sure about the outcome but today all I have to do is say, “Hey Google, or Hey Siri, take me home” and poof I have the route back to my house.  We all live in different parts of the world. Places we may “know” well but don’t know completely. I make a habit of just spending an hour or two driving around a new place, maybe even hopping on the local bus or train and riding around to see what is out there.  You would be amazed at how much you can find just driving, or walking, and observing your surroundings. I have found some of the best places on earth just wandering and stopping along the way. Here are my suggestions:

 

1) take a small pack with you containing a few “survival things”

– a bottle of water for hydration

– a book to read when you find a pause

– a pair of socks in case you end up hiking

– a battery backup for your phone

– good spirits (could have a double meaning)

– gummy bears (or any comparable snack)

– a towel (in case you have to leave the planet)

– emergency cash

 

2) be completely open to the following

– traffic

– obstacles/delays

– sheep/chickens/goats in the road

– rain/snow/hurricanes

– people (good, bad, or indifferent)

– amazement/magic

 

3) Ignore your clock and do not answer your phone unless it is an emergency

 

That’s it.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Go out and aimlessly discover the world around you for a day.  Yes, a whole day. If you can’t find at least one day out of the ~29,200 you are expected to have on this planet then you might be reading the wrong blog.  Be open to stops along the way. Be open to people and conversations. Walk slowly if you can embracing every single step you take and every breath that falls between.  Let yourself wander aimlessly into the world.

 

5) What you don’t have to bring with you

– Thoughts

– Problems

 

Try to take the day simply for driving or travel that is.  A day just for yourself. Try to stop thinking about problems or whatever there is at home.  Leave everything behind you. Everything that can be heavy or an obstacle, leave it behind you. Travel has to be an incredible experience so do whatever it takes to make it just that.  Sometimes when you stop worrying about something and stop overthinking it, you might find a solution. So….during travel, free your mind, sing, dance, read, whatever. Just be WILD. enjoy and take all in. every single moment.

 

Traveling across town or across the country

 

“Perhaps, after all, America never has been discovered. I myself would say that it had merely been detected.”

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

 

Get in your car and just drive.  I don’t care which direction or which day.  Just drive. Make sure you have a bag of things listed above and GO!  I’m sure you are saying to yourself, “this guy is nuts.” Just trust me.  If you would like to use your mapping app of choice, by all means. Just do me this one small favor, adjust your settings so you avoid highways and tolls.  Keep the ferries because they can be fun. A really good first time doing this for those not so adventurous would go something like this:

 

If you are going somewhere anyway and it is 30 mins or farther simply set your GPS like I suggest above and allow for an additional 30 mins on both ends of the trip.  You want to drive to Whole Foods in the next major town over? Perfect! Set the GPS so that it takes you on the most obscure path imaginable (and tolerable). You will end up on some back country roads out in the middle of nowhere and you will be wondering all the while, “why the hell have I never seen this or that?”  You will see covered bridges and farm stands you never thought were there. You may stop at an old gas station on a crossroads that looks like it came from the movie Crossroads. I can guarantee you one thing, you will never look at that commute the same again. You can also do this with a work commute or even heading over to a relatives house.  The reason I say to leave a little time on both ends is because, if you are paying attention you might find somewhere that really grabs you and begs you to stop there, even if only to get a drink.

 

Traveling across the country (car rules above can apply)

 

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

Marcel Proust

 

Don’t worry so much about the place, worry about nothing and let the trip just happen.  This is the absolute best advice I can give you. Many people see airline travel as a checkout line in a store.  They are trying to get there as fast as humanly possible. Take your time and stop rushing. I live in Atlanta and I travel out of one of the busiest airports in the world.  I literally just came back from Boston last week and took my usual 20 min stroll through the bottom of Hartsfield Jackson looking at art exhibits and reading murals. The guy I was traveling with asked me, “you are not taking the train to the baggage claim?”, um, nope.  I will walk. Let me stop here for a small digression.

 

Rushing the quarterback:

 

Do you feel like someone is always holding up the line.. in the store… on the highway… to the bathroom?  Relax a little. Yes, there are always moments when we are on a time crunch, but if we are always pressed for time then what is so important?  Are we in a rush to get to the next meeting or the next gas station? Relax. If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. The thing about traveling and exploring is that there really shouldn’t be any time constraints.  You will never be able to fully enjoy travel if you are rushing to your destination. It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey… literally. The only discovery you will make when you are rushing from place to place is, how many people are there in front of you blocking you from getting to where you want to go.  When you relax, you get to see and experience things you wouldn’t normally experience. Here is a real PRO TIP: It takes on average 10-20 min for your bag to get from the belly of the plane to the baggage claim. The only thing you will do if you rush there to grab your bags is… wait. and wait. and wait. Impatiently. Here is a fun fact: did you know that no matter how fast you board the plane, everyone on the plane will touch down at the next airport at the very same time.  It’s really all about perspective. If you rush the simple part you will do nothing but get frustrated. If you stop and watch people or take the scenic route, you will laugh a little and realize that those idiots pushing their way off the plane just to get to the bar are nothing more than idiots. They also look the way you did when you were displaying the same behavior.

 

So plane travel across the country goes something like this:

1) pick the destination

2) purchase the plane ticket

3) pack enough for 1 week

4) bring what you would need on the plane, for one night if your bag gets lost

5) PROTIP bring a small ziplock or a jacket, empty the contents of your pockets including any jewelry into the bag or ZIPPERED pocket of the jacket before you step through the security checkpoint.

6) if you need water, clip a small water bottle on your carry on bag and fill it after you get through security

7) PROTIP if you want your checked bag to never get lost again, pack a track starter pistol Tim Ferris emphasis and declare it at check in.  Maybe bring a TSA lock so you don’t have to argue about the lock. Your bag will get VIP treatment.

8) PROTIP AIRBNB is a great alternative to hotels and you can usually book last minute.  Usually, midrange or better prices will ensure a comfortable stay.

 

Traveling across the world

 

“The seeker embarks on a journey to find what he wants and discovers, along the way, what he needs.”

Wally Lamb, The Hour I First Believed

 

World travel can be a daunting thing for most people.  I never left the United States until I was 20 years old.  My very first plane ride was at 19, just to put things in perspective.  Of course I had no choice really. My job, the Army, is what brought me to the doors of that 747 and took me off into the wild blue yonder.  I can tell you one thing though, it is one of the few moments that really changed my life. I was forced to go explore and figure out the world.  Actually, to be completely honest I wasn’t forced to do anything. I could have very well went to Germany and not stepped outside the fence that surrounded our Army post.  I actually know people who have done this. The only travel they did while in Germany was going from one base to another to do some shopping. That, in my humble opinion, is pathetic.  This is one of the very reasons I am writing this in the first place. Travel has the potential to open you wide and let you experience something a lot of people never get to experience… LIFE, CULTURE, PEOPLE.  I remember everything about that first trip overseas. I remember getting off the plane at Rhine Main Air Base in the freezing rain of February. I remember going to my temporary room at Cambrai Fritsch Kasserne in Darmstadt, which was nothing more than four concrete walls on the third floor, a bed, and a light (and no 110V outlets anywhere).  I remember not having much money and writing a check for beer and smokes, and wondering all the while why they never asked to see the birthday on the back of my ID card (legal drinking age in Germany is 16). I remember the first week taking the “head start” class which explained a little about the culture and the language. I remember the trip downtown at the end of that week, exploring the city and visiting the local hospital.  Within two weeks I had met my first German girlfriend, Imke (translates to beekeeper), and learning my first page of German vocabulary (her pre-requisite for dating her). Before getting on the plane I was convinced it would be the worst thing in the world to be stationed in Germany. After two weeks on the ground I wanted to make Germany my permanent home (and I did for 13 years).

 

World travel 101 – the basics

“Discovery consists of looking at the same thing as everyone else and thinking something different.”

Albert Szent-Györgyi

 

This blog will not get you to your dream destination or promise you some fairytale ending but it will allow you to easily leave the country and get outside of your daily grind long enough to understand how important travel really is.  My best recommendation for the very first trip is to pick a place in Western Europe. I would recommend a non-English speaking country honestly. If you want English you can go to the Bahamas or Hawaii. If you want deep rooted culture and an experience that you will absolutely never forget go to Germany, Spain, Italy, Norway, Sweden or someplace like this.  They speak enough English that you will not be completely lost but you will have to try to understand their language a little in order to make your stay memorable. You can pick a large city (recommended for the flight) but the wanderings should be a little outside of those cities. This is where the real magic lies. Pick a time of year that has suitable weather for your liking of course.  Off-season travel is usually cheaper so try to plan around regular vacation times. Bring enough clothing to get you through a week. I wouldn’t take much more than that unless you really feel the need. Try to keep an open mind about everything and anything.

 

The shortlist for international travel:

 

1) get your passport now.  It can take 4-8 weeks to get a passport in the mail.  There are services that will do expedited passports in a couple days.  Be prepared to pay a fee upwards of $500 for this type of rush delivery.  Ensure you have the proper forms, fees, photos, and identification in order to get a passport.  You can acquire a passport from your local post office.

 

2) TravelEx service will get you an international debit card you can load with all the major currencies.  Their exchange rates are not that great but you can manage your account and load money with their app. Sorry for those who are not US citizens. You can get a card on the spot at your local TravelEx kiosk or find them at any major airport.  If you do want to use your own normal bank card make sure you inform your bank that you are traveling outside of the US, otherwise they will block your card. I would also suggest exchanging some cash currency to carry as a backup.

 

3) Go to any Walmart and get some travel adapters or look online for a bag of them.  Yes, a bag of them. They will be handy when you need power. Also look at your devices to see if they support 100-250V range of power.  Most countries outside of the US have strange plugs and only provide 220-250V power.

 

4) Get a copy of your updated shot records in case anything happens.  The international vaccination booklet is a yellow pamphlet the size of a passport.  It is easily recognized in most countries.

 

5) Most cell phone providers will offer you international plans but my personal experience has been marginal.  They all charge too much money for what they provide. My best options so far have been to take an unlocked cell phone and buy a rechargeable sim card once you land or get something like Google’s Project Fi.  Project Fi is a newer service which utilizes a combination of Sprint/Tmobile/Verizon networks in the USA. Outside of the USA, they offer coverage in over 130 countries. Data and messaging will cost the same as if you were using it in the United States.  Phone calls will vary from country to country. They also have a price cap at $60 meaning any data usage above $60 is free. You will have to buy a Project Fi compatible phone to use their service (or hack the chip and put it on your iPhone like I did).

 

6) PROTIP WhatsApp.  Hands-down, the best international messaging service ever created.  I have used it in Germany prior to their $16B Facebook exit in 2014. Since then they have added video call features along with many additional features.  It is my go-to app for calling and messaging people all over the world no matter where I am. Couple it with Project Fi and you will have absolutely minimal connectivity interruptions when trying to call loved ones back home while you are abroad.  I use it religiously to call my girl and my kids as well as sending them pictures and voice messages.

 

The bottom line for all of this is, get out of the house and explore.  It will change your worldview and allow you to have a better overall perspective of the people around you.  You will find yourself expanding your own horizons and gaining insight into how our world operates. You will also find yourself along the way.  Be observant and be open to new experience. Learn some languages along the way. Learn to love the aimless wandering. Learn to relax and slow down.  Last but not least, stop and smell the roses (or tulips if you find yourself in Amsterdam). I hope I have been able to unscrew the mystery of travel and getting outside of your comfort zone.

 

Farewell


Also published on Medium.

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Dont forget to leave me something to chew on after you have gone back to your normal life.. and I stay here inside the matrix. ;-)