The Worst Way To Travel

Did you ever notice when you go somewhere new, everything is a bit less convenient than it is in your daily life? You’re constantly unpacking and repacking, your daily routine is completely scattered, and even the smallest decisions require extra thought and/or planning?

Sometimes, depending on where you’re going, people don’t speak the same language as you, the electrical outlets don’t accommodate your phone charger, the foods you like to eat are hard to find (or nonexistent), and you can’t read any of the signs. Daily life is … difficult, isn’t it?

Here’s a strategy for missing out on the point of travel: Try to re-create your “normal life” in every way possible, and expect that it will make you happy. Symptoms of this strategy include enormous suitcases full of things to ease anxieties, and feelings of frustration, homesickness, and disappointment.

You can travel to a lot of places in the world and get your morning coffee at a Starbucks and your lunch at a McDonald’s, find a lot of the same chain restaurants, and some of the same products (Coke, Doritos). You can also travel to a lot of places in the world and get frustrated when you can’t find a cheeseburger, or that they don’t understand English, or that people drive on the “wrong” side of the road. This would be a rather pessimistic way to experience a new place.

So what’s the point of traveling? One way to think about it might be that it’s a way to discover that you aren’t the center of the universe, and that the world doesn’t revolve around your needs and desires. In fact, there are places in the world that don’t even recognize large parts of your home culture, let alone revolve around it.

We all talk about the idea of “getting out of your comfort zone.” What does that actually mean? Does it mean not being able to get an iced mocha frappuccino every morning (or at all)? Flying by the seat of your pants and not making lodging reservations anywhere before you arrive? Learning a bit of a new language, hoping some additional humility, gestures, smiles, and the kindness of strangers will help you get by? Look, I’m not saying you have to chuck your wallet and passport out the window of a cab right after you land in the airport in a new country, but you have to allow yourself some immersion. Do you really want to come home the exact same person you were before you left?

The best travel experiences give you a little discomfort, a little discombobulation, to scramble your routine and give you some perspective. To get yourself to a place where you might bring back some good stories and photos, you have to put yourself a little at the mercy of the universe.

All your flights will not be on time. Things will not always go according to your idea of what a trip should be. If you try to schedule everything down to the hour, it will likely disintegrate at some point, and even if it doesn’t, you’re not allowing yourself any time to simply exist somewhere. You can’t control everything, so you might as well learn to embrace some of the chaos.