How to Travel: 15 Contrarian Rules
Written by 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?
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, 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.
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)
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.
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?)
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.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. Stay in weird hotels. Sometimes they can suck but the story is usually worth it. A few favorites: A hotel that was actually an early 20th-century luxury train car or a castle in Germany.
11. Read the historical markers – ACTUALLY read them, don’t skim. They tend to tell you interesting stuff.
12. 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 etc.)
13. Go see weird stuff. 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?)
14. 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.
15. 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)
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.
So ask: Do you deserve this trip? Ask yourself that honestly. Am I actually in a place to get something out of this?
These rules and tricks have helped make that possible, and maybe they’ll work for you, too.
Notes on the text:
to be compelled to something – быть вынужденным что-то делать
flyer miles – бонусные мили
to hit the road – отправиться в путь, пуститься в дорогу
penny pinching - мелочная экономия
to unplug - отключиться
In the vein of – в духе чего-либо
to counteract the impulse – перебороть импульс
to pull up Wikipedia – букв. «доставать» Википедию, то есть вычитывать материал из нее
to mention something in passing – упомянуть о чем-либо мимоходом
to head out for a late dinner – отправиться поужинать
scrambled, exhausted and inefficient – разбитый, уставший и ни на что неспособный
externality – внешние факторы
something sucks – что-то является плохим
ex. 1 Practice the pronunciation of the words from the article. When in doubt check the transcription in the dictionary.
contrarian, stoic philosopher, resort, spectacle, pursue, squeeze, controversial, criteria, cuisine, superficial, exhausted, externality, enormous, temptation
ex. 2 Give English definitions to the vocabulary. Make your own sentences with these words.
to put effort and time into something
to benefit from something
to be dissatisfied with something
to figure out
to ignore temptation
ex. 3 Challenge or support the following:
1. Our problems are not the fault of the places but of ourselves.
2. You can improve yourself and your life closer to home and not further.
3. If you’re bringing that much stuff with you, you’re doing something wrong.
4. You have to avoid guidebooks.
5. You have to visit weird places and do weird stuff.
6. Do not tell everyone about your trip and do not spend months planning it.
ex. 4 Quote from the text to prove that:
1. People travel because they want to flee themselves
2. Going to a given famous place is not an accomplishment in and of itself.
3. It's wrong to go somewhere just to take photos.
4. You shouldn't recline your seat on an airplane.
5. Do not pack things you can buy in the country you are visiting.
ex. 5 Answer the questions:
1. Do you agree with the author when he says that people travel because they want to "flee themselves"?
2. Why do you travel?
3. What does the author mean by saying "There are just as many fools living in Rome as there are at home."
4. Do you take a lot of photos when you travel?
5. Do you agree that travelling is the chance to switch off your phone and enjoy long walks and reading books?
6. Do you try to find out more about the place you are planning to visit, its landmarks and history?
7. Do you try to eat healthy when you travel? Do you try a local cuisine?
8. Do you also find it useful to come up with a schedule during your stay in a different country?
9. Do you enjoy finding out weird things about new countries and seeing strange places there instead of famous “must-see” tourist attractions?
10. Do you spend a lot of time planning your trips? Have you ever been disappointed by long-planned vacations abroad?
11. Which of these criteria you agree and find helpful?
12. What is your advice for people who travel?