If you travel enough, you don’t actually identify with being from a place. You don’t say ‘Oh, I’m an American’ You say ‘I’m from America’. This may seem like semantics but, the more you stop identifying being a certain person from a certain place, you can let go of any ego and just be of the world. When you do that, you just experience. You experience everything with an open perspective and no expectations at all. You appreciate everything about a place. From the cracks in the sidewalks to the old ladies yelling at each other to the horse galloping down a deserted cobblestone road.
You notice the wind. The way it rolls across you and causes your eyes to close at it’s chill. You notice how good the coffee is (It probably is no different than most other places, especially since I add milk to mine!) simply because you had to seek it. You weren’t able to just press a button in your kitchen when you woke up. You had to get dressed, go on a walk, feeling the morning sun, find a cafe and speak in a different language just to get that cup of coffee. When there is a process, you appreciate the end result.
You really, really appreciate it. And you feel fortunate just for having that moment. For being able to just give money in exchange for something that will mean so much to your morning routine. And, when you feel fortunate for things so small, you really start to understand travel, and life in general, so much better. These are the experiences that, though small, gently begin to unravel the tightly bound ego that we all have before we give ourselves to spontaneous travel, just to experience culture. We all must unravel this ego because, when we do, we will begin treating each other as humans again. Not as Americans, or Canadians, or white, or black, or even seeing race at all.
Or even seeing poverty at all. When we are able to treat each other like this again, we notice much bigger things that those discriminatory factors… We notice things like kindness, respect, honestly… joy. And when we see joy flowing freely from someone who has so little (in a worldly definition), we are immediately awakened to realizing how much we have, and how great our responsibility is to give back. To give freely because we have so much. To give joyously because it can bring joy to someone else.
When you travel spontaneously, you must truly give up any idea of what a place will be, or how the people will act or treat you. If I’ve learned anything crucial, it is that people are relatively the same, no matter where you go. Universal language speaks above anything else. The important words of universal language are treating people with great respect. Smiling as you walk past them. Trying to learn their language and speak to them in light sentences that show you are happy to be in their culture, and are trying to understand and learn it as best as you can. Being fair and, even more than that, giving freely when able to. Much as in the same as when I approach strangers and ask for their photographs, people feel my vulnerability in worldwide travels and are quick to demonstrate trust and love to make me feel welcome. I have had this everywhere I have gone. Literally every culture, every country, even in the darkest moments of poverty or despair. People instantly can tell that I am there without judgement or preconception (as best as I am able to - I am far from perfect), and quickly begin to make me feel welcome, and at home. As best as I am able to, I never discuss being an American, as I always want this to be an objective demonstration of peace.
It is wise to know the political situations of countries, and to definitely learn things that are offensive to the people there. You never want to go ignorantly into a culture and do something that is offensive, as this will always lengthen the space between you and the locals. Know how the police operate (and if they can be trusted), learn how the buses/trains work, how money works, etc. Should you plan on having interactions with police (they hassle you/want bribes - if so, what do they normally want, and should you give it to them?) I think it is smart to have an idea on how much crime there is in a certain country/city, but it is important to only look at the hard numbers on this. People will skew heavily on personal experiences and more people will talk about the negative experience, than those who will talk about the positives. One time someone got mugged is important to know, but in the grand scheme of probability, if there are tens of thousands of people walking around, this is not as relevant, and can just cause you to walk around in fear, when it is unwarranted. As in all places in the world, it is always best to keep a low-profile and just be gentle, and not show any wealth if possible (i.e. walking around with a camera around your neck). Yes, to not stick out, but also to not show off in a culture that might barely have the basics of living.
Remember, give more than you take. Always.
If you truly cannot speak the language, it is okay. Don’t wait to go to a place before you can because this can lead to waiting WAY too long to go and visit somewhere. Instead, learn the basics like ‘Hello’ ‘Please’ ’How are you?’ (And the response, because they will always ask how you are too) ‘Could I have x’ ‘Thank you’ ‘Coffee’ ‘Water’ ‘Bathroom’, and then, make sure you know how to say ‘How do I say X’ You can say this and point at things and it is a very quick way for me to learn how to say all kinds of useful words by association with an image and word.
Throw yourself into a culture - vulnerable, objective and not knowing the area around you.
Throw yourself into this culture with vivacious curiosity and an open perspective and you will be changed. You will have to seek out that which you are looking for. If you are looking to feel more comfortable in your area (by knowing it better), you will explore down every street. In exploring these streets, you will stumble upon small restaurants or music clubs you would have never otherwise found. Stop at all of these places, if even for a coffee or beer.
You will be absolutely astounded to how brilliant you are. Your mind is intensely aware and focused on the foreignness of your given situation, and how truly vulnerable you are. You are not auto-piloting down random streets, yet quite the opposite. Your eyes scan every detail, noticing the beauty, noticing the faces, noticing sounds and the smells. You think about the conversations you are hearing. You look up. Down. Left. Right. Everywhere. You are curious and you want to see everything. And, through the brilliance of your mind, you will also remember how to get back where you started… Even if you walked down a hundred random streets. Because you have been aware this whole time, you brain remembers things as small as a broken window, the smell of bread coming from a kitchen on a corner, a parked car… It remembers these things and navigates you back to where you came from, without you even needing to overtly memorize these things. You know how you say ‘I couldn’t get anywhere without my GPS!’ This is of course because we depend solely on this to know where to go, so our brain knows it does not need to pay attention (i.e. transactive memory)
You are aware. You are intensely alive. And you feel it in every step.
And powerful inspiration comes from this feeling of being so aware, and alive. Vividly seeing the world for as it is, for people as it is, allows your perspective to shift and see beauty in just about everything. For it is different than what you are used to and, in that alone, you find it see it with its own beauty.
And when deal with people so much, so intimately, you develop a great deal of trust in yourself, and in your own ability to accurately read and understand situations. Especially with people.
You’re not tired, even though you may have walked 15 kilometers. You are not hungry, even though you may not have eaten since breakfast that morning. But, when you come across a small restaurant and the smell hits you, you might stop for the experience and it’s not until you sit that you realize how hungry you truly are.
You are engaged.
And, while you are, experience everything. There truly are no rules to this. If you want to stop and read a book for an hour, do it, and don’t feel any guilt for doing it. If you want to climb a cliff for a different perspective of a city, do it. If you want to take a nap, take a nap. If you want to have a mojito, have a mojito. If you want to eat something, don’t look at the time of the day, just eat something and enjoy every bite.
And these trips and experiences change you forever for one simple reason (on top of many): You realize that all of the things you have - your computer, your phone, your house, your car… etc… - mean absolutely nothing in these moments. They can’t help you in any way… And they wouldn’t add to the magic of this experience in any way. You are grateful for the money that is in your pocket because it allows you to experience this culture to the fullest… Whether it be with food, drink, music, etc… But your love for money stops there because you realize it is only a tool for these things. In those moments, you truly realize how little money you need to create the happiness you want right then and that feeling forever stays with you. Life begins to be less of a race for more and more money, and much more of a race for more and more experience.
And people will say ‘But Adam, I need X amount of money because of these bills or these things…’ You have complicated your life. You have made it so much more difficult to be happy. But you have not made it impossible. Focus everything you can on getting out of debt so that money can never define what you can or cannot do. Get out of debt. Sell the things that weigh you down. Jack Kerouac once said ‘If you own a rug, you own too much.’
Now, if there is one things I have learned from so much travel also, it is that there is tremendous beauty and value in having roots in a place. In having a foundation, and a home base. I am not telling you to get rid of everything you have to just travel endlessly. Quite the opposite actually. For a home base is a necessity of truly valuing new experience by balancing it with a comfortable life that brings you contentment. I am merely saying to simplify your life. Simplify the things that make it difficult to be completely free when you need to be. If you are working a job that doesn’t allow you any time to balance your life with spontaneity, save all of your money and begin transitioning into a life where you are not as dependent on money, if possible. Downgrade your cell phone. Cancel your cable bill. Sell your new car and get a used one that you can pay off (or has lower monthly payments). You will still need a way to generate income but, by having less dependency on making money to continue the life you have, you will be able to have much more personal freedom on creating the life that is most meaningful to you.
Stop thinking that you have to be comfortable all the time. You’ve been lied to. That’s not something that is a given, and much more, not something that we need to be happy. We are all strong, independent people and capable of making very intelligent decisions in an instant, if we need to. We all have tremendous skills and attributes that allow us to be a value to those around us, as well as feel confidence in just being ourselves and nothing more. By losing the perspective that you always need to be comfortable and feel 100% safe all the time, you will truly begin growing tremendous self-confidence in what you are capable of. By navigating completely spontaneous situations in foreign places, with nothing more than your knowledge, allows you to really remind yourself the education you have inside of you, and that you know how to apply it when needed.
This part of the trip changes you forever because you bring that understanding back to your normal life. That job that seemed so complicated really wasn’t at all… You were just looking at it the same way over and over again, and so you kept approaching it the same way. But now you have a new perspective and it makes a lot more sense.
That complicated relationship you’ve been in? Where you’ve been hitting a wall for the last few months and not breaking through? You now see that you have just been approaching this with the same level of thinking also. Your repeated attempts to ‘evolve’ the conversation was really just the same argument disguised in different words. Now, you are able to step away from it enough to see it objectively, and see more than just the words that are being said by your significant other. You see between the lines. You see the way she is saying these things, her body language, her eye contact. When you see it this way, you see that she is just scared and her strong-willed argument is nothing more than an insecurity that you may no longer love her. You drop the walls, embrace her tightly and tell her you love her. And she drops her walls immediately too. She feels your vulnerability, and knows she can trust you.
Specialization is not something we are supposed to focus on. We are meant to be intelligent in a wide array of different skill sets, that allows us to be put into countless new situations and usually have an idea of how to proceed. In the times where we do not know how to proceed, we can have more confidence in knowing we can find a way to communicate that will help us.
I really believe that travel must take place in two parts. The trips you take by yourself, and the trips you take with someone special. On the trips you take by yourself, you are engaged in everything around you, and must seek out connection and conversation if you desire it. You do not have to compromise and can go wherever you’d like, whenever you’d like, for any reason at all. There’s no one but you guiding the ship. This is necessary to ensure a pure level of spontaneity.
But there will be trips when it’s important you’re with someone special to ensure a complete and fulfilled feeling at moments. Trips that you’re by yourself can be exhilarating but love is every bit as much a part of travel, and to truly feel how special a place is, it’s very helpful to share those moments of bliss with someone else. For shared moments are the happy ones… The ones that you don’t need to explain or define to anyone else, for you vividly know how you feel in that moment next to someone else. The special conversations that take place in the brilliant moments of emotion in between significant experiences are very unique and full of their own beauty, regardless of where they take place. And trips that involve someone significant also allow you to combine that intense vulnerability with a feeling of being safe, just by knowing the person you’re falling asleep next to.
Thank you for reading!