Accomplishment is essential in travel. Move through the world long enough and those feelings of all-encompassing freedom, absolute self-determination, and the love of leisure will provide ever diminishing returns if not spliced with action, creation, and accomplishment.
The joys of life are often found in the extremes, and perpetual travel is a relatively extreme — as in not very ordinary — lifestyle. When on the road you have the freedom to sit around all day doing nothing if you chose while also having the means to engage in big projects, work with diverse groups of people, and attempt to do just about anything you can dream up. Like so, this lifestyle is often a bounce between these two extremes, with one feeding the boomerang back to the other. It is my impression that those who are busy tend to dream about lazy days on beaches with nothing to do but throw monkeys at coconuts, but those lazing about for too long will often dream about engaging themselves and accomplishing something. Travel can give you both, and life stays balanced and interesting this way..
This article is about one side of this duality.
There is a problem with recreational travel, and it’s the simple fact that it is an incredibly repetitive lifestyle. You show up in a town, you find a hotel, find a restaurant, go to a museum/ temple/ tourist attraction, go and drink tea or coffee or beer somewhere, have the same conversations for the 1,000th time, go back to the hotel, wake up the next morning, get on a train, go the the next town, and repeat. As you’re uprooting yourself regularly it’s difficult to achieve any measure of experiential depth. Sure, what you’re experiencing is amazing, but it often feels like you’re just perpetually scratching its surface. If you travel long enough, that stream of places you leave behind can seem like one long, magnificent blur if you didn’t make something of being in them. For some, just going places is accomplishment enough; but for others, more of a return is needed.
While beginning as an escape, travel can eventually end up a trap. A trap of listlessness, redundancy, laziness. A trap where even the most amazing things, experiences, and places don’t seem to have as deep of an impact as it seems they should. When in this trap many travelers seem to feel that there is something wrong with them, that they are not cut out for this lifestyle, that they should give up their world traveler card long before it is set to expire.
But there is nothing wrong with these people, it’s just the kind of animal they are. For the most part, humans are not listless creatures. Basic survival is not enough. We need to build, collect, create, learn, cultivate, accomplish — and be able to tangibly see the results of this action. We need to see the output from our input of time, we need to acquire, grow, change, master. Pascal said that all of man’s miseries result from his inability to sit still in a room, and this is half way true: what he left out was that all of man’s masterpieces, feats, and happiness are also the results of the same inability.
Travel isn’t just about where you go, it’s about what you gain. Travel is a collection. It’s a collection of observations, experiences, conversations, learning, knowledge, and memories. Going places is the mechanism to get the wheels of experience, learning, observation, mental and physical stimulation spinning, but being able to consolidate and build upon these gains is essential. Seeing places is neat, but creating something feels better.
Many aspiring perpetual travelers hit a wall at some point early on in their journey. Too much of their preparation and planning was focused on where they wanted to go, not on what they are wanted to accomplish when they got there. The wall is the “do something or go home” point in travel, it’s what happens when the realization hits that just going places may not be enough, that you may be wasting time, that you could be accomplishing more somewhere else, that you need to do something.
“Travel is fun and all, but I’m just not doing anything here.”
I can’t say how many times I’ve heard someone say that to me. My only response is, “Why aren’t you doing something?”
If you’re traveling you have the entire world in front of you that you can pluck what you want from. If you want to find out about something, all you have to do is go there. If you want to learn how to do something, find someone that does it and pay them to teach you. If you want to experience something, hone in on it and live it out. If you want to progress in an art, a music, or a trade, traveling is one of the best ways to do so. Don’t travel without a project, having something you continuously build upon and create while on the road is as essential as a passport or plane ticket.
“What do I want to find out?”
This is where my process of accomplishment begins. I try to ask this question more than “Where do I want to go?” or “What do I want to do?,” as I know that if I identify what I want to learn everything else will fall into place. The world is like an oracle, but you have to know what questions you want to ask in order to get any answers.
So what do I want to accomplish? What do I want to learn?
Travel preparation should focus less on where you’re going on more on what you plan to do when you get there.
The more you know about something the more interesting it will become. Getting museum’ed out, getting sick of temples, getting bored of backpacker haunts is normal for most people who travel long term. But these things can become exponentially more intriguing if you know what you’re looking at or have an applied objective behind your visits. Going to places to learn about something in particular, using first hand experience and observation to add to your existing body of knowledge is a far more fruitful strategy than just showing up and expecting to be entertained. Just showing up places is fun at exciting at first, but eventually it can become the high road to disillusionment.
The fact of the matter is that people are not lining up in the streets, just waiting to tell you about their culture and teach you the lessons you set out traveling to learn. It takes work and effort to dive down beneath the surface of a place, acquire information from the people who live there, and use it to build upon your store of knowledge. It’s your responsibility to make something of your travels, and it’s rather easy to do so:
Formulate an objective, start a project, actualize what it is you want to discover, and make it happen. Nothing is stopping you. Nothing is keeping to locked inside the hostel walls, going on tours, and being little more than an itinerant global consumer.
Suggestions for projects
This is a sure shot shortcut to having a deeper experience in a place. Working ties you in with the local community, it gives you a role, it provides you with responsibility for those around you. Working somewhere makes you a little more important: you’re no longer just some vagrant floating through town, you’re a person that people rely on, and the change in the way you’re treated will demonstrate this.
Tourists — and if you’re traveling for just to check places out you’re a tourist — are not respected anywhere, and we probably shouldn’t be: other than the money we spend we’re pretty much irrelevant to the communities we move through. It’s also hard to respect someone who is so moneyed that they don’t need to work. Taking on a job is the fastest way to forming an identity and getting deeper into the places you travel through, and, in a way, it puts you in the same boat as everybody else.
Working is also a mechanism for learning new trades, accessing places that would otherwise be off limits, and getting to know people you would have never met just being a recreational traveler.
Getting a job also breaks the iron walls of isolation that can come from traveling solo for too long. Loneliness, as in the lack of deep, meaningful human interactions is probably the phenomenon that grounds most travelers before becoming PT.
Start a business
Starting a business is one of the most engaging, stimulating, and potentially beneficial projects you can do on the road. Other than the fact that you could potentially make money, starting up a business provides you with major tasks to accomplish every day, it gives you the thrill of risk, and forces you to contact and communicate with people in more involved ways.
Like working, running a business also gives you a role and identity in a place, which often leads to more meaningful interactions with the people there than being just another, faceless, inconsequential tourist. So by running a business, you can be transformed from a wandering drone into the dude who sells soap in the street, the guy who plays guitar in the bars at night, the filmmaker shooting a film, the writer asking everybody foolish questions, the webmaster making websites for local businesses, the masseuse massaging people after they come back from treks, the lady buying up things in the market and reselling them on the internet, the person who hired a team of textile workers to make some product.
The more you show of yourself in travel, the more you reach out and connect with people, the more likely you are to attract others with similar interests, goals, and objectives, which will spiral into an increasing deeper experience of a place.
More on Vagabond Journey: Independent Travel Work Series
Studying is an excellent way to really dive into a place, keep yourself occupied, learn new things, make social connections, tackle projects, and gain skills. Studying a subject or topic in the context that it occurs is one of the best ways to harness that feeling of accomplishment. Finding a teacher and studying language, culture, history, religion, art, or just about thing else is key to making something out of travel. Being a student also provides you with an identity, which is something that is extremely valuable if it is your goal to make friends and integrate yourself into a community a little more:
“Why is this person asking me all kinds of silly questions about my life?”
“Oh, she’s a student.”
There are both formal and informal ways to study on the road. Look into both.
More on Vagabond Journey: Study Abroad
Acquire a skill
Want to learn how to do something? Go to the source and learn it. Travel removes your tether to a particular place, so make the most of it: go right to where people are doing the things you want to learn. Want to learn an art? Find someone who does it. Want to learn an instrument? Go do it. Want to learn a trade? Go to where it’s done and try to get someone to teach you.
It is truly amazing how readily people will teach what they know to other people who are sincere about learning from them.
To put it simply, this world is not full of people going around looking to learn skills, and I have no idea why. This is one of the most valuable ways to use travel.
Are you an artist, a musician, a webmaster, an author? Well, travel gives you ample space, time, and inspiration to work on and develop your art. It also gives you a way of connecting with people who engage in similar pursuits. Some of the most locally integrated and productive travelers that I have ever met were artists/ musicians who embed themselves in related communities wherever they go.
When it comes down to it, travel is a collection of memories, experiences, and knowledge. But it can also be applied to collect more tangile things as well. This website is my collection of geographic and cultural information about the world. It feels good to add to a collection, it’s a similar feeling as accomplishment.
Using travel as a means to add to a collection is another way to use itinerancy productively. From time to time I meet people who travel around the world just adding to their collections. One guy collected extremely odd or antique fixtures, statues, and architectural pieces like doors to add to his house (which he turned into a castle).
Make it somewhere
One of the problems with modern travel is that it’s incredibly easy. You can seriously move from one side of this planet to the other with few challenges. But there are still many place that are difficult to get to, and simply traveling to them is a way to feel as if you’ve accomplished something. There is perhaps no higher physical or mental stimulation than picking a remote place on a map and going there.
What is the value of accomplishment?
Our concept of travel in the West has been co-opted by the tourism industry. We think of travel almost inseparably from recreation, but travel can also be used for learning, exploring, gaining skills and knowledge, commerce, as well as building a project or developing an art.
Completion feels good. Even small accomplishments do the job.
There was once a time when I thought travel would be enough in and of itself. I suppose I was trying to actualize some conception of self-determination or freedom. But once the novelty of going wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted wore off I was left wondering what value my freedom actually had. I was free but I was sort of lonely. I was going to many places, walking around, making acquaintances, but feeling like I was accomplishing very little. I was floating around the world like a puff of smoke, ever moving with the winds but never impacting what I touched.
This wasn’t the way I wanted to live my life. I realized that I needed to do something, but I also knew that I had to keep traveling. So I blended the two, and have been smiling ever since.
Travel is a means to an ends. Everyday I go out in search of information and knowledge, everyday I write, everyday I take photos and video, everyday I load content up to the internet, everyday I feel as if I accomplished something. I’m unsure if writing is my impetuous for travel or if travel is my impetuous for writing, as the two are inseparable at this point. Whatever the case, I’ve found something to chase, I’m no longer in the lead, and it feels good. My life is almost ridiculously simple, but it makes me happy. I found what I was after: a carrot in front of my nose leading me around the world.
More from Vagabond Journey: The Traveler’s Plot Line: How To Make Your Travels Interesting
What other travelers do
Andy: Runs a huge websites, writes articles and books about his travels.
Michael Britton: Paints the places he visits, writes amazing travel stories of Vagabond Journey.
Dave: Runs a popular blog, tries lots of different foods, meets interesting people, researches topics of interests, goes to places most travelers don’t dare go.
MRP: Runs a website, writes, does digital art, has insane adventures worth retelling, screws lots of women.
Felix: Learns foreign languages, teaches, integrates as much as possible with the communities of the places he visits, goes way off the beaten path.
Travel is an occupation where laziness can become sanctified and raised on a pedestal. It’s an occupation where the “F” word gets thrown around as if it’s a status symbol. Freedom means little if you don’t do something with it.
So don’t ask “Where to?” ask “For what?” and actualize your response.