Inspiring travel — travel which means more than simply ticking a place off a list, travel which asks questions, of you and of the world, and brings answers you might not have expected — is definitely a skill which you can learn and polish before you even leave the comfort of your own home.
If you are waiting to head off on adventure, whether as a digital nomad, a slow traveller, someone working with location independence, or perhaps planning an epic round-the-world route, then there are many things you can already do from your own home to make your journey more enriching.
In this piece, I share ideas to help you make more of your travels, with an emphasis on learning the skills to enrich every step and moment of a forthcoming journey, before you even set off on your grand adventure. I would argue that the best place to first learn how to get the most out of global travel (or continental, regional, or even local) is at home. (And what home means for you might be different to what it means to someone else.)
Once you have these skills, they only become better with miles and age, as you hone them, making them work for you. We are all different, and taking an idea and hacking it to make it your own is an exceedingly useful skill.
Table of Contents:
- What is your home?
- Inspiring Travel 1: Expect change
- How well do you know your local patch?
- Never underestimate your observations
- Inspiring Travel 2: Discover your joy
- Tales of adventure
- A surprising benefit
- Inspiring Travel 3: Talk to people
- Inspiring travel practice pointers
- Inspiring Travel 4: Consider your luck
- A little work now…
What is your home?
If you are in a place you feel you know well, with a depth of personal history tied into every building, tree, or street corner, then you probably feel comfortable. (Maybe you call it home?) You know where to get a good coffee, where to eat, how to get the best bargains on your grocery shopping, or even which streets to avoid after dark. However, if you are planning on leaving this place for travel — especially a vast, potentially never-ending journey— then it is likely you are also feeling a certain level of discomfort.
Some people feel comfortable never leaving their birthplace, or the place they were raised — and it is important to realise there is nothing wrong with this. Please don’t be one of those people who rail against those who never step beyond the county boundary — difference is one of the things what makes our species so wonderful, and learning to celebrate this is important to us all. It is, after all, an excellent reason to travel — and you might well discover that those who never leave their home are also the very best hosts and guides, willing and eager to share their locale.
It might seem a strange place to discuss this, but I think it is a point worth mentioning from the start. When you do return from an adventure to visit home, don’t be one of those people who aggressively evangelise travel, making others feel uncomfortable, or even attacked. If someone wants to stay home, that is their choice, not yours. There are plenty of others who will be more than willing to listen to your tales.
Finding a balance between the desire to share your experience and joy of travel, and knowing when to be quiet can be hard. Sometimes, the best thing to do when you visit home is to shut up and LISTEN. Not only to others, but also to your own, internal voice. Don’t expect to be able to slip back into old habits smoothly, or easily. You may find that some friends struggle to talk to you, and you may find yourself in a similar, disquieting, position, running out of common ground.
Big change, such as leaving for an epic adventure, can lead to a growth which alters you and your relationships.
How well do you know your local patch?
But do you know your local area well? Really well? Or are you carrying the depth and weight of memory from the years you have spent there? Perhaps some things have crept past you, unnoticed? Try and look at each place again, with fresh eyes, all the while considering — how would your neighbourhood, town, village, or county look to someone visiting? Imagine you meet someone on your travels, fall in love, and bring them back to see your family and friends. Where would you go? What would you do? What about eating out? Try and regain your inner child — that sense of sheer curiosity about everything. Leave no stone unturned.
The next step is to write down answers to these questions — begin to take notes, long before you head off to exotic (to you) locations.
Now, consider costs. If you are going to travel on a budget (and, believe me, everyone should — even if you think you have spare cash, the vast majority of us could do with being less profligate), then what would you do differently in your home patch, if you were bringing home that hypothetical partner? If the restaurant you had been considering two paragraphs earlier was now too expensive to justify, what alternatives are there? How about street food, takeaways/take-outs — what options are there? Are any of them healthy, or are they all dripping in grease (oh, but I DO miss [these days, gluten-free] Scottish fish and chips…)?
Continuing this theme of food as an example, keep taking your notes, making your observations. If you walk to work, perhaps to a job where you’ve already handed your notice in and are simply awaiting the date of your coming flight, then write down (or use your phone to record a voice note) what you smell on the way.
Does somewhere always smell of fresh bread, or perhaps oil for frying those fish and chips? What do people grab to eat for breakfast, and can you smell that? Do these things come with a sound, the hiss of a coffee machine, or the crackle of freshly broken eggs on a hot surface? When you eat them, or hold them, how do they feel in your mouth or hands? How do they taste? What is the difference between the coffee from that chain, or that local shop? Can you put it into words? When someone asks you to name and describe a local dish from where you come from, can you tell them? Can you cook it for them? (Again, with the fish and chips?!)
Never underestimate your observations
All of the above may seem to be directed at those (perhaps you?) who want to consider travel blogging or travel writing, but I think these ideas are useful for anyone. Noting details down — and do note, the mind quickly forgets things (what did you eat for lunch last Tuesday? What about dinner the Wednesday before that?). By noting, you will also fix the memory in your head, a few words all that is needed to recall a place or event. Writing also serves to help you see places, people, and cultures in a deeper way, able to return to them at a later date. Perhaps material to draw on for a book, vlog, or podcast.
Do not underestimate the wider, future value of your observations either. It can be hard to think of ourselves in years to come, old and perhaps frail, but having a library of diaries, of notebooks, of photos, scrapbooks and shadow boxes to draw on will be an inspiring positive: a record of time well spent. Imagine telling a younger relative what it was like to visit somewhere in the 20s, perhaps fifty, sixty, or even seventy years into the future. Sadly, it is not outside the realm of possibility that you could visit and live a while on an island or in a city which has, by the 2070s, disappeared beneath a rising ocean. Your personal record is unique and invaluable, never think it is not.
Considering the future friends you have yet to find, or family you have yet to meet, and what you will tell them, is also a fun way to pass that notice period, or the hours you spend working three jobs to save enough initial cash to make the break to a remote work lifestyle.
You are a traveller, a voyager. Not a tourist. You are going on an adventure, not a holiday. Get into these habits and they will serve you well, and looking at wherever you are now with fresh senses is the perfect apprenticeship.
Discover your joy
Be very careful with the idea of the exotic, of being the first to ‘find’ a place. Don’t be a coloniser, don’t be one of THOSE people who ‘discover’ a place, or a dish. I can guarantee you someone else (many many thousands of others) have already ‘discovered’ it, including those who actually live there or have eaten that dish for hundreds of years.
A paradise to visit, perhaps somewhere with white sands and palms, cocktails, and delicious food, is simply home to someone else — often a home without the amenities or modern comforts you are used to.
This does not mean you cannot share the wonder of these things with friends, family, or strangers — just be careful how you do so, what words you choose. Sharing your own joy, your own wonder, is also arguably more authentic and engaging than trying to pass off something as a new discovery for the western world. You are not Marco Polo, (apocryphally) bringing back dried noodles and allegedly creating pasta. You are not Walter Raleigh, (also legendarily) importing potatoes from the Americas to Europe.
(Do keep a note of what you eat, and how you felt about each meal; it can be very useful to refer back to later.)
Tales of adventure
My first direct experience of inspiring travel was with two friends I worked with a LONG time ago, when I was working at a banking and mortgage company, before I went back to university to study Archaeology and Prehistory.
In the office were two women, who never came out for after-work drinks, who always had packed lunches instead of heading to the pub for a meal (and more drinks). They each had other jobs too, bar work in the evenings and retail work at the weekends. When I met them, they had just come back from several months travelling through SE Asia and on to Australia and New Zealand. They wanted to go back, for longer, and were working very, very hard to do so.
I have since lost touch with them both, but the lesson they taught me stuck — they had a goal, and they were not afraid to sacrifice the things the rest of us took for granted. Each had fascinating tales of inspiring travel, of full moon parties, of driving across Australia, of the food they ate and how little it cost, of dust and flies and spiders, of sleeping in cars or simple beach-side bungalows.
They did not force these tales on anyone, but only discussed them when asked (and ask, I did, eagerly devouring every little morsel of their adventure). A short time before this, myself and a friend had idly talked of moving to Berlin. I often wonder what path my life would have taken had we done so (I don’t, however, regret this, as I see little point in regretting things I cannot change — and there’s no point in regretting things we haven’t yet done, either, just make sure you work out how to do them if you really want to!).
I think it was whilst working for that company that I truly set my mind on heading out to see more of the world and to therefore ‘discover’ more about myself. It was to take me a long, long time before I finally did because, well, life happens to us all.
Throughout all that time however, as I waited and worked, I knew I would leave my home nation at some point, and I knew I needed to look at each place I lived through the eyes of the traveller. It is a habit which has never left me, probably aided by the fact I also look at the world through the eyes of a writer, which helps immeasurably. In many ways, writers are travellers. Even if they never leave that comfort of their own home, they set out on journeys through words and time, and they rarely know where they will wash up when they start writing (or where their words will end up).
A surprising benefit
One benefit to observing, questioning and recording which, with hindsight seems obvious, but before I left I did not consider of these skills is that of negating culture shock.
Sometimes, you can arrive in a country and feel overwhelmed by just how different everything seems to be: surrounded by noises you do not know, a different climate, voices you do not understand and food you have never seen before, let alone tasted. One additional benefit to observing, questioning and recording (which I did not consider before leaving) is to help negate this sense of culture shock. By teaching yourself to observe the details, examine the wiring beneath the board, you not only see the differences and learn to appreciate them, but you also see the things which are the same as home, wherever or whatever home is to you.
If you are struggling to make a locational change, it can be a surprising comfort to find a brand you are familiar with, or hear your language spoken by another, for example. For me, I also found seeing birds I knew from home, on the other side of the world, was settling. As are dogs and cats, of course — they all speak the same, international, canine or feline language.
And, do not forget — people are people. We may have different tongues but we all have the same basic needs, and the vast, vast majority of us are welcoming, kind, and curious, rather than cruel or dangerous. It can be easy to be sucked into the whole ‘us versus them’ nonsense: don’t let it get you.
Talk to people
Wherever you are in the world, try and talk to people, especially those older than yourself who have a lot of gathered wisdom and knowledge to share. Record their thoughts and your conversations and think upon them later, consider their words. When I left my last ‘proper’ job, more than a decade ago, I had a conversation with an old man on a train, as I prepared to head out into the woods for months, alone.
I told him my rough plan, talked about how I had left my job and home in search of something else, something different, not to pit myself against nature, but to work with it, to test my own abilities, to try and understand what it means to be a human in the hills and along the coast, for many weeks, solo.
He listened carefully, then he replied, nodding sharply to himself before doing so.
‘What you are doing is banking memories. When you are my age, you will be able to draw on them,’ he paused and looked back out of the window, and I knew he was doing precisely that. (Read a little more about this inspiring travel adventure.)
Talk to people, note your conversations, and bank those memories.
Inspiring travel practice pointers
Other things you can do before leaving include the following, in no particular order. There are more, many more, but these should give you an excellent head start:
- Read novels set where you are going, or written by someone from that location. Similarly with poetry — you can learn a lot about a place and people through poems.
- Read respected travel blogs or travel writers who have already been. Do not neglect older travel writing too; find a book and read it, so you can see what has changed, or what is still the same.
- Read blogs of those who LIVE there, especially if it is their birthplace. Access to the internet means we can all share our stories, even when nations try to block that access it can still be possible for enterprising individuals to tell their story.
- Similarly, find people on social media who live where you are planning to go (permanently or temporarily), on twitter, Hive Social, or the similarly-named Hive blockchain, for example. People who you can follow and learn from, asking questions when needed. (You are also more likely to find out the smaller details of life from social media — which phone company is good, which electricity provider a rip off…)
- Talk to those who have already been to a destination you are considering — read their blogs, trawl their social media. Bloggers are an approachable lot and usually only too willing to help. Although I am not the world’s biggest fan of Facebook, their group feature is sadly very useful too (as are Slack or Discord channels, Reddit, Nomad List, and other communities and forums).
- Listen to the music from that place. This is not to be underestimated. Not just the modern pop or radio-friendly tunes, but also the more traditional music — the Rough Guide series is perfect for an introduction (and if you are a music aficionado, it is a rabbit hole from which you’ll never climb out…). You may well find something you love this way, something you’d have never heard had you not sought it out — my own tastes in music are ridiculously eclectic, and this method has given me much joy over the years.
- What about movies, or TV shows? Podcasts? Radio?
- Write a list of questions you’d ask a local about their home. (A good way to check you are being careful and sensitive with these is to consider how YOU would answer them, and how the questions would make you feel? This is also a good place to pause and think about different ideas of living, especially poverty — for example, I once read a piece by a Californian travel blogger, talking of how poor the people in India are whilst never once mentioning the huge tent cities on their own streets — their own home. Stop, and think.)
- Learn a few words and phrases in the local language, Duolingo is good for this (as this is published, I have been using it for many years and have just completed a 365 day streak in French, previously also learning Spanish, Portuguese, and German, as well as checking out some basics in several other languages). There are other apps, sites, books and methods to consider too, a topic I will return to in another post.
- I will also return to other more technical things I would recommend you do before leaving, such as creating an account with Wise, in order to be able to receive, convert, and transfer money internationally, with relative ease. Or how to find an excellent host for a website to share your adventures (I currently use Dreamhost and love them, but have tried several others). I’ll talk more about these soon.
We live in a world connected as never before and, with a little work and ingenuity, you can begin your voyage before you go. Ease of communication opens up the globe — it makes it possible for people to travel who previously might not have considered it, especially for those of us lucky enough to have powerful passports.
Consider your luck…
And this last point is important — do not head to a destination without considering and understanding your situation: both personal and national. Can the locals wherever you go do the same in reverse? Or do they need a hard or impossible to get visa to visit your nation? In some places, certain groups can’t even cross internal regional borders with the papers they possess, if they even have papers.
I did not know that before I left my own home. Imagine if you are from the US or UK and you were not allowed to visit a neighbouring state or county! How would that make you feel towards travellers who could pass through merrily, with no problems at all? What about money, how many months’ or years’ wages would a flight to your home cost them? Asking these questions will allow you to be more sensitive and to actually begin to consider people as people.
It is also much better for you, helping you grow and, potentially, enabling the world to be made into a better place.
A little work now…
I strongly suggest that if you are thinking of long voyages, or remote work, location independence, or digital nomadism, then you begin to implement these habits now. I cannot stress this enough. Locking in a habit takes time and it takes effort. Often, it also takes several false starts. Keep going, keep trying — if you want it hard enough, you will develop these habits, discovering they are much, much harder to lose than they were to gain. If you can gain a habit before you head out into the world, you will also find the process easier — once out there, it becomes tougher (but not impossible).
Inspiring travel is tiring — it is work, after all — but, by following some of the ideas above, you should be able to ease that exhaustion and combat any extreme culture shock, especially if you implement them before you head off from your own home. A little hard work now goes a long way in the future and, when you do go on your own adventures, you will absorb much more detail through your practice and habit, learning much more about the world we live in — and, ultimately, about yourself.
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by Alexander M Crow
Not a travel writer, but a writer who travels. A writer’s notebook of sorts: nature, culture, words and kindness. Stories crafted with a nomadic heart and wandering feet. Sometimes actually is a travel writer. Globally feral. A little bit Snufkin.
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