The Art of Travel: How I stopped hating my vacations and loving them instead

Most of us never learn the Art of Travel and we’re worse off for it. For many, taking vacations remains a stressful, painful, and exhausting experience. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Travel is supposed to be relaxing, rejuvenating, and even life-enriching. After all, that’s what “Eat, Pray, Love” taught us, right?  Isn’t travel the antidote to our boring monotonous lives? Anything can happen, adventure is within our reach! Go see the world before it’s too late! Just take the plunge, travel, and you’ll change your life. That’s what Walter Mitty taught me:

But why is it almost never like this for most of us? If you’re like me, you might have waited for the magic to kick in. But at the end of the trip, you’re just left exhausted, and just dying to get back to your normal routine.

It’s because we haven’t given thought to the art of travel.

Over the last 2 years, I’ve not only spent time traveling across the United States, Canada, and India, but I’ve also spent a lot of time talking about it with close friends. One of them is the incredible Valerie Lai, a great friend for ten years who has traveled much of the world solo. After leaving her job and saving enough, she is traveling across South-East Asia and Australia and learning Muay Thai, Mandarin, and flying planes.

Some trips are great, and some are downright miserable and exhausting where I’ve just wanted to just lie down not wake up for 3 days after.

So, what makes travel suck and what can we do about it? Here’s what I’ve learned…

Doing Too Many Things

Ash and Pikachu with a Pokeball
You don’t have to catch ’em all. Incidentally, I have never watched Pokemon in my life.

Your not a Pokemon Trainer! You don’t have to “catch ’em all.”

You don’t have to visit every single place on your list of attractions. There’s no need to party at every club. You don’t have to blow your money on every little trinket. Nor do you have to worry about taking the perfect “authentic” photo with the simple villagers of wherever.

Most people get 2-3 weeks of vacation time. They pick a destination they’ve always wanted to go to. They pick 7-8 highest ranked sights, and then decide to do that. Maybe they’ll go on a guided tour where they hop on a bus, snap a bunch of photos, upload to social media, and go back to the hotel.

And this is all without mentioning the family fights, tension, and exhaustion if we’re traveling with someone. We’re forgetting the long rides cramped in cars waiting, waiting, waiting to get to the main location. By the time we get to the “main attraction,” we’re too exhausted.

In the midst of all that, the desire of not wanting to miss out on any location seems stupid, but

We think travel is move, move, move. The art of the travel teaches us to slow way way down.

Expectations

Like all forms of lust, wanderlust will leave you drained, empty, and looking for the next high or “hit.”

You will be left unsatisfied even when you get to your dream vacation because your expectation will never match reality. And the cure? It will always be somewhere else but where you are.

For the frugal ones, we may even feel dread at seeing all that money spent away on over-priced souvenirs, expensive restaurants to sample “authentic” food, and high admission fees to see a view.

Luxury travel remains a privilege for the affluent class. The rest of us need to budget, and save up for a while to go to our dream destination. Perhaps you’re funding your trips from working full time and saving every penny. Perhaps a tax return or an unexpected bonus is funding your trip.

The art of the travel teaches us that we never need to break the bank to enjoy a new location. It teaches us to spend mindfully, not lustfully.

Showing Off

Group of people looking at Niagara Falls through their Camera distracted from the art of travel.
In trying to look interesting to others, we’ve forgotten to be interested in where we are.

Are you traveling to show others that you visited all these amazing destinations, or because you have a genuine desire to see, experience, feel, touch, and listen to something you’ve never experienced?

It is encouraging to know that more people than ever before are looking to explore the world. People are waking up to the idea that we need to buy experiences, not things. We’re taught to Carpe Diem! because You Only Live Once (YOLO) and we show off how cool we are with #wanderlust, #travel, and #onelove.

But in our urge to show people how interesting we are by traveling, we’ve forgotten to actually be interested in our journey. This isn’t travel, this is growing your social media following. We’re using our snapshots to craft a fairy tale, deluding ourselves into thinking that if others believe the tale, it must be true.

Taking a picture with a caged tiger, bathing a domesticated elephant in South-East Asia, taking a picture with impoverished locals and Instagramming yourself with #bethechange #onelove, doesn’t mean you traveled. Just because you look like a globe-trotting, trend-setting, wanderer, doesn’t mean you are.

Were you actually there? Or were you framing the shot and the caption for your picture? Keeping up appearances is exhausting and burdensome.

The art of travel teaches us to put our phones and cameras away, except for the rare moment that needs to be captured. I promise that the resolution on reality is better than your 12 megapixel phone.

 

The Art of Travel

Man doing yoga on rock overlooking a lake
Good Travel is Good Yoga

Yoga can teach us a lot about the art of travel. When we use yoga’s principles and apply it to travel, we can start to enjoy the relaxing, rejuvenating, and transformative effects of travel.

Breathe

In a yoga class, the breath is always the priority. It’s supposed to be long and flowing. If we find ourselves holding our breath, we’re missing the point. Good teachers will tell you to back off and go into child’s pose. The breath is the calm center of your experience. The point of yoga is to embody that calm center.

In the context of travel, if you’re in go-go-go mode all the time, going from one place to another despite how tired, exhausted, bored, depressed you’re feeling, you’re missing the point. It means it’s time to breathe instead.

Stop. Go sit in a cafe instead. It’s okay. You’re not a failure for not visiting every single attraction in your city.

Travel slowly instead. Instead of visiting 7-10 places in 2 days, plan for only 1 place and explore it fully.

You may feel that you’re wasting your time by throwing away all your other time. But like a good yoga class, you will get a lot more out of that one place that you would hurrying from place to place.

Go Slow

It’s never been about getting into complicated pretzel like shapes when we do yoga. It’s always been about being at the edge. If you do that, you will get the full benefits of the class.

In the same way, when traveling, it’s okay to back-off. Fulfillment can happen when we’re at our edge. We must fight our mind to not over-extend ourselves to practice the art of travel.

The edge often means saying no to the tour buses. The edge means fighting with out ego that wants to pull out our phone and take photos of everything we see and forget to actually see the city with our own eyes.

It may mean sitting in a cafe. Perhaps talk with locals and let serendipity take over. Book a vacation apartment or home instead of a hotel. For the most part, it’s a lot cheaper and you will now have a base to interact directly with locals. I recommend using Airbnb to find places to live at.

Join Airbnb with this link to save $25 on your first trip.

Be

What a revolutionary concept! Yoga teaches us to be what we truly are. It teaches us to embody that calm strong center of your being. Your true being does not need to be in chasing mode. It doesn’t need to seek more thrills and entertainment. Your true self sees a bit of itself in everyone you meet, no matter what race, nationality, or religion they belong to.

The art of travel is truly found in meditation. When we meditate, we reconnect with this true inner sense. When we do that, we ground ourselves in an calm peaceful open energy ready to enjoy the vacation fully. We are not in frantic chasing mode. It takes us out of the state of wanderlust that can never satisfy us, and more into adventure, appreciation, and enjoyment of where we are.

And when we get there, our trip will definitely relax us. Transform us.

Practical Implications

When I now travel, I pick one destination at a time only and spend at least one full week there. This is assuming I’ve picked an interesting enough location.

Instead of a hotel, I tend to either find a friend’s place to stay at, or use Airbnb close to the city square. This is not just an economical decision, but part of the philosophy to do with the art of travel.

I then tend to explore the city more fully and slowly. The camera rarely comes out except for a really interesting or memorable moment. I like to spend time in cafes as well (not a Starbucks), and I’ve struck up some great conversations with the barista and other patrons. This has often been the most memorable and best parts of my trip.

There’s a lot of walking involved as well, instead of driving. Since I’m living near the city square, this ends up being easy.

Conclusion

More people than ever have the freedom to travel and see the world. But we are missing out on the art of travel. We are instead opting for frantic, rushed, short visits to many places. We’re not really even there, choosing to interact with that place with our tools instead of our eyes, mind, and heart.

We’re missing out on the benefits of travel by doing this, and we’re exhausted, tired, and left wanting for more with emptier wallets when we travel this way.

Yoga teaches us to slow down (slow travel). It tells us to respect our edges. It tells us to be grounded first to explore the world. When we do that, the art of travel becomes the magic of travel.

Leave a comment below to share your own experiences with stressful travel, or implementing the art of travel below. Also…

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