We’ve all been there. Paradise. Off in the wonderful wilderness of elsewhere, a spring in our step, and a song in our hearts.
I don’t know why songs would be in hearts. Why wouldn’t they be in ears?
But I digress.
Travel can be an invigorating, enthralling, life-affirming, eye-opening, magical mystery tour of spectacular and epic proportions, the likes of which shall have you reminiscing wistfully for decades to come about that time you did _____ in _____ and _____ happened.
Or it can be squandered on McDonald’s and imported Western beer and forgotten in a haze of alcoholically-induced memory problems and shoddy Hollywood film productions.
We’ve all been there. Galavanting around the world is fun and all, but sometimes it’s just way too easy to stay inside and watch The Hangover Part XIV and dine on a poorly constructed excuse for cuisine whilst peering out the window periodically to wonder if maybe there’s more to the world than…nothing.
And there is.
And here’s how to ruin it.
How to waste the travel experience of a lifetime:
1) Too much internet
Sorry, internet. I love you. Your endless treasure troves of random factoids and cat pictures provide me no end of education or amusement. Many have been the hours I’ve spent exploring your depths and wonders, and intoxicating have been the wisdom I’ve gained and laughter I’ve exuded.
But I need more.
The internet is one of the easiest ways to suck up all the time you’ve got in a day, but to be honest, it’s not nearly as awful as people make it out to be. The internet is merely the collective voice of billions. Is it so wrong to listen to what they have to say? And what is travel but experiencing those voices and homes first-hand?
But it’s still second-rate to walking out the door, accidentally discovering some random bakery or whatever, and savoring the serendipitous moment a series of accidents have presented to thee.
Internet is great. Keep its greatness at just enough to stay great, but not devour every moment of the day in its endless jaws. Catch up on the cute cat pictures later.
2) The English Clique
Sorry, world. English is king. The British Empire planted its weeds all over the world, and the US carried the torch for centuries too. Then the internet drove the last nail into the coffin of any non-Latin alphabet hoping to make a comeback. Plus: Hollywood.
English has won.
Oh, and all those silly people saying it’s going to be Chinese one day? HA! Have you seen Chinese lately? No. Just no. Sure, a billion people speak it, but they’re pretty much all in China, and they’re trying to learn English a whole lot faster than any Americans are trying to learn Chinese. Maybe by 2300. Maybe.
Okay, back to the point. Chances are if you visit any hostel, you’ll hear English spoken almost exclusively between guests, and it’s mostly native speakers doing it. Since Westerners currently make up most of the backpacking demographic, you can easily surround yourself with nothing but familiarity.
It’s not so bad if you’re communicating with people from all over the world, but it can be something of a crutch if you only talk to fellow Westerners. Sure, maybe they’re cool, but if you fly all the way to the other side of the world, it’s good to mix things up. Try doing something stupid in public, like walking into a telephone pole. Good fortune is sure to follow!
3) Irish Pub Quarantine
This is part 2 of the “only talk to other Westerners” motif. Going only to Western-style hangouts.
“Dude, let’s go to the Irish pub! They’re exactly the same all over the world and we won’t experience anything new!”
Once again…it’s not like Irish pubs are bad. They’re pretty great. No wonder they’ve taken over. And to be honest, a professionally run Western-style pub might be a whole lot better than a poorly-run hovel set up to capitalize on drunk foreign tourists. So fair enough.
But traveling shouldn’t be just about sightseeing and then hibernating inside a sheltered cave of predictable solitude. Want some familiarity? Okay, go for it. Sometimes. But for every visit to the Irish pub, make sure you visit some random hole-in-the-wall nothing bar in the middle of nowhere with only one bartender and six chairs. Good things will happen, I promise.
4) The Drunken Rollercoaster
Here’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard:
“Dude, I was soooo drunk last night! It was awesome! I don’t even remember what happened!”
You know what’s stupid? Paying for experiences and not experiencing them. Memory problems count, kids!
Getting drunk and not remembering the amazing times you claim to have had is like watching a movie with sound turned off. Forgetting amazing things is indistinguishable from not doing amazing things in the first place! But more expensive!
A fun game to play is to go up to the people that don’t remember what happened the night before, and make up a horrifically terrifying tale of embarrassment and public displays of sheer idiocy so awful that they’ll think twice about getting that trashed again. See how far you can push the boundaries of believability and still have them fall for it!
5) Formulaic Whatever
I once heard a conversation in a hostel that went something like this:
“Know anywhere good to eat around here?”
“Hmm, well the guidebook says…”
“Nah, I don’t like guidebooks. It’s just one guy’s opinion.”
Somehow he failed to notice how the human to which he was speaking was also one person.
Now that’s not to say one set of instructions or another are to be followed. Chances are that any strategy is going to fall flat on its face at some point, and adhering too closely to any good luck charm travel tactic is going to be silly. Such as:
- Never obeying the guidebook
- Only obeying the guidebook
- Never listening to hostel buddy suggestions
- Only listening to hostel buddy suggestions
- Never going off the beaten track
- Only going off the beaten track
I could go on, of course, but I think you get the picture. I’ve had great restaurant suggestions from backpackers as well as locals, and I’ve seen backpackers either religiously adhere or steadfastly refuse to do things a certain way, thinking guidebooks are always bad or that the big touristy attractions are always stupid, and so forth.
Lesson learned: Change things up every once in a while. Sometimes studying the city ahead of time works out, and sometimes ignoring everything and wandering around randomly until something ridiculous happens works out quite nicely as well. You never know. So make a plan, and screw things up sometimes.
What about how NOT to waste a trip?
A magician never reveals his secrets.