A journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step. – Lao Tzu
Life on the Road
Life in the field while vagabonding can take on a whole new meaning. Tasks that were once mundane and uninteresting are suddenly a challenge. Adventure comes easily. Your mind will stay sharp, and your senses will be on fire as you absorb this strange new world around you.
The surest way to mess up your plan while vagabonding is to make strict plans in the first place.
Don’t be afraid to change your itinerary, planned countries, or anything else. It is your trip, and no one knows what the future holds. You answer only to yourself — there are no so-called must-sees. If you’re in India and don’t feel like fighting the scams and mess at the Taj Mahal, skip it! Be your own boss.
Maybe you will fall in love with an Australian and end up going there next instead of Europe. Maybe you will meet a group of likable people heading to Nepal for an Everest Base Camp trek. You could miss a world of potential adventure by staying rigid and sticking to a plan that was made at home. Go with the flow, and learn to say “yes”!
Talk to Everyone
Make it a point to talk to everyone — locals and travelers — at every opportunity. Approach people everywhere possible. Don’t stick to your usual social filters. The travel experience is largely about the people you meet, not just some snappy pictures of monuments and landscapes. Travel is also perpetual; you may end up with friends in dozens of countries who will invite you to come stay for free!
Do not set limits on how much time you plan to stay in a particular country or region. Slow down, align yourself with the environment, and absorb what an area has to offer. You will feel when it is time to move on inside your gut; don’t let a calendar tell you when to do so.
Don’t get into a race to check areas off a list. It is better to have truly learned the culture in one country rather than to say you “did” five countries. In fact, please don’t use the terminology that you “did” any country. Please.
Not every day on the road will be a dream. There will be times when you are dirty, tired, uncomfortable, homesick, frustrated, or culture shocked. Remember that these are just temporary and psychological conditions. Keep your chin up, and always put yourself into positions for good things to happen. Attract and manifest good things. You will be surprised at how often dire situations (such as being lost or not knowing anyone) work out for the best…assuming you kept a positive attitude.
Log Your Journey
Keeping a public blog is great, but carry a small personal journal as well. Record your private feelings, thoughts, and experiences so that you can re-live your trip in detail a decade later. You will see so many new things and meet so many new people, retaining it all in memory is impossible. Write things down!
Remember that while you are abroad, you are representing your home country, backpackers, and maybe even the entire Western culture. Don’t be rude to locals. Don’t treat them like servants. Get to know people. Try not to become jaded when you’re persistently viewed as “rich” but feel very “broke” because of your budget.
Take care of the environment, and remember that you are a guest in these places. Don’t lose your cool during negotiations or the inevitable bus breakdown — life moves at a different speed in other places. Learn to follow the famous Thai motto of mai pen rai.
Keep in mind that you may be on holiday, enjoying a big adventure, but this is still daily life for the locals. Many are working hard to survive and they may never have the option to enjoy travel like do. It may seem like everyone just wants to get into your money belt sometimes. These are human beings who want to enjoy life just as you are, and they were born in a place that makes travel dreams harder to reach.
People, Americans in particular, are programmed to think that long-term travel is a lifestyle only for the rich or retired. Come home and share the news, break the stereotypes, and encourage others who dream of escape but are unsure about taking that first step.
Read about my feelings when I finished my first year of backpacking travel.