If you missed them, start with 5 Months Abroad: Why We Did It and 5 Months Abroad: How We Did It | Planning and Packing.
This has been our first trip of this kind, but we’re not planning on it being our last. As we’ve traveled, our philosophy for how we want to take trips in the future has grown. This isn’t a closed list, but a growing and changing one. But for now, our philosophy that guided us on this journey.
Tourists vs. Travelers
The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see. -G.K. Chesterton
If there’s been a guiding quote for us along the way, this has been it. We’ve all been on vacations where there’s this huge checklist of things you have to see, places you need to go, and by the end of it all you’re just exhausted and aren’t exactly sure what it is you’ve seen. We weren’t on a sight seeing vacation. We were on a trip. And there’s a big difference.
That’s not to say we’re what Rolf Potts refers to as the “anti-tourist.” We’ve seen plenty of famous buildings, monuments, and so-called tourist traps. But our reason for going to a place (other than the trek to the Taj Majal) was never just to see one particular thing. In Rome, we saw incredible ruins because it was interesting to us. But we made sure we were never driven by sightseeing.
Because the most incredible sights we saw were when we got off the beaten path and enjoyed the cities we were in for what they are. But you have to be present for this to happen. I’m as addicted to checking my phone as anyone, so being forced to keep my phone on Airplane Mode while abroad created a forced presentness, which turned into a presentness I loved.
You do have to pace yourself on longer term trips. It may sound ridiculous, but traveling is a job in and of itself. If you try to go too hard, you’ll burn yourself out. Take it slow, take it all in, and take the time to process what it is you’ve taken in.
We want to take trips, or go on journeys, not take vacations. We feel like if we live a life we don’t want to escape from, there’s no need to vacation from it. And that’s the goal, isn’t it?
Purpose - Learn, Serve, Play
We knew we couldn’t take a 5 month leisure trip. After a few days on the beaches in Thailand, we got a little stir crazy. You do need purpose in your travel, especially if it’s long term.
So for us, we decided on our trip we wanted to accomplish three things: learn, serve, and play. We feel we've succeeded at all three.
You can only sit on the beach so long. You can only relax for so long before you start questioning your purpose in life (we may be a little dramatic :))
Balance is important.
We’re going home feeling very satisfied with how we spent the last 5 months. We don’t feel like we’ll have to “flip a switch” to get back to work, because we never stopped engaging.
People are kind
“In India, there’s an old parable about a wise king who sent two of his court officers away to explore faraway lands. One of the courtiers, the king had observed, was arrogant and self absorbed; the other was generous and open-minded. After many months of travel and exploration, both men returned home to report their findings. When the king questioned the men about the cities they visited, the generous courtier said that he found the people of foreign lands to be hospitable, generally kindhearted, and not much different from the people one met at home. On hearing this, the arrogant officer scoffed with envy, because the cities he’d visited were full of scheming liars, cheats, and wicked barbarians. Listening to these reports, the king laughed to himself—for he had sent both men to the same places.” - Rolf Potts, Vagabonding
Thailand, India, Nepal, Israel, Jordan, and Europe. All had one thing in common: people are kind. They’re excited you’ve chosen to take time to visit their country. They want to help you get where you’re going. They want to share stories about growing up in their land.
So often, you get what you give. And when you exude kindness, kindness returns to you. Of course, you have to use common sense. There are exceptions to every rule. But in the vast majority of our experiences, people are kind and want to help.
For what it’s worth, we never felt unsafe while abroad. Not once. Of course, we used common sense and didn’t put ourselves into compromising positions. But that doesn’t mean we were locked in our rooms at sundown either. The news can provide sensationalistic fear if we let it. Be wise, and be aware of what’s happening in the region you’re heading to, but most of the time fear is unfounded.
We had a few days and were thinking of going to Egypt when we saw a news flash about a riot in Cairo. So we decided to stay in Israel. A day later we met a girl who just came from Egypt. She wasn’t in Cairo and it was completely safe. Yes, avoid areas where it’s unsafe, but don’t write off the entire country. Lesson learned!
We have so much to learn from those around us. If you miss out on this, you’ll miss out on an amazing gift. I learned amazing business practices from a guesthouse owner in Leh, India. I learned about contentment from refugees in Jordan. I learned about hospitality from more people than I can count.
We believe in the goodness of those around us. We believe people are good. And, for us, they have been.
It wasn’t intentional, but we ended up in so many places during their low season. As in, every place. We walked the towns of Cinque Terre and Venice and Tuscany and felt like we had the towns to ourselves at times. We absolutely loved it. At times, many restaurants would be closed for the low season, but someone was always willing to feed us :).
Low season travel had many benefits. Rooms were a lot cheaper. No crowds. More locals out enjoying the city. As we plan future trips, this will be a priority. We’ve fallen in love with low season travel.
What philosophies have you developed while traveling?