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How and Why I Travel (Part I of II)

African BusIn 2007 I visited 26 countries, including 15 that were new to me. This year I hope to be on track for at least that many, although as the years go by it will become more and more difficult to get to the “new” places.

For the past two years, almost all of my overseas travel has been by myself. Once I get to a starting point, I sometimes travel with others that I meet along the way, but most of the time, it’s just me. One of the things I realized along the way, whether through my 100 Countries or an SUV experience, one of my many overnight flights from Africa, or somewhere else, is that the actual process of traveling is critical to appreciating travel itself.

The Process

I try to enjoy this process of travel as much as I do the arrival and departure. Most of the time I love flying, and I rarely sleep on planes. I arrive at most airports three or more hours early to watch the planes on the jetway, read the departure signs for places I’ve been, and write in my journal.

One of the things I enjoy most is finding ways to experience life from multiple angles when I go overseas. I’ve yet to meet another person who flies Virgin Atlantic Upper Class and then checks into a $15 a night hostel, which I have done twice now. I enjoy both kinds of experiences and wouldn’t want to give up either one.

I take only a small carry-on bag with me, regardless of where I’m going and how long I’ll be away. In most of the countries I visit, I stay in small guesthouses or hostels. I’ve also slept in airports, in a hut in Zimbabwe, in numerous African villages, in a family’s living room in Croatia, on the ground outside a church in Macedonia after arriving at 2:00 a.m., and lots of other places I wouldn’t necessarily want to repeat… but I remain grateful for the experience.

As much as possible, I try to fly into one country or city and out of another. I go between the two with public transport, usually traveling overland by bus or train in most places I go. I can’t say I love the experience of long bus rides, but I don’t usually mind it. Five to six hours a day is a good amount of time for riding a bus. After five hours, I feel tired but not totally exhausted. Beyond the six hour point, though, I struggle.

I eat breakfast and dinner while overseas. I skip lunch most of the time, but usually have coffee somewhere in the afternoon. I have been a vegetarian for over a year now, and when I first stopped eating meat I worried that it would be difficult for my travels. It may still get difficult in the future, but so far I’ve had surprisingly few issues finding something I like to eat. I do sometimes end up eating the same things over and over each day, but that’s usually because I don’t know how to order many things in whatever country I’m in. In some places my staple is falafel, which I ate for about 10 days in a row in Jordan last year. In other places I eat noodles, or mushroom pizza, or just fruits and nuts.

When I’m overseas for more than 10 days at a time, I usually stay in a hotel every third or fourth night so I can catch up on my work. When traveling to multiple locations as I usually do, I typically book the first and last night’s accommodation. That way, when I arrive after traveling 24 hours or more, I don’t have to worry about finding a place to stay. Since I don’t usually sleep on planes, having an initial destination in mind is important – and after a couple of weeks of travel, I usually have an early flight back to the U.S., so I stay in a hotel the night before going home. In between the first and last stop, I sometimes plan where I’m going to stay with the help of guidebooks and information on the internet, and other times I show up in cities without a ready-made plan.

Meeting and Traveling with Others

I use the same strategy when planning to meet up with people along the way that I use in planning where I’ll stay—sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t. I’ve noticed that when I stay in hostels and guesthouses, I tend to meet up with a lot more people than when I stay in hotels. Naturally, this makes sense, but I don’t usually plan my adventures according to whether I’ll be with someone else.

I also like to meet with local NGO leaders, activists, and journalists when I travel. Meeting with men and women who are actively working to produce positive change in their countries is always inspiring, and I inevitably learn far more about a place through these meetings. However, I have become more careful in setting up these meetings in advance lately, because there can often be an unavoidable expectation that I will be able to help them somehow. Since I’m not always able to do that, I’m now finding it better to set up these meetings when I’m already in-country.

Why I Travel

As to why I like to go overseas by myself and wander from place to place where I obviously don’t fit in, that answer is a little more complicated. Probably the best way to put it is that I feel like I am supposed to. I’ll try to write more about this sometime, but for now I find it hard to put into words.

I do get tired and generally worn down after a while. At the end of a long trip, I look forward to going home as much as I looked forward to going overseas to begin with. At the same time, I also look forward to going away again… so it’s a comfortable cycle of coming and going.

Travel Writing

There are many great travel writers in the world, and I’m not one of them. My goal with this site is to document my visit to every country in the world, and challenge others to develop and achieve their lifelong goals just as I am doing. This site will eventually contain a short essay or story about each place I’ve visited, but some stories will naturally have more depth than others.

I don’t claim to be an expert on most of the places I visit, although after traveling a great deal for much of my life, I do feel relatively qualified to write about new places in comparison to others I’ve been to. Because I feel that it’s important to enjoy the process of travel as well as the destination, I write about both.

Travel Photography

I am even less of a photographer than a travel writer. For a long time I felt an aversion to taking photos of any kind, preferring to remember my trips through my own memories and through journaling. I now take a digital camera with me everywhere and try to get a few decent pictures of most places I visit. However, my photos are done in a deliberate point-and-shoot amateur fashion, and I’ll include some here just because it’s true that pictures do help communicate a place to people who have never been.

If you’re looking for amazing, in-depth travel writing and photography, you’ll likely be disappointed in this site. On the other hand, if you’ve interested in personal development, entrepreneurship, and nonconformist ideas viewed through the lens of international travel, you’re who I’m writing for.

Welcome, and enjoy.

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11 Comments

  • Bert says:

    Hi Chris, thanks for the great post! I can identify with your love of the process of travel. I also generally always get to airports a couple of hours early. It’s just fun people watching, wondering where folks are going to and coming from. And I also almost always have my journal to write in as well. To me, it almost sounds as if travel is one of your life’s purposes. I’m looking forward to reading more about this in future posts you write. You answered the question in my mind of whether or not you travel with your spouse. Does she ever go with you? If not, why? I am single, and many of my friends struggle with why I wouldn’t want to travel alone. I guess that I’ve just gotten accustomed to it and do like the fact that I can completely control the itinerary, etc. On the other hand, sometimes I think it would be nice to have someone to share the experience with. Cheers!

  • Taisha says:

    Just discovered you last week so I am enjoying getting to know more about your nonconformist ways. 🙂 This article addressed one question that I had when I was reading about your India adventure and that is how you sometimes fly into a country and then find a place to stay. That made me feel very “conformist” because I’m not up for that. But I see that you do try to plan a couple of hotel stays along the way, which for me would be crucial. Thanks for sharing!

  • Vanessa says:

    Fascinating post. I look forward to hearing more, Chris. But my burning question at this point is, will you be posting your packing list? I’m a bit of a one-bag packing tragic, and I’d be interested to see what you do and don’t bring.

    Bert, after years of travelling alone, I’ve come down on the side of having a travel companion. It just makes things more fun and less stressful for me – IF it’s the right kind of person (cheerful, relaxed, and with similar travel interests).

  • Chris says:

    Hey everyone, thanks for your comments. Please keep it up as they are good encouragement for me.

    @Bert – Jolie does not usually travel with me on my independent adventures, so I usually only stay away for about two weeks at a time before coming home for a while.

    @Taisha – Yes, lots of times I do have a plan to stay somewhere or at least a good idea of where I’ll stay. It all depends on where I’m going, the relative expense of the city, language issues, etc.

    @Vanessa – Packing list, sure, I’ll do that at some point. But it’s pretty basic. 🙂

    To all –

    Traveling alone is different than traveling with someone for a lot of reasons. I appreciate both of them but a lot of my far-away journeys are on my own. The loneliness can be good for you.

  • Arpan Roy says:

    Hi Chris,

    I came here through Cal’s blog….right when i was bored with life and nothing to do, your travelling experiences make me look at life so differently…thanks Chris

    Arpan

  • Cassie says:

    I happened to Stumble across your blog and the first thing that caught my attention was “The Art of Non-Conformity” headline. Then it was attached to your comments about traveling in Zambia and I became addicted to what you had to say.

    In January I came back from a 4 month stay in Europe for a study abroad program through college, and I have missed everything about traveling since. While abroad I went to 10 different countries and traveled very much the same as you, but on a much smaller budget. I had the time of my life, and thoroughly look forward to doing something like that again.

    I read that you’re self-employed, yet you’re able to travel to more than 25 countries in a year and I just want to know how you’re able to do it all. That would be my dream position in life, so if you have any comments or suggestions on how to accomplish that, it would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks!

  • Bloggeries says:

    This is awesome. Someone referred me to your site through a Plurk.com plurk I made. I mean you’re doing what I’ve dreamt of and am very close to realizing. I”m very glad I found this blog.

  • Mark says:

    Hey Chris,

    I just wanted to say “rock on” and thanks for the cool site. I too am one of the “travelers”, but I’m behind you a bit. I’ve always had the goal of 100 countries, so I’m impressed with your obviously much larger objective. I have five kids, so that makes it all the more interesting for me to hit the road and try to make it all work.

    Just wanted to say cheers, maybe I’ll see you on the road somewhere!
    Mark

  • Hi Chris,
    I’ve traveled first class several times and then stayed in sub $20 lodging. I thought I was the only one . . . 🙂

    Ted

  • nevercryninja says:

    Hey Chris,

    Your site is awesome. There’s nothing better in life than being a vagabond.

  • Izan MH says:

    Subhanallah! That was my first impression when I first read your blog. Inspiring enough that I’ll find ways on how to bring along my kids around the globe. I believe it will be more meaningful to me to bring my loved ones throughout the journey and enjoy the next phase of our lives. Thanks for the great ideas you have shared and I look forward to read more from you.

    Kota Bharu, Kelantan.

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