Keeping these six points in mind while traveling can lead to a more relaxed, adventurous, productive, and meaningful experience on the road:
1. If you can't carry it, don't take it
The motto of vagabonds, mendicants, and backpackers since their inceptions, and for good reason. Traveling with only what you can carry (Wheeled bags do not count; Grand pianos can have wheels as well) offers a degree of freedom and sparseness that can lead both to amazing adventure and deep introspection. On one hand, you can physically bring your belongings wherever the winds and tides call you; hiking across the Australian outback? Jaunt through a tropical rainforest? Party across the Euro-zone? No problem, just grab your always at the ready single bag and you're off at the drop of a hat.
Then there's the introspective bit: Just how do you whittle down to a single carry-able bag? What do you take? Ultimately the answer is up to you, but minimizing clothes and non-essentials is a must. Not only will you learn what items truly matter to you, but the longer you're on the road, the more refined your single-bag systems will become. Plus, you'll now have legitimate reasons to get new duds and souvenirs as you travel.
2. Travel with as small a group as possible
This point will either sound painfully obvious or just plain painful, depending on your personality. Of course, not everyone should go everywhere by themselves for numerous reasons, but there is a correlation between the volume of your party and it's efficiency. Those in smaller groups have an easier go of meeting and making new friends on the road. The reason being that those who are already friends tend to stick together in an unknown situation, whereas those who are solo have no choice but to reach out to (temporary) strangers for their human interactions.
These interactions seem to be more meaningful than common societal interactions as those on the road are likely brought about by common interest and similar thought patterns. Another benefit of a smaller group versus a large one is that it is easier to corral and coerce such a group into doing an activity together that they will all enjoy, rather than half the group begrudgingly joining in or fractionating off later.
3. Don't make rigid plans (or keep them to a minimum)
This does not mean lackadaisically wander with no purpose. Rather, it encourages you to let your travels happen organically and not artificially crammed into an unnatural mold. Make a list of things you would like to accomplish: places to go, things to do, things to see, and so on. Now you have a list of things to accomplish, but not how to accomplish them. You've planned “A” to “C”, with “B” an adventurous wild card. Perhaps you'll meet a new friend on the way that's going to the same places and wants to team up? Maybe you find a last minute package deal on travel to all the places you want, in an order you weren't expecting? What if you're convinced by an enthusiastic individual to immediately go to a place you never thought of? None of these scenario's could be realized with rigid plans. The freedom you gain from the ability to “wing it” can translate to a beautiful sense of calm when you definitely don't have somewhere to be at a certain time. Freely traveling is magical, so let it work it's magic.
4. Minimize exposure to your own culture
Immerse yourself fully in this new and exciting moment; don't dull the experience with thoughts of what those back home are up to. Don't miss a memorable detail because you where texting or social networking. Don't risk missing a new favorite song you've yet to hear because you were listening to an old favorite you've hear 100s of times prior. Do your best to abandon your phone, your music, the internet, and everything that isn't now.
Have the most vivid experiences possible, like when one is a child and everything is fresh and new; you'll find that time seems to flow slower and mean more this way, in a good way. A month of sharing experiences together on the road with a friend feels equivalent to a year's worth in the “normal” world.
5. Keep an open mind
“A mind once stretched by a new idea can never return to it's original shape.” A quote often attributed to Albert Einstein, it is especially apt in discussions involving travel. Is not the whole point of travel, on a fundamental level, the amassing of new experiences? So keep an open mind while doing this. Don't let others experiences and opinions taint and ruin your experience. Judge by yourself, for yourself, on the customs and circumstances of others. You may find that this line of thought causes reflection not just on where you are, but where you came from and how those two things relate to each other, and everything as a whole. You'll gladly never look at things the same way. “Travel broadens the mind” after all.
6. Don't be an a$$hole
While it is true that you can't please everyone all the time, and everything is offensive to somebody somewhere, you should still make an effort to not only smooth your own travel, but by extension the travel of others and the act of traveling as a whole. At some point in your travels you will find hardship, and in this hardship you will be shown a kindness; do not forget this. Your similar act to someone else could make all the difference in their life at the time. Learn the cursory custom pints of the place you are: some places do not use certain hands for certain things, some wear special shoes or none at all, some do not engage in certain activities during certain times of day, some have forbidden conversation topics, and so on.
Don't forget, the natives are tolerating your foreign ideas in their home, not vice versa. Learn the basics and not only will you make your own travels better but you'll give the locals a better impression of travelers which will improve travel as a whole.
Next steps to finding meaningful travel programs
End 2017 (or start 2018!) on the right foot. Here are some ideas to stay engaged with meaningful travel as the year unfolds:
- Sign the Meaningful Travel Manifesto and commit to its tenets
- Actively read and share more essays and travel articles (here are some of the best)
- Get involved with online communities, such as Meaningful Travel Starts Here or Wanderful Women Who Travel
- Travel! But seriously. Here’s our favorite shortcut to finding your perfect program
- Get the GoAbroad weekly newsletter (warning: risk of severe wanderlust)
- To better serve your students, read more in-depth ebooks on topics like Mental Health & Travel, Chronic Illness & Travel, LGBTIQ Travel, and African American Travel.
And just like that—your passport has purpose
We double—no, triple—dog dare you to take the steps necessary to make your travels more meaningful. Travel with intention, and with cognizance towards the foreign communities you are entering. Have a "give" more than "take" mindset, and, above all—stay humble. You are there to learn, to be wow'd, to challenge yourself, to grow. Let the world shake you to your very core. And then go right back out there and do something about it.