What is the most important thing to know before going on a trip? Perhaps magic tricks for hitchhiking, what to pack and what not to pack in a backpack, or how to go around Europe with 10 dollars a day? Of course, stretching the budget is a necessary art. But obsessed by the fear of running out of money, many overlook that the greatest strength, which will make us immune to financial ups and downs and will help us when everything is uphill, is and will always be philosophical (a word I like better than “spiritual”).
I searched the internet, and found a lot about practical advice (backpack, budget, etc). So I decided to try to synthesize the most important things I learned in the last ten years of traveling. Some are reflections that have to do with encouraging oneself to travel, while others seek to explain the logic that life begins to have once we are traveling Kambo Training.
It is true that the most important thing is to take the first step, but then you have to take advantage of and defend those steps . It won’t be easy to put it into words, but I’m going to try. I hope it increases, more than your quality of life, your “quality of travel.”
1 You don’t want to have all the answers before you start
GRUNAU, NAMIBIA, MARCH 30, 2017: Juan follows train tracks outside of Grunau where Juan spent the night camped in the yard of a local family. He is making his way back to the highway to hitch a ride south. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Verbatim for the NY Times Magazine.)
It is logical that one seeks to make forecasts, but the future is a fogged glass. The sad thing is that many times this is the main factor of boycott, the reason why many rule out a trip before setting sail.
“What if I run out of money? “Am I going to get a job when I come back in a year?” are frequently asked questions before going on a trip. But if we embark on an adventure where we won’t know what will happen the next day, does it make sense to wonder about next year? (Apart from the fact that we are not so important: when we return the city will still be there, with job opportunities included).
Until now, experience has shown me that the solutions appear only after the problems. In Egypt I met a Canadian who, when he ran out of money, realized that he could make money exporting Egyptian watermelons to his country. Others became musicians, opened a bar, met the love of their life and never returned. They are locksmiths in Switzerland or graphic designers for an NGO in the Congo. Everything you were until now, may only be your first chapter.
Furthermore, the question is meaningless because the person who will return after a year-long trip is not the same as the one asking the question. Your future self will have another perspective, more ideas, creativity and tools than the one scratching his head now . You will see other businesses, you will reorient your studies towards something that you are more passionate about and that, precisely for that reason, will give you important results. On the other hand, your parameters of success and happiness will have changed significantly.
In fact, the photo with which I open this post was taken by the New York Times photographer when that North American media outlet sent two journalists to cover the last leg of the hitchhiking crossing of Africa that we did with Lau in 2015-17. I have left the original caption in English, as a souvenir. When I made my first trips in the late 90s, and began to dream of traveling, I never imagined that I could make a living from writing and that newspapers like the NYT would talk about my work.
2 Reconcile with uncertainty
Forget about planned itineraries from day 1 to 15. Starting a backpacking trip will make you miss some city tricks, like that urgent need to know in advance the telephone number of a cheap hotel in Beijing or Cusco, and the exact duration of excursions and bus schedules.
But of course, today technology allows you to reserve almost everything, right? (hostels, flights, visas, etc.) With this, there is a risk that the backpacker will become infected with the extreme caution that previously afflicted the traditional tourist. And it’s not chicha or lemonade.
If you know that the minibus leaves the hostel at 8:30 and leaves you, after sleeping the entire way, at the temple of the golden elephants, where was the adventure?
Therefore, we must repatriate uncertainty as fertile ground, make it become an ally. The best way I know for this is to hitchhike. Yes it is safe? Since 1998 I have traveled 130,000 km in more than 1000 vehicles and I have never received more than invitations to have tea. Other variables of independent travel such as bicycle or own vehicle also allow, to a greater or lesser extent, a margin of uncertainty.
I realized this on a trip through the Calchaquí Valleys when I lost my tent on the first day. That meant I had to stay in peasant houses, churches, and above all, I learned to trust strangers. Since then I have used Couchsurfing in big cities, but I always leave the small towns and intermediate points to chance, as room for adventure.
3 Understand the need as a bridge
I am totally grateful to the cosmos or the road for always having needed, for having had, at most, a little less than enough.
If I had always had money for the hotel, I would never have slept in mosques (they prayed for me), ice cream parlors (I had half a kilo of ice cream for breakfast) or Byzantine churches in ruins in the middle of the desert (I spread out the sleeping bag next to a fresco of the X century).
4 Recover the materiality of the path
Let’s go back to the same example: if the minibus that takes you to the temple of the golden elephants leaves the hostel at 8:30 and we do nothing but snore until we reach our destination, what kind of relationship do we have with the road? You are there, but you don’t really know how you got there, nor could you point out the route you took on the map. There’s nothing wrong with liking to be held by the hand. But many will have a bitter taste, they will miss the adrenaline.
On the other hand, traveling by hitchhiking, by bike, on foot or by mule, or even by bus but with a more active attitude, things change. Nobody is going to take you to your destination while you take a nap: we will be forced to take the reins, choose a route, compare alternatives, exercise freedom. Because paying to get our kilometers is no longer an option.
We thus establish a -humble- dialogue with the road , instead of unilaterally imposing our will by buying a ticket from A to B and preventing the route from making suggestions to us, from surprising us with unimaginable detours. The elephants will be more golden if we make the merit to reach them in a conscious act, and not by following the suggestions of a travel guide on a boring afternoon.
Pronouncing the name of the “chosen” destination at a ticket office and magically appearing there makes us accept the trip as a fragmented and virtual process . We appear and disappear in beautiful settings without having the faintest idea how they are connected. It’s like we take planes, but we’re still on the minibus.
So how about looking down? Become aware that by putting one foot in front of the other we advance to the door of the house and that by repeating the process a million times we go around the world, in a fluid and real way.
Not making an effort to understand the dynamics of the routes and roads we travel on makes us extremely dependent and obedient to schedules and combinations.
Once, in Tibet, I arrived at a very isolated village. I found half a dozen travelers there “trapped” because the buses passed only once a week. I looked at them surprised. They were in a room overlooking the road, and they had not realized that, at least once an hour, a truck passed by. Two of them (another Argentinian and a Japanese) decided to join my plan to hitchhike across Tibet, and in less than an hour we left aboard the first truck that passed by.
5 Instant awareness / Mindfulness
When we travel we take hundreds of photographs, but do we give the importance that it has to the imprint that the world is leaving on us? Sometimes we do not give value to each moment, to the smile of the woman who serves us lunch in a market in Sucre, to everything that happens around us, to the change in the type of crops in each area, to our evolution. throughout the trip.
Perhaps this happens because in our sedentary way (we all have, I believe, ways) we become too accustomed to following routines and doing things out of inertia. To escape from them, we set up worlds of thoughts (we fantasize about traveling, about breaking that routine) and we stuff ourselves with candy that tastes like freedom to calm our anxiety.
And when we go on a trip we take our autopilots out for a walk , and many times, we do not take in everything that is happening around us because we are distracted (thinking about the next destination, about opening Facebook, or about finding out where the minibus leaves for the temple). of the golden elephants that we don’t even know why it was built. Our mania for doing things prevents us from being.