Anthony Bourdain once quoted the great Paul Theroux in saying, “Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going. I’m a traveler.”
This statement rings true for anyone who has ever traveled for an extended period of time and for many that moment when you understand the difference between these two mindsets is a moment that you will carry forever. I remember mine very clearly.
In the summer of 2008, I went on an eight-week trek across Europe with three other fellas of the same age, starting in southern Sweden and ending in Madrid.
Although in the end I experienced many moments that made me realize I was no longer a tourist, there’s one that stands out in particular. During a weeklong stay in the French Alps, the four of us took a day trip to Chamonix, a well-known French skiing town nestled in the shadow of Le Mont Blanc, Western Europe’s highest mountain.
Although we originally set out with aspirations to climb to the summit of Le Mont Blanc, we soon realized that doing so would require guides, extensive equipment, and months of training, none of which had occurred to us before we decided to attempt such a feat. Alas, we relented and decided to take a ski lift half way up a near by mountain and spent the day bouldering around on a completely open mountain face with no safety precautions or enforced boundaries of any kind (silly Europeans). Well, being that I’m not the most nimble guy when it comes to scooching around narrow cliffs, I decided to take a longer route when my comrades opted for the more “Frodo & Samwise stealthily sneaking into Mordor” ascent. As I hauled ass up the side of a very steep grass-covered hill, I decided to take a break and reflect on things.
This is what I was looking at:
At that very moment, I realized I had the travel bug. I wanted to see it all. I wanted to experience everything. But mostly, I remember really wanting a sandwich because I had just climbed a f*cking mountain and I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast. Luckily, I had some baguette and saucisse action in my bag and was able to curb my hunger for the time being, but since then it’s returned in full-force.
Now, with all that being said, there are some rules of the road for all of you who have never embarked on an extensive quest. Some suggestions and criticisms that I’ve picked up from my own travels and from being an obsessive fan of Anthony Bourdain’s show No Reservations and his more recent endeavor, The Layover. So fellow #TeamTallsome supporters I present to you for your reading pleasure, How To Travel Like a Man.
Do Your Research
In the age of the Internet and social media, it’s become freakishly easy to learn everything there is to know about a location before you even pack your bag (yes, bag – singular) and although I’d say leave some room for mystery, it’s good to know about a place before you suddenly find yourself there and you ask a 10 year old kid wearing an eye patch and smoking Marlboro reds to take your picture with your brand new four billion megapixel camera as soon as you get off the train (mistaaaaaaaaake!). Know what to expect language-wise, crime-wise, and currency-wise (side note – during a day trip to Copenhagen, my dear friend Greg and I both purchased beers that turned out to be more than $15 a pop. Stupid Swedish to Danish kronor exchange rate.). There is no worse feeling than suddenly finding yourself completely out of your element or caught off guard in a completely foreign environment (like when you suddenly realize that the people who you’re staying with in Paris speak as much English as you do French, which you learned in 9th and 10th grade), so do what you do best tech wizards – Google stuff until you get an idea of what you’re about to get yourself into.
One thing that decreases amongst most travelers the longer you’re gone is the amount of effort you put into your personal appearance. For dudes, you’re bound to stop shaving and since you’re never quite sure when your next shower is going to be, you end up carrying around a certain level of filth which is pretty much accepted by all and eventually you’ll carry it with pride. With that in mind, think very hard about what you actually want to bring with you during your quest. When you find yourself constantly on the move and living out of a pack, you don’t want to be weighed down by excess clothing. Realistically, you aren’t going to need that pair of wingtips or extra Tom Hardy sleeveless that you just can’t bear to part with. It’s best to bring as little as you feel comfortable with and hope that you can track down a Laundromat here or there.
Be Open/Friendly to Fellow Travelers
The friendships that you form with other travelers, whether it’s at a hostile in Amsterdam or a shower party in Barcelona, can become very intense very quickly. People tend to form deep connections with others that they meet while traveling because everyone is carrying the same mindset and although it can get awkward at times, it’s best to be as outgoing as humanly possible and just enjoy the ride. Most likely you’ll end up making a new friend who will be the most important person in your world for a very short period of time before you board a train and have to start the whole process again, but for the time being, they’re the fellow “Canadian” who’s as enthusiastic about finding a kebob in Stockholm as you are.
Ditch the Guidebook
Ok I actually don’t think guidebooks are all that bad and at times they can be helpful by providing you with a map or tips about commerce/mass transit, but seriously, close the book, open up your eyes and just experience what’s around you. So many people get overwhelmed when they’re traveling for the first time and they like the security of having answers from an “expert” at their disposal, but strangely enough most locals are more than willing to suggest a place to eat, drink, or see a banana show. Just like in the US, there are always restaurants and attractions that cater to tourists, but if you really want to experience a new place, ask someone who looks local.
Think of it this way: assuming you aren’t from bu-fu Indiana (and maybe even if you are), you have places in your hometown that you consider to be essential to what makes that city great. It could be a restaurant or a bar or a park or anything really and more often than not, it’s probably owned and operated by fellow locals. Now imagine someone was visiting your fair homeland and asked you what he or she should really spend their time doing during their visit. Locals always know best, write that down.
Eat/Drink To Excess
I know what you’re thinking, “Max, not everyone has a TV network footing the food costs while traveling. I can’t be buying eight different types of fish head or goat curry like that Bourdain guy does every night!” Very true, you can’t and you probably shouldn’t – Anthony Bourdain happens to be blessed with a freak metabolism, more proof that he is in fact the luckiest person on Earth. However, with all of that being said, if you see something in a store window that looks good, EAT IT.
If you see 8 types of local beers available, TRY THEM ALL. Do travel costs build up quick? F*ck yeah they do, but let me ask you this: would you rather take a trip, get home, see that you didn’t go over budget and not have delicious memories to share with your friends or would you rather be able to brag relentlessly about the homemade foie gras and boudin noire that you had in all of it’s (slightly pricier) delicious glory? The answer is option two and if you even considered the first option then I suggest you close your browser immediately. Make sure you don’t go home thinking, “I wish I’d drank more wine in France.” Who knows when you’ll be back, it’s never soon enough and often times some of the greatest memories made while traveling involve our stomachs.
Remove the Word “No” From Your Vocabulary
Those girls sharing a cab with the suave French guy when they land in Paris in Taken aside, do not, I repeat, DO NOT close yourself off from the possibility of anything when you’re traveling. This is the perfect time to be bold and adventurous and experience the new. Will you have moments of hesitation when you’re internally debating if you want to put some mysterious meat into your mouth (enter sexual comment here)? Probably. Will you be worried about spending two days riding the porcelain express after accepting some unidentifiable creature-on-a-stick from some stall owner at a market? Sure. But this is what traveling is all about.
You learn who you really are when you travel. It’s one of the few times where you’re completely out of your element by choice and daily you’re faced with decisions that flirt with the line between life-altering and disaster. If there’s one suggestion I can hammer home to others when they tell me they’re about to travel it’s this: never say no. Try it, even if it’s just for a day and see how things go. Who knows? You might find yourself on a sailboat in Mediterranean with the wife of a Russian oil magnet or you might end up swimming across a river in Copenhagen after drinking a bottle of vodka with a friend only to be very confused with how you ended up on the top bed of a three level bunk tower with no ladder in sight. Anything can happen, it’s glorious.
Oh and a quick note on domestic flights. Fellas, let me ask you something: do you enjoy checking out all the mysterious hotties at the airport? I know I do. And more often than not, they do to. But let me ask you this, when it comes to flying, do you put any thought into your appearance or do you see it more as an opportunity to set the record for amount of time spent wearing sweat pants in a single day? I’m going to go out on a limb and assume it’s the latter of the two, but gents, seriously step it up a notch. I’m not suggesting you rock a tuxedo (although that would be awesome) or anything of that manner, but look presentable and maybe, just MAYBE, take a shower. Airports are mysterious and unpredictable places – you never know where you might end up (zing!).