Travel Advice: Get Ready to Get Lost

Today’s article is written for the Reach To Teach Teach Abroad Blog Carnival, a monthly series that focuses on providing helpful tips and advice to ESL teachers around the globe. I’ll be posting a new ESL related article on my blog on the 5th of every month. Check back for more articles, and if you’d like to contribute to next month’s Blog Carnival, please contact Dean at, and he will let you know how you can start participating! 

Check out the rest of the posts here.

“Paradise is everywhere and every road, if one continues along it far enough, leads to it.”

– Henry Miller

Isla del Sol

To paraphrase Baz Luhrmann, advice is just someone else’s recycled experiences, a version of their own nostalgia. So take it all with a big ol’ grain of salt.

There’s nothing like real life. All of the research, blog and travel guide reading, and advice-taking won’t give you a true picture of what YOUR experience is going to be like. And nine times out of ten, this is a great thing. It’s going to be better than you imagined; you’re going to be blown away.

Dispense with expectations. Prepare the necessities, and then let the world show you how incredible it is. Like John Steinbeck says: “we do not take a trip; a trip takes us… The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.”

That said, here’s a smattering of my advice/nostalgia:

  • If you’re on the fence about whether or not to travel – do it. Just do it. I would always err on the side of travel. It’s an old adage for a reason: you’ll regret more the things you did not do.
  • Travel doesn’t have to be expensive. Collect air miles, Teach English, go WWOOF-ing, Couch Surf, find a place on AirBnB, house sit, apply for working holiday visas, embrace shoestring travel. Saving up isn’t that hard, either. Write down your expenses and cut back on the superfluous stuff — take the bus, drink less, pack lunch, make your own coffee. In a few months, you’ll have enough money for that plane ticket.
  • Ignore the naysayers. The world is not that scary, it only looks that way on the news. Hone and follow your intuition, of course, but don’t let unnecessary fear or suspicion get in your way. The risks of travel aren’t really any different from the risks of being at home.
  • Don’t let the travel snobs get to you. There is no right or wrong way to travel, outside of basic ethics. Just do you.
  • Get lost, talk to everyone, eat all the food, take a day or two off if you need it: travel burn-out is a thing.
  • Cultivate solitude and new friendships, don’t take anything you don’t want to lose, pack light, take chances, hitch hike, play with the kids, live in the moment.
  • Acknowledge your privilege. Be grateful and pay it forward – donate time, money, blood, whatever.
  • Read books, watch movies, and listen to music made by people from the places you’re going to.
  • Take dance classes, language classes, cooking classes; soak up as much of the culture as you can. That way, you’ll have more to show off than pictures when you get home.

Of course, it’s not all a kaleidoscope of rainbows and epiphanies and ‘finding yourself’. You’ll have bad days, things will go wrong, you’ll get sick, things will piss you off, you’ll butcher the language, be embarrassed, make mistakes, get swindled, get homesick, lonely, afraid, bored, grumpy, too hot, too cold, too drunk, not drunk enough.

Pay attention to the bad days, though, the days that are a complete, unadulterated shit show. These will become your best stories.

The best parts are unplanned and unexpected. My favourite part of travel is not knowing where the day is going to take me. I could get lost in the twisted streets of La Paz and stumble into a parade where the adults are dressed as sheep and the children are dressed as lettuce. I could go for a foot massage in Siem Reap and wind up watching a side-splittingly hilarious drag show. I could hitch hike into the jungle and share a beer with on-strike zoo workers in Mexico. I could end up in a different country altogether.

Getting off the beaten track is easy when you’re lost. Lucky for me, my sense of direction is about as good as a mop’s. It has been the direct cause of a great many disasters adventures, and some of my best memories.

If we hadn’t taken the wrong path the day my coworker and I went up the Shitoushan mountain in Taiwan, we never would have spent the weekend in the Buddhist nunnery. I never would have met Jean, the nun who took us under her wing and showed us her world. I was having a bit of a personal crisis at the time, and she talked to me about impermanence and being true to myself.

She gave the perfect sort of advice: gentle and uplifting and vague enough to be applied to what I was going to do anyway.

Going for a walk with Jean
Going for a walk with Jean

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