So you’ve caught the adventure travel bug and you’re gearing up for your next international trip. At the same time, overseas excursions are hard to pull off and the logistics can seem overwhelming. You’re making the plans, booking rooms, finalising work arrangements, preparing to board your plane—have you stopped to ask yourself why you’re doing it all in the first place?
If you’ve been a part of the adventure travel trade, you can probably relate to the experience of going somewhere entirely new—completely off the grid in some cases—and feeling the distinct impression that you’ve been there before. Have you ever stepped into a new setting and found something peculiarly familiar about it? The occurrence is similar to how a particular smell might recall the nostalgia of childhood, or a certain snatch of music evokes a feeling of deja vu. When you’re traveling abroad and you arrive at a new place—no matter how foreign the location, how indecipherable the language, how removed from the airport or capital city—you’re always surprised by how well you actually know it. It might be the sound of late-night bar-hoppers, or the way the street light reflects off the pavement, but many destinations tend to be new experiences that your subconscious nevertheless seems to recognise.
If you’re new to adventure travel, you’ll find a dance between the familiar and unfamiliar at the heart of so many first-time excursions. This is especially true on day one. My first morning in a new location, I can forgo my coffee altogether. The thrill of waking up in a new country is its own shot of adrenaline. When the sun’s shining and you’re well-rested, you step outdoors, take in the sights and surroundings, and you implicitly understand that your possibilities are limitless.
On mornings like this, there’s nothing better than that first walk down the street, or back alley, or boardwalk, or jungle path—those moments when you’re seeing everything for the first time and you don’t know exactly what you’ll find. If you’re in a city, here’s an exercise that has strengthened my own travel skills. I recommend taking the bus or metro, getting off at an unfamiliar stop, then flipping a coin at the crosswalk to decide whether you’re going right or left. Repeat at the next intersection. Perhaps you make a right, then a left-left-right-left. See where you end up. Observe whatever you find—and then, after a few hours, you can think about finding your way back to your lodgings.
Human beings love to test themselves in different ways. Some people love the discipline required to master the skills of their profession or enjoy the challenge of building a stable and comfortable home. It might be the rigour of academics, the intensity of athletic training, or the sacrifices of the arts. For travel lovers, we get a thrill from observing our own responses to foreign or disparate locales. There’s something inside of us that understands the limits of mortality and feels an instinctual awareness that we still have a lot of ground to cover. After all, as long as we’re here on the planet, why experience only a tiny sliver of it?
We also recognise how we’re experiencing an interior journey that parallels the exterior. Every place we go elicits a different response, instils a different memory, imparts a different emotion. So the distances we travel are as much an exploration of the different parts of ourselves. That conversation with a local at the bus stop, the tourist you meet at the hotel bar, the tour guide who describes the history of a particular village—each of these scenarios and encounters never fails to inform you about who you are.
I’ve often thought, “What is the purpose of a travel blog?” and realised how writing about travel experiences has a lot to do with processing them for myself. During my time abroad, I undergo the joy of making the unfamiliar familiar so, as I depart for home or make my way to the next destination, it’s not so much that I’m taking part of the country with me, but I’m taking the new part of myself that I discovered while I was there.
I think you’ll find that, ultimately, regardless of whether or not you make it back to a particular location during your lifetime, the impression it made is permanent. If you’re open to the culture, the adventure, the sensations, the immersion, you can’t help coming home as an enriched and more well-rounded version of yourself. Those stamps in your passport are less like merit badges or additions to a resume, they’re memories tattooed on your soul.
As you continue your travels from place to place, you will continue to build on this fuller, better-informed self. You will then bring that more complete self to every new place you arrive. This is why people do it. Travel is an invitation toward mindfulness and legitimate personal growth. In the case of fast-paced, high-adventure trips where you know you’ll be camping, getting lost, or hiking to the furthest point on the edge of the map, make it a particular point to reflect, enjoy, and take it all in. This is how all the preparation and effort becomes worth it. When you’re in the process of planning your extreme adventures or a mini adventure more close to home, think about the transformation you’ll be welcoming as a result. With that mindset, everything falls into place.