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The Tao of Travel

The Tao of Travel

The Tao of Travel

    Against all odds, I became a world traveler in my 25th year.

    It began, as all things inevitably do, with a girl. I thought it was ever-lasting love. She was setting out for a year abroad — a summer in Germany, then an academic year in England. I decided, halfway through our summer apart, that I’d join her in England.

    Ah, youth.

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    The relationship didn’t even last until my departure date, but with tickets bought, baggage acquired, traveler’s cheques already paid for, I decided, “Why not?”

    Best decision I ever made.

    What I learned in my year abroad, besides the lessons of the healing of a broken heart and the awakening of a real relationship (for in London I met the woman I’d be with the next 7 years), besides the proper way to indicate the number “two” to a British person (hold your thumb and forefinger up; the typical US “V” with the index and middle finger means something rather else indeed in Britain, especially if your palm is facing you), besides the joys of hostel living and on-the-cheap backpacking (ah, Prague…) — what I learned was something simple and liberating, something I call “the Tao of Travel”.

    The Tao of Travel is short — no epic poems here to pass down through the centuries, no book-length treatises explaining the finer points of language, no silky-voiced narrator reading the audiobook. It goes, simply, like this:

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    “What the [expletive] do I care?”

    I take it you’ll work out which expletive easily enough — it’s hardly the most important part. Not worth offending anyone’s content filter over. You could, really, drop it, or replace it with “heck” or “doodlydoo”. In my life, though, it was definitely an expletive.

    Now, that may seem simple, and it is — but not too simple. It was a kind of mantra I chanted to myself when I was about to excuse myself out of the very kinds of experiences I had decided to travel for in the first place.

    Here’s an example: It’s 11:00 pm. Pubs in London close at 11:00 (or did when I was there, circa 1996), and I have to be at work at 7:00 am. But clubs are open several hours later, if you don’t mind the price of admission and the exorbitant cost of beer (served in bottles, not from draught). Inevitably, someone suggests we hit a club.

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    My inward response: “Well, I have to get home, I have to go to work tomorrow and if I stay out late I’ll be tired and cranky and… eh, what the [expletive] do I care?”

    My outward response: “Sure, let’s do it!” Because, really, did I come to London to chop tomatoes for sandwiches (I worked in the cafe at the National Gallery), or did I come to hit late-night clubs in Camden Town?

    The Tao of Travel is, I think, a fair sight more compelling than that old chestnut, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”. First of all, the Romans drive really small cars like insane people, and I don’t even own a really small car. Second of all, I think traveling should be about something more than doing what the locals do.

    I mean, don’t even think about doing what the tourists do. I’m not advocating that horror. But traveling is about experiencing things new and fresh — something the locals simply can’t do. After all, you are a local, when you’re at home. How exciting is that?

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    And really, going well beyond what the locals do is not only valuable for you, the traveler, it’s valuable for the locals themselves. Travelers — real travelers, travelers with a sense of derring-do and adventure, and a bit of the Tao of Travel about them — give people a chance to show off, to experience their everyday surroundings as if they were fresh and new. You can easily take that old ruin on the side of the hill for granted — it is, after all, just a place where teenagers go to drink and make out — until some traveler passing through asks you what it is. Ah, there’s a story to be told…

    But that story only gets told to the traveler who asks himself (or herself), when faced with a hundred reasons why this side-trip or that diversion or those few more hours out in the face of a busy day are a bad idea, asks herself (or himself), “what the [expletive] do I care?”

    And that’s the Tao of Travel.

    Or at least my Tao of Travel. With summer — and that means vacations — fast approaching, we here at Lifehack decided to devote this month to the theme of travel. So for the next few weeks, look for tips, advice, and maybe, just maybe, a little Tao.

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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