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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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    Last Updated on January 13, 2020

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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