As a professional travel writer and adventurer —whatever that means— living and sharing my special travel experiences is kind of my job.
Whenever I sit down for a beer at a bar in front of a crowd of strangers, I always get asked for travel stories. It’s sort of those things where you go “Thanks for asking,” and end up spinning travel yarns for two hours like an old pirate sitting before a terrified company of landlubbers.
Seeing the shock and awe on people’s faces as I regale them with wild tales of near runs with sharks in the Bahamas, hitchhiking in drug cartel territory, exploring the Yucatec jungles with the Maya, staying with Indian shamans in the middle of the Sonoran desert, and many, many more travel tales is quite possibly my favorite pastime.
I think I have my fair share of unique, interesting experiences. One of the questions I get asked the most is, “How do these things happen to you?” or its variant “Those things never happen to me!”
My response is always the same, “I don’t know, it just happens.”
And it’s true… to an extent. I mean… it’s not like I was looking to nearly lose my foot in a machete-motorcycle accident in the middle of the jungle (a true, unfortunate story about two things that should NEVER mix) or nearly getting shot on a whim while traveling through a reservation in Montana.
After much introspection, I realized that there really are some things you could do to attract unique travel experiences— after all, you gotta stand in the rain if you want to be struck by lightning, don’t you? Just bring your umbrella.
If having such wild adventures aren’t what makes you tick, there’s always moments of unspeakable beauty, serendipitous encounters and deep conversations with strangers, the possibility of finding love in a Tulum bar— there’s a literal world of travel experiences out there just waiting for you to seek them out!
So, here ten tips to better the possibilities of having unique travel experiences the next time you travel.
Go with the flow and surrender to your travels
Contemporary society is obsessed with control, and we are no exception. This need to control and plan everything that goes on in our lives is a reflection of our inability to deal with the unknown, the only constant in travel and adventure.
Let go of this need to control every little aspect of your travels, and the world will be that much freer to send awesome experiences your way. Remember that for any beautiful plan you can make, the universe can do way better. Life is spontaneous, allow it to be so.
Travel off the beaten path
If you want different, authentic experiences, you’ll want to go off the beaten path. For all its virtues, tourism has a way of dispelling all notions of authenticity from an experience. Just like vegetables that lose freshness and nutrition after spending way too much time in the fridge, it’s simply not the same as the real thing. Tourism is a business, and businesses target certain people and cater to their tastes, which results in experiences that are oftentimes built to satisfy the consumer inside us, not our souls.
Want to see how the Maya live? Don’t go to a show, step out of Cancún and venture into one of the villages in the jungle. Heard a story about a special something in a remote town? Follow your nose and satisfy your curiosity.
Traveling off the beaten path is more about your mentality than it is about anything else. If we learn to be open and follow our curiosity, we find places and stories that most people pass by with no more than a passing glance.
Don’t be afraid of the world, it isn’t out to get you
The world and everything in it aren’t out to get you. You’re not as important as you think you are. Realize that there are good people everywhere in the world. We’re constantly keeping our guard up against “bad people” (and that can be a good thing, too) but why don’t we keep an eye out for the people who might enrich our travels or help us out?
Ever met an ax murderer in your home city? No? Chances are you won’t meet one in Guatemala either. Society, through media and other outlets, make a point of emphasizing the bad things that happen in the world. Much of the good that happens in the world happens anonymously, and its praises go unsung. If a hitchhiker were to kill someone (trust me, we don’t), it’ll undoubtedly make the news— however, what reporter would want to cover a story about a guy who picked up a traveler on the road and gave him food and shelter for the night? Where’s the sensationalism in that? As with everything, perspective is key.
From my own experience traveling in remote and dangerous places, I promise you’ll experience much more kindness than harm from the strangers you’ll meet on your journey. It doesn’t mean you have to be naive, just trust your gut and follow your intuition and you’ll be fine.
Hang out with interesting people
Interesting people are termed thus because they do interesting things and lead interesting lives. While these characters usually haunt the bars of any given place, you could find them anywhere. If something piques your curiosity about someone, ask them about it. People like talking about themselves and you never know who you’re going to meet.
Hanging out with people you wouldn’t usually associate with back home opens up the possibility of learning about someone else’s world or an invitation to come along and experience it yourself. Talk to the fishermen on the wharf, go out for a drink with artists and street performers, have a conversation with a farmer in the Thai countryside— every person you meet on the road has the possibility of enriching your own world.
Remember that 30% of all cool bar stories start with “So I met this guy…”
Keeping an open mind is one of the essential ingredients if we want to have meaningful experiences of any kind. Freeing ourselves from judgment allows us to see things for what they are, to allow them to happen as they should, to try new things.
Adventuring with an open heart is one of the bravest things you can do. That bravery is rewarded with very special experiences since you’re signaling to the universe and the world that you want just that. Smile more, start conversations, inquire about things that strike your curiosity, interact with the world around you— you know, live a little!
Next time you travel, set an intention to be open to whatever the road may bring, that’s how miracles happen. Unless it’s Somali pirates, I promise you’ll be able to handle whatever may come your way.
Talk to strangers
Talking to strangers is a pastime that has a tendency to take you to some of the most unexpected places, both in and out of conversation. Talk to locals, interact with the people next to you, get to know the places you travel underfoot through its people.
Talking to strangers is like finding a chest sticking out of the surf, you never know what you’re going to find inside. Maybe it’s a deeper perspective into local life, maybe they’ll buy you a beer and swap stories with you like cowboys at the bar, maybe you’ll just end up having fun and partying like savages— the world is yours and anything can happen.
If you’re single or traveling alone, make an effort of leaving your comfort zone, especially if you’re on the more introverted side. You never know who you’re going to meet. It’s by daring to talk to others that I’ve met some awesome people who’ve enriched my life in ways I’m still trying to understand.
So just be social and talk to people, be a part of the dance of life.
Wish for it
Everything we attain in life begins with intention. It’s by acknowledging your desire to have awesome experiences that everything is set in motion for you to have them, both inside and outside of yourself. Your thoughts and actions are different and, therefore, how the world reacts to you will be different too.
When I set out on my first backpacking trip, I set my intention to have awesome experiences, not knowing what they were going to be in particular. All I knew was that I wanted to experience something that would change my life— well, I got my wish. I met some awesome, beautiful people; I fell in love; I danced the hot tropical nights away; I ended up taking a failed expedition of Australians to a jungle rave; I scuba dived on some of the most beautiful beaches in Mexico; I biked around an entire island; and I resolved to leave my corporate job and travel the world.
Be careful what you wish for because you might just get it. Intention is the seed of the tree we’re going to become.
I have a tendency to follow my nose on every impulse I get. Sometimes my nose leads me into trouble, but mostly, it takes me to awesome, beautiful experiences. If something sounds like a bad idea but would likely result in a good story, that tends to be a good idea.
It’s by flowing through our travels by being spontaneous that life takes you to where you need to be at exactly the right time you have to be. There are no mistakes while traveling, only the lessons that the road wishes to teach us.
Let go of your need to control every little thing and let life happen, be natural. It’s when you surrender and accept whatever may come that all anxiety, all fears, all worries fall away like snow melting on the first day of spring.
So keep things fresh. Just be safe and keep your wits about you, as with everything, and you’ll be fine.
Try something you’ve never done before
Ah! Nothing like capitalizing on beginner’s luck to have great experiences. We travel to flow, to break the staleness of everyday life, to experience new places, people and things. Therefore, it’s the perfect mind space for trying new things.
Go out and learn a local form of dancing, try some of that spicy food from the cart by the plaza, go diving, kiss someone on a whim, hitchhike from one city to another. Life has so many beautiful, awesome things to offer, it’s crazy! Go out and live!
I can guarantee that the person who steps back on that plane won’t be the same.
Realize that the world is your comfort zone
Something that radically changes the way you travel is the way you see life.
Travel is life’s best school. It’s by venturing into the unknown, braving the uncertainties of the road, experience new lands, and meet new friends that we grow and expand. We are enriched by the moments when we truly feel alive and obstacles that we overcome.
When you make a point of constantly staying out of your comfort zone, you eventually realize just how far your spirit has expanded with each step into a foreign land, how your spirit has realized it has no limits and its boundaries are as wide as the bright blue sky above you. Eventually, you’ll look back on the point where you started and see just how far you’ve come like watching land fading into the horizon as you stand at the stern of this ship called adventure.
It’s when you realize that the entire world is your comfort zone that you truly become happy, boundless and free.
Want to share some of your own unique travel experiences? Have any other tips that might help fellow travelers? Share them in the comments below!