Americans are supposedly traveling more than ever before. But you’d never be able to tell based on our New Year’s Resolutions, one of the most popular of which is a desire to get out of dodge via plane, train or automobile more often. Blame it on the wanderlust inspired by Instagram, the FOMO inspired by Facebook or just the drudgery of life: People wanna GTFO. So what’s the best way to do so, and what’s holding people back? We asked a mix of explorers and prolific travelers for tips and advice on how to actually get on the open road and not just dream about it. Here’s what they told us.
Aaron Chang, legendary surf photographer: I think the first and most prolific way to travel is just to take that first step and go. A lot of people wanna have everything buttoned up and ironed out and know what they’re getting into, but a lot of the fun of travel is not knowing, so my advice is just to go and figure it out.
I’ve landed in so many places with no clue and immediately pieced it together. Never once, though, would I let that unpreparedness hinder my getting on the plane or getting on the boat and going. Admittedly, this backfires from time to time — my wife reminds me all the time of a trip where I thought I’d take her to Carmel, and we couldn’t find a hotel room for 400 miles. Still, most of my travels are from the hip. As long as you travel fairly light, traveling isn’t actually very hard at all.
Emily Richmond, around-the-world sailor: I almost never travel for travel’s sake. Aside from a couple misguided dalliances in my youth, almost all my coming and going is in relation to something else. At the moment, for example, I’m working on a book, and have been tucked away in a number of lovely locales in that endeavor.
So find some project to take you somewhere.
Travel seems far more satisfying if you’re on some sort of quest: It attracts people; it opens doors. If you want to travel cheaply, try housesits — while rare in our country (strangers in my home, God forbid!), they’re quite popular and readily available abroad, especially in EU nations. I’ve spent a great deal of time working out of gorgeous little bush houses in Australia (for free, sometimes even with paid gardening work while there) simply because the owners are abroad themselves and prefer to have someone keeping an eye on the place. Their holidays away are often a month or more, so these are really worth the effort of finding.
Also, think about the so-called undeveloped countries. Most recently I’ve been writing out of a two-room cabin in the Sierra Madres in Mexico. Rent is $90 a month — the neighbors take their horses to town. It’s all very pleasant.
Rickey Gates, ultrarunner and explorer: Having traveled to all seven continents and having spent much of the past 15 years abroad, I’ve learned that most of my successful trips have come with planning — but not too much planning. It’s important to have an idea of what you’re doing, where you’re landing, what the first couple days might look like. But beyond that, I find it most important to be aware of where you are and listen to your instinct. Listening to the locals will take you to amazing places. Lonely Planet is a great way to get started, but true adventure is up to the traveler.
I ran across America this past year. Looking for a dry place to camp, I asked the woman behind the counter in a local store in Ralston, Oklahoma, if she had any suggestions. A man behind me in line asked if I’d like to stay at his place. I spent the night at his place and listened to his stories. He’d spent time in prison, worked as a day laborer, drank a 12-pack a day. Probably doesn’t sound much like a vacation, but to me, traveling is all about meeting people and hearing their stories.
Paul Rosolie, naturalist, explorer and author: It seems like most people today have forgotten how to truly travel. We seem to think travel means planes, trains, hotels and resorts (ugh!). We can forget how badly we need wilderness, and we forget that rewarding travel doesn’t always have to be to far off, extreme places. The truth is that wherever you live, you can get away. Whether it’s New York, Las Vegas, Bangalore, etc., get out to the woods or go raft a stream. Despite studying anacondas in the Amazon and elephants in India, I still take the time to go just outside New York City to the Gunks to rock climb.
If you can afford the time and money to travel, go to places with endangered species. They need your business, and the vitality of those super-wild places will be rewarding (as will the cool photos).
Wild travel is perhaps the surest way to have authentic experiences and to learn what you are made of. Adventure is crucial, and you won’t get it in the suffocating comfort of five-star treatment. Get your bike, car, canoe or just a backpack and your dog. Go cross some mountains. Paddle a river. Whenever I need to get my head straight, I take three days in the woods. The first day you hike, then you camp. The next day you hike deeper, to the special location — a mountaintop or waterfall — or maybe you packraft to a secluded island that no one seems to ever go to. The second night you stay at your special place — the destination. The third day you go back.
When you wake up at 4 a.m. and the wind is blowing and the stars are out — that’s something. You have to use your own senses to get anywhere, including back home. To me, real travel is done by the power of one’s own arms and legs, eyes and ears and instinct. Sleep outside, get lost. Some of the best days of my life never would’ve happened if I’d had Google Maps. Let adventure find you.
Who cares if you’re tired the next day? Keep going. You will instantly reconnect with something you had no idea you lost — and were missing so terribly.