It’s no secret that I love to travel…and travel simply. Whenever an opportunity arises to get my passport out of the tiny little fireproof box in my closet, I take it. Add to that the simple pleasure of spending a few pre-trip hours at the Boulder Bookstore sifting through Lonely Planet, Moon and Rough Guide travel books and I find my imagination completely running over with thoughts of adventure and yet unknown experiences.
In the not too distant future, my friend Jason and I will have our passports and travel books in hand as we head out for about two months of traveling around the Himalaya. We’re planning to travel super light and super simple. The thought is to keep it to one backpack each filled with a bare minimum of clothing and personal items. The only other “stuff” we plan to carry is some light climbing gear, my camera and Jason’s sketch pads, our personal journals and our Rough Guide travel books for each of the countries we plan to travel through.
One thing we both agree on will be to keep “modern” technology to an absolutely minimum. Things such as GPS type devices, “Smart” phones or any other type of electronic device designed to take the guesswork and fun out of travel will not be making the trip with us. To stay in touch with family and friends, we plan to use the always interesting and sometimes hit or miss internet cafés in small villages along our journey. There’s nothing more frustrating and simultaneously comical than paying the equivalent of $0.15US for an hour of intermittent dial up service in some strange land!
It’s funny, the first question I always get when I mention dirt bag traveling to other parts of the world is, “Which guiding company are you using?” Then, every time they ask, I give my standard answer, “Me, my Lonely Planet book and the kindness of the strangers.” Then they’ll ask if I’m taking a satellite phone in case of an emergency, to which I always respond with, “Do you know how much a sat phone costs, much less use? No.” I have been chastised and brow beaten for choosing this style of travel in the past and I fully expect to be chided and thoroughly admonished in the time leading up to this trip.
I know this style of travel is not for everyone and frankly I’m glad it’s not. To me though, there is nothing better than talking to locals to get any needed information, either by trying to speak their native language, sometimes pointing at phrase books or when all else fails, playing charades. The most interesting times come when trying to figure out a little more complicated dialogue like which third class bus or night train to catch to go halfway across a country. Yeah, it can definitely be a little frustrating and nerve wracking at times, but part of being a traveler is diving in head first and learning to figure things out on the fly. Having a guide and taking out the personal interaction between me, the language the customs and the culture is taking out the initial reason I wanted to travel in the first place.
Sadly, in this “there’s an app for that” society we live in, it appears even the simple joys of a good old fashioned road trip are falling to the wayside. There seems to be a strange desire to know everything in advance and have no adventure in discovery whatsoever, or at the very least have a 4G network available if things get too out of hand when you can’t find a Starbucks in a strange town. To me, this whole know it all before you go mentality kills a good adventure and people don’t seem to care.
A while back, Jason and I set off on a four or five day road trip down to New Mexico to do some climbing, mountain biking and chillin’ in the desert — another chapter in the Pro Leisure Tour. Although we did have our cell phones (I had just gotten my first one two weeks prior) we never dialed it or opened it once, by choice. I don’t think either of us had texting capabilities, much less voice recognition. I know for sure we had nothing electronic that would aid us in navigation, food and beverage location or any type of Doppler radar coverage.
We both agreed beforehand that we wanted to keep any type of planning to a bare minimum. If we felt like climbing, we would. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t. Same for mountain biking, hiking, eating, taking photos or sketching. And that’s exactly what we did. We listened to local radio stations, ate in local, non-chain places when on the road, and if we got low on gas, we’d actually pull out my aging road atlas and manually figure out how far the next town was and do some rudimentary math to guesstimate if we could make it or not. We never once yelled into a personal handheld device to await an electronic voice that would tell us of available fuel stations or inform us of what local eateries might be available…sorted alphabetically and ordered by cuisine and price type. Sometimes we’d actually ask the people in the gas station what the best place to eat was, to which there was often heated debate between the Dairy Treat and the local taqueria, and sometimes we’d simply let it be a surprise.
We took circuitous routes going and coming and frequently stopped at historical markers and points of interest when we came across them. We slept in the back of my truck, warmed ourselves against the chilly desert mornings around a campfire, cooked our food on our little camp stove, drank insanely strong percolated camp coffee and cheap Mexican beer (sometimes simultaneously), ate bacon with every meal and most importantly had no formal plan or constraints other than I had to be back to work around the following Tuesday. It was perfect.
Shortly after we returned we met in Boulder at Sherpa’s for a beer and to exchange our photos. In our recap of the trip we both agreed it was exactly what we each wanted and turned out to be more than we expected. As a result we both came away refreshed and fulfilled and strangely the only tools we had were a crappy map, some gas money, bacon, coffee, beer, a well worn camp stove and some spare time.
Ironically, the same people who told me that our New Mexico road trip sounded like the best trip ever are the same ones who vehemently rebuke my preferred style of dirt-bag foreign travel. In my mind they are exactly the same. I prefer to keep them both super simple, employ no formal guides, have no steadfast plan and certainly harbour absolutely no expectations as to how things will play out. It’s just different languages, food, scenery and modes of transportation.
Maybe its straight up fear or maybe it’s just that people are now so accustomed to having an ocean of information right at their fingertips, literally, to take the mystery out of a good adventure. I think I can speak for Jason when I say that we fail to see the fun in planning something into oblivion and removing the potential for adventure. Planning every minute of a trip or having someone to “guide” me through the rough or uncomfortable spots isn’t travel, that’s tourism.
I guess I’ll always just take the knowledge gained through experience path, instead of the experience gained through knowledge route, but that’s just me.
Run long, paddle far, climb high and tele hard.