5 Travel Lessons You Can Use at Home

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Rolf Potts is one of my favorite writers, and his book Vagabonding was one of only four books I recommended as “fundamental” in The 4-Hour Workweek. It was also one of two books, the other being Walden; Or, Life in the Woods, that I took with me during my 15+-month mini-retirement that began in 2004.

The following is a guest post from Rolf on the art and lessons of travel, all of which you can apply at home.

Enter Rolf:

Last fall I spoke at the excellent DO Lectures, which brings innovative thinkers from around the world for a series of talks in rural Wales (Tim was a speaker in 2008). My talk, which is available in full via the video link above encourages people to make themselves rich in time and to become active in making their travel dreams happen.

The talk itself contains essential advice and inspiration regarding travel — but what struck me on re-watching it was an improvised moment at the beginning of the talk, when I pointed out how “these aren’t really travel-specific challenges — these are things that can apply to life in general. Think of travel as a metaphor for how you live your life at home.”

Indeed, travel has a way of slowing you down, of waking you up, of pulling you up out of your daily routines and seeing life in a new way. This new way of looking at the world need not end when you resume your life at home.

Here are 5 key ways in which the lessons you learn on the road can be used to enrich the life you lead when you return home…

1) Time = Wealth

By far the most important lesson travel teaches you is that your time is all you really own in life. And the more you travel, the more you realize that your most extravagant possessions can’t match the satisfaction you get from finding new experiences, meeting new people, and learning new things about yourself. “Value” is a word we often hear in day-to-day life, but travel has a way of teaching us that value is not pegged to a cash amount, that the best experiences in life can be had for the price of showing up (be it to a festival in Rajasthan, a village in the Italian countryside, or a sunrise ten minutes from your home).

Scientific studies have shown that new experiences (and the memories they produce) are more likely to produce long-term happiness than new things. Since new experiences aren’t exclusive to travel, consider ways to become time-rich at home. Spend less time working on things you don’t enjoy and buying things you don’t need; spend more time embracing the kinds of activities (learning new skills, meeting new people, spending time with friends and family) that make you feel alive and part of the world.

2) Be Where You Are

A great thing about travel is that it forces you into the moment. When you’re celebrating carnival in Rio, riding a horse on the Mongolian steppe, or exploring a souk in Damascus, there’s a giddy thrill in being exactly where you are and allowing things to happen. In an age when electronic communications enable us to be permanently connected to (and distracted by) the virtual world, there’s a narcotic thrill in throwing yourself into a single place, a single moment. Would you want to check your bank-account statement while exploring Machu Picchu in Peru? Are you going to interrupt an experience of the Russian White Nights in St. Petersburg to check your Facebook feed? Of course not — when you travel, you get to embrace the privilege of witnessing life as it happens before your eyes. This attitude need not be confined to travel.

At home, how often do you really need to check your email or your Twitter feed? When you get online, are you there for a reason, or are you simply killing time? For all the pleasures and entertainments of the virtual-electronic world, there is no substitute for real-life conversation and connection, for getting ideas and entertainment from the people and places around you. Even at home, there are sublime rewards to be had for unplugging from online distractions and embracing the world before your eyes.

3) Slow Down

One of the advantages of long-term travel (as opposed to a short vacation) is that it allows you to slow down and let things happen. Freed from tight itineraries, you begin to see the kinds of things (and meet the kinds of people) that most tourists overlook in their haste to tick attractions off a list. A host of multi-million-dollar enterprises have been created to cater to our concept of “leisure,” both at home and on the road — but all too often this definition of leisure is as rushed and rigidly confined as our work life. Which is more emblematic of leisure — a three-hour spa session in an Ubud hotel, or the freedom to wander Bali at will for a month?

All too often, life at home is predicated on an irrational compulsion for speed — we rush to work, we rush through meals, we “multi-task” when we’re hanging out with friends. This might make our lives feel more streamlined in a certain abstracted sense, but it doesn’t make our lives happier or more fulfilling. Unless you learn to pace and savor your daily experiences (even your work-commutes and your noontime meals) you’ll cheating your days out of small moments of leisure, discovery and joy.

4) Keep it Simple

Travel naturally lends itself to simplicity, since it forces you to reduce your day-to-day possessions to a few select items that fit in your suitcase or backpack. Moreover, since it’s difficult to accumulate new things as you travel, you to tend to accumulate new experiences and friendships instead — and these affect your life in ways mere “things” cannot.

At home, abiding by the principles of simplicity can help you live in a more deliberate and time-rich way. How much of what you own really improves the quality of your life? Are you buying new things out of necessity or compulsion? Do the things you own enable you to live more vividly, or do they merely clutter up your life? Again, researchers have determined that new experiences satisfy our higher-order needs in a way that new possessions cannot — that taking a friend to dinner, for example, brings more lasting happiness than spending that money on a new shirt. In this way, investing less in new objects and more in new activities can make your home-life happier. This less materialistic state of mind will also help you save money for your next journey.

5) Don’t Set Limits

Travel has a way revealing that much of what you’ve heard about the world is wrong. Your family or friends will tell you that traveling to Colombia or Lebanon is a death-wish — and then you’ll go to those places and have your mind blown by friendliness, beauty and new ways of looking at human interaction. Even on a day-to-day level, travel enables you to avoid setting limits on what you can and can’t do. On the road, you naturally “play games” with your day: watching, waiting, listening; allowing things to happen. There’s no better opportunity to break old habits, face latent fears, and test out repressed facets of your personality.

That said, there’s no reason why you should confine that sort of freedom to life on the road. The same Fear-Industrial Complex that spooks people out of traveling can discourage you from trying new things or meeting new people in own your hometown. Overcoming your fears and escaping your dull routines can deepen your home-life — and the open-to-anything confidence that accompanies travel can be utilized to test new concepts in a business setting, rejuvenate relationships with friends and family, or simply ask that woman with the nice smile if she wants to go out for coffee. In refusing to set limits for what is possible on a given day, you open yourself up to an entire new world of possibility.

Naturally, this list is just a sampling of how travel can transform your non-travel life. What have I missed? What has travel taught you about how to live life at home?

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If you’ve ever fantasized about taking time off to globe-trot, I would highly recommend Rolf Pott’s Vagabonding. It is one of only two books I took with me when I traveled the world for 18 months. Outside Magazine founding editor Tim Cahill calls Vagabonding “the most sensible book of travel related advice ever written.”

I recently partnered with Rolf to release the exclusive audiobook for Vagabonding. For more on this incredible book, click here.

Footnote from Tim: Are you planning, in the middle of, or returning from a long journey? If so — and if you’d like your travel blog or lifestyle-design website to be featured as one of Rolf’s Vagabonding Case Studies — drop him a line at casestudies [at] vagabonding.net and tell him a little about yourself.

Posted on: February 25, 2010.

Watch The Tim Ferriss Experiment, the new #1-rated TV show with "the world's best human guinea pig" (Newsweek), Tim Ferriss. It's Mythbusters meets Jackass. Shot and edited by the Emmy-award winning team behind Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations and Parts Unknown. Here's the trailer.

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209 comments on “5 Travel Lessons You Can Use at Home

  1. Tim,

    These are absolutely phenomenal! Number 3 (Slow Down) especially, considering it’s so easy to get caught back up in the mix almost immediately after returning from a mini vacation (at least for me it is)

    For me I must constantly focus, breathe, and take it easy.

    Thanks for the new post, glad to see you back, can’t wait for the new book!

    -Mike T

    Like

  2. My family (wife and two kids – 7 and 10) traveled to India for 2 weeks over their Christmas break, and now we’re planning to go back for 4 weeks. We started a children’s home there last year, and we’re feeling more and more drawn to traveling as a lifestyle rather than a “vacation.”

    Great thoughts – thanks for the inspiration!

    Like

  3. Excellent article!

    I find it hard sometimes to hold back on buying “things”, because I get caught up in the excitement of owning that item. But when I get that item, I realize that is not what I really wanted, or at least that it was not as good as I was hoping for.

    That is not the case with experiences that you can’t put a price tag on.

    All these elements relate to the 4HWW, which is why I love that book. The biggest roadblock to achieving our dreams is our ourselves.

    Like

  4. Hey Rolf,

    I watched that video when it was posted on vagablogging.net and I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed it. I read your book after Tim recommended in the first edition of 4HWW, and beyond just the notion of travel is really changed the way I viewed the world. I often sit down about every 2-3 months to read a particular chapter (the “Keep It Simple” chapter is my favorite) but often end up breezing through the entire book and discovering another little nugget that I previously overlooked.

    So yeah, thanks for being awesome. :-)

    Also, I’m yet to head off on a trip anywhere yet (mostly because I only finished school just over a year ago) and while I’m pretty keen on volunteering at the end of the year, whenever I tell my mum/sister about heading over to somewhere like Thailand they bring up the ethical implications of supporting economies that involve considerable exploitation. Do you have any advice? Because I do feel guilty myself that I want to find enjoyment in places where people suffer, even though I’m not the type of person whose going to go into a country, buy cheap alcohol, step all over their customs and then bugger off.

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    • Thailand people are not such an unhappy people. Sure they live much simple life and get a little money for their labor. But I think they happy with what they have. And it’s not exactly correct to judge about that from the distance. You have to come and look for yourself. And please do! Thailand is a wonderful country :)

      Like

  5. Excellent post Rolf and Tim! The part that hit me the hardest was from point 1:

    “By far the most important lesson travel teaches you is that your time is all you really own in life. And the more you travel, the more you realize that your most extravagant possessions can’t match the satisfaction you get from finding new experiences, meeting new people, and learning new things about yourself.”

    Great perspective. I find that I feel this exact way whenever I travel – it keeps me hungry for more travel opportunities.

    Like

  6. I’ve been waiting for a post like this Tim, and it seems like perfect timing as I’m now reading Vagabonding, finally. The whole book is full of great thoughts and ideas.

    I love the chapter of Don’t Set Limits. Especially when Potts wrote; Vagabonding is about not merely reallotting a portion of your life for travel but rediscovering the entire concept of time.” Also, “Traveler, there is no path. Paths are made by walking.” – Antonio Machado.

    I can tell that this book had great influence on 4HWW and how you seem to approach day to day agendas. I would love to hear some of your personal experiences you have from vagabonding – or perhaps specific situations/experiences that have influenced you the most (kinda like the Chinese scam lessons you touched on with Kevin in an episode of Random”).

    Thanks for the grea post.

    Like

  7. I just returned from a brief stay in Varadero, Cuba. Friends always accuse me of throwing money away for traveling and going to random places at random times. I see this in a very different light. Before I ramble on, here’s the main thing that I’ve learned from all of my trips (never been on a long journey yet):

    You never know what someone is truly like until you see them out of their elements. We may think we know our friends really well but we don’t. A true test of character and personality is when you see how a friend reacts outside of their comfort zone.

    This is just my opinion and I was wondering if you guys have ever noticed this?

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  8. Wow, what great timing. Just got Vegabonding in the mail from amazon and had my travel bug fed by the stories a dude at the bar about how him and his family traveled to Vietnam for a month.

    I certainly understand number 3 and how it really helps you appreciate what’s around you. I’ve been in Boston since October and it’s so much fun finding places you can never find in a week of visiting. Thanks for the guidance Tim!

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  9. I’m going to need to pick up Vagabonding asap.

    Keep it simple is something that I have been struggling with lately and I’ve got to keep reminding myself to be where I am.

    Time = wealth means that we’ve all got the same opportunities :)
    I’ve gotta start doing something more extraordinary! Thanks Tim.
    -Chris Hughes

    Like

  10. Bah, I’m not sure if one of my comments went through, the one directed at Rolf. If it did, and I’m just impatient then feel free to delete this comment.

    Anyways, Rolf: just thought I’d let you know your book Vagabonding changed the way I thought about life quite substantially, and I saw the video embedded above when it was originally posted on your blog and thought it was a brilliant summary of your ideas (still need to show it to my family who are too lazy to read the book and “get” where I’m coming from).

    Also, one of the reasons I’m still yet to travel after being out of high school for a year is because my family guilts me into not traveling to places I can afford like Southeast Asia. I’m not the type of person to exploit poorer countries and I’d probably leave a lighter footprint than most other people, but there’s still that feeling that I may be contributing to the exploitation of workers by participating in tourism.

    What is your opinion on that? Obviously you’re fine with travel, and it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but there’s still that sense of guilt that keeps being brought up to keep me at home.

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  11. Thanks Tim and Rolf! That video was great. I decided this year to set my life up for traveling, and after I finish working on a few low maintenance revenue streams I’ll be taking a month long trip to Egypt which has been a dream of mine for years. Reading Vagabonding and watching this really keeps me motivated.

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  12. Beautiful and thoughtful post Tim. I find myself nodding my head and muttering uhuh…uhuh in agreement at these truths that I have been experiencing myself so often lately in my travels.

    Thank you for saying it so well.

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  13. Tim / Rolf,
    I am currently in the middle of reading Vagabonding and can hardly put it down. For me, the biggest challenge is finding financial freedom to travel. My wife and I have 2 kids (4 and 2 year old) and live in place that is great for us, but in all honesty is keeping us tied down. I have a job, which is in a cubical, but for our family is currently a necessary evil.

    Between reading Tim’s new version of the 4HWW and now your book Rolf. Sorry Tim, I should have read Vagabonding the first time I read 4HWW. I am now at a point where my desire to have more time consumes me and has resulted in forcing action. I can say my gears are turning to automate towards financial freedom using 4HWW principles. Recently I’ve been able to make some changes that allow me more time with those that are most important at home. We can’t wait for our first mini-retirement, I will definitely write about it and hopefully inspire someone else to take one.

    It is good to hear from you, shoot me an email if you are ever in Los Angeles.

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  14. good stuff!
    people almost always think time=money but it does NOT.

    you can always get your money back – you’ll never get back your time… nice quote here. “By far the most important lesson travel teaches you is that your time is all you really own in life. And the more you travel, the more you realize that your most extravagant possessions can’t match the satisfaction you get from finding new experiences, meeting new people, and learning new things about yourself”
    and, if i may -more on time here: http://bit.ly/cKbQ0b
    thanks for getting back on it – recognize you’ve been a little pre-occupied!

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  15. I read the article before watching the embedded video. I think the article is more coherent, and it’s great. It will be a struggle to learn to savour my daily 45-minute car ride to work though.

    Like