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Seven Reasons Why Travelers Should Leave The Guide Book At Home

No plan is the best plan, said me. This article is sponsored by Lonely Planet… I kid, I kid.

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1. You'll leave more room for magic.

Travis King (Me)

My favorite travel word, favorite travel feeling, and one of my favorite things in life in general is serendipity. When it feels like the world is speaking to you. When a series of events leads to one of your all time favorite stories and travel memories. When you take steps on the invisible bridge and it just keeps appearing in front of you (yes that was an Indiana Jones reference). Having a travel guide that’s highlighted and earmarked for all of your days adventures, meals, travel plans, and accommodations is a sure fire way to leave little to no room for these moments of serendipity, no room for magic.

For example, following a travel guide to a restaurant that is supposed to have good tacos, and then eating good tacos is one thing. Getting lost in a city, meeting some locals, having them take you to a taco stand swimming with warm locals and having the best tacos you’ve ever had – that is the universe taking care of you; that is magic.

2. You’re likely to meet more people and make more friends without one.

Travis King (Me)

Bouncing around to different hostels and meeting travelers along the way, one thing about the running dialogue becomes very clear. The perpetual conversation that you cannot escape is… (take a guess…what do you think?)… you got it, TRAVELING! Every traveler loves to swap stories, give out recommendations, and share their favorite Level Three Fun moments (keep reading, I’ll explain).

Having the next few weeks of your trip tied to an itinerary based on a guidebook’s recommendations will make these conversations essentially useless for you. You’ll be having them anyway, I promise, so leave space in your plans to actually take your new friend’s advice who is so stoked about a certain waterfall, temple, dive bar, or any deviation from the “recommended” spots. Things continuously change, so I’ll always take a real, living-breathing person's advice I just met, over even the most up-to-date guidebook.

3. The best parts of the guide are on google.

Travis King (Me)

The main reason I will pick up a travel guide if it’s on the shelf of a hostel is to just read up a bit about the culture and history of the area I’m in. That part is pretty useful for giving yourself some context and depth of understanding. However, that same thing can be accomplished by reading the Wikipedia page for the city you’re in… and even BETTER, by meeting and getting to know some local people and talking to them about their city.

Reading about how cab drivers in Buenos Aires are angry about Uber's arrival provides some understating of the situation, but talking to cabbies at a bar and feeling their frustration is actually knowing how upset they are. Also, you can obviously Google “top ten things to do” for anywhere in the world and get plenty of ideas to fill your days and weeks. Plus, Google is much lighter than a travel guide.

4. The time that you’re reading your travel guide, you could be traveling.

Travis King (Me)

I can’t count how many times I’ve left a hostel and seen someone with their face buried in a travel guide, just to go exploring for a few hours and return to the hostel to find them in the exact same place. I was walking the halls of a museum while they read about it, or exploring a market that was featured in a “2 days in ______” itinerary.

I want to go easy on these folks because I have the sense that it’s often just a default reaction for younger, more anxious, less comfortable travelers. It reminds me of when people pull out their phones just to look at them, because they’re socially uncomfortable. Paging through a travel guide in a hostel common area is equivalent to looking at your phone and acting like you're busy at a high school dance. For the record, I always try to be super inviting to pretty much everyone at hostels, but especially these folks.

5. You’ll find out about everything you REALLY should do, whether you try to or not.

Travis King (Me)

As we just discussed, you’re going to be having a lot of conversations about traveling, and the recommendations will flood in. On top of that, just walking around a city, it’s pretty hard to miss the whole reason why the city became a destination for travelers. If there is no obvious reason why it’s a destination for travelers (maybe it’s not!), then take that stop as a place to just relax and ask very little of yourself. After traveling for a while, I can promise you that feeling will be relished (as opposed to showing up at a hostel, getting 15 things highlighted on a tourist map, and being made to feel you failed at your two day visit before you even dropped your bags.)

Take Cusco for example: Even if somehow you arrived in Cusco having NEVER heard of Machu Picchu, you couldn’t walk two consecutive blocks downtown near the main square without a sign or person offering you a way to get there (plus a massage, dinner, and five other things). You would realize immediately… “I should probably look into this Machu Picchu thing.” Rainbow Mountain, Sacred Valley, chocolate making, cooking classes… you will see signs for ALL of these things, and will realize, just using your eyes, that there’s not enough time to see and do everything, long before a guidebook also makes you feel that way.

6. You’ll have more Level Three Fun moments, which will ultimately be the stories you tell the rest of your life.

Travis King (Me)

Here are the levels of fun, in a very specific order. Level One is the fun you know you’re going to have. (Example: Going to Angkor Wat. It’s a life bucket list item, and incredibly beautiful). Level Two is the unexpected and serendipitous fun that makes any adventure that much more memorable. In other words, the things you can’t plan for, but that you will cherish. (Example: Your Tuk-Tuk driver, Joni, is an absolute legend, you get a life saving coffee from “James Bond – License to serve, coffee,” then get blessed by monks, and later run into a friend you made a month earlier in Vietnam.) Level Three is the fun you have when things go terribly wrong. In other words, the things that you would never plan, but will be the best stories of your life. (Example: Coming home from Angkor Watt at night, your Tuk-Tuk breaks down, and so you have to wait while Joni pours water on it. It doesn’t come back to life so you get on the back of a scooter, which has no headlight, only a working flasher light that illuminates a pitch black pot-hole filled rode for a split second every three seconds, and you make it back to your hostel after 15 minutes of wondering if you’ll survive the experience. You’re life was in the hands of a stranger, with whom you can’t communicate, driving a steel missile down a pitch-black road. LIFE!)

These Level Three Fun moments are when you’re forced to throw your arms up and have faith in the universe that things will all work out in the end. They usually do, and they usually make for a life-long memory. These #levelthreefun moments are MUCH more likely to occur if you stop following the most recommended plan. In the moment their happening you might not be grateful for the Level Three good times, but when the sun rises again the next morning, you’ll have a hell of a blog post to write and one damn good story to tell for the rest of your life

7. You still disagree? I think I might know why…

At this point in the article, you might have built up some pretty good arguments for why you really WANT to use your guidebook. You don’t want to miss certain things, and you have limited time. You are planning ahead because it’s peak season and you have only two weeks in that part of the world. Finally, what if you didn’t hear about something naturally, and the guide could have told you???

For the first two concerns…

I recently had a mini-revelation around how to answer one of the more common, but difficult questions around traveling - What is the difference between a tourist and a traveler? I think most people immediately think about the way you interact with the local culture, how you spend your time in places, maybe where you’re staying, and a whole list of mostly grey area on some spectrum type rationale. The simplest and most direct answer for me comes down to whether you buy one-way or round-trip flights? Most people who buy round trip flights, are going to “tour” a place for a week or two, and will generally have a well planned out agenda. (Two nights at this resort on this beach, where we will go on a snorkel tour, etc.). I’m not saying this is bad. It’s certainly better than not traveling, and if it’s how you choose to travel, or how circumstances encourage you to travel, have a BLAST! BUT, if you’re able to travel with one-way flights and no serious constraints when it comes to times or borders, do that! It’ll change your life. This article, and my encouragement to ditch the guidebook is for those folks.

I will also say, staying at a Resort in Punta Cana is in a very factual way having “been to Dominican Republic,” BUT, I would argue it’s almost closer to reading an article about it as opposed to knowing it. Taking buses all over the country, riding donkeys to hidden waterfalls, hanging with locals, exploring lesser-known corners, and having an adventure every day is a very different version of having “been to the Dominican Republic.” I prefer the latter.

For the third point of disagreement (what if you miss something the guide could have told you about?), my response is simply: “Who cares?”

The world is too big and amazing to see everything anyway. Countries aren’t just giant geographical checklists. So start enjoying what you do see instead of stressing over what you might miss. When you visit a country to feel it, meet its people, learn from it, and open yourself up to it, you’re much more likely to find the magic in the world.

Follow my adventures on instagram @ traviskingtravels

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