The Intrepid Traveler — Preface
“The use of traveling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.”
— Samuel Johnson
The Greek poet, Constantine Cavafy, wrote in the late nineteenth century of the importance of enjoying the trip, any trip, and not only longing for a journey’s end. It’s a metaphor that can be extended to many of life’s processes and what this book is ultimately about.
This book is about travel – not tourism per se, but travel – experiential travel; the kind of travel that benefits both the visitor and the visited. And not just the travel where you go for a good time – though if you follow the guidance in this book carefully, I do believe you will have the time of your life, far beyond what you ever thought possible.
In the history of this world there has never been a better time to explore and never a greater need for increased awareness of the principles and practices of responsible, ethical, sustainable, and experiential travel. This is what I like to call intrepid travel, as the word intrepid suggests a lack of fear in dealing with something new or unknown – indeed seeking out the new and unknown to better understand the world as well as oneself. The adjective comes from Latin intrepidus, formed from the prefix in (or "not") plus trepidus ("alarmed").
Intrepid travelers are among a group of daring individuals who want—indeed thirst—for a deeper understanding of the world in which we live. To travel is to step beyond the comfortable surroundings of the familiar world. I believe this is one of the greatest adventures we can take in life.
Whether you are planning a trip to Argentina, Bangladesh, China, Denmark, Ethiopia, France, or Germany (or Haiti, India, Jamaica, Korea, or Lichtenstein), traveling offers an opportunity for the ultimate adventure and the highest education, if you are open to it. To travel is to live life at its fullest.
I believe that travel is best when one pursues a three-dimensional experience, with three separate but interlinked facets of reality. There are the things we can see with our eyes—images captured on postcards, the monuments left behind by past civilizations, the architectural remnants of yesteryear. And then there are the people—the descendants of those who built the pyramids, the Great Wall of China, or the temples of Machu Pichu. The second dimension of intrepid traveling involves getting to know these people and their culture, gaining a glimpse of empathy into how life is experienced through their eyes. The third dimension involves nature—tuning into the vibration of the land and listening to it with all five senses.
This book is part travelogue, part travel guide—to anywhere. The insights that I share in these pages took years to develop, and I am still working on them. My first real travel experience occurred at the age of ten, when my parents packed up the Chevy Suburban, loaded me and my two sisters into the back, and then set off from the south of Arizona to the Yukon Territory in the far north of Canada. I wasn’t sure where we were going or why were we leaving, or even what Canada was, although I distinctly remember two words that often came up in the conversations emanating from the front seat: Nixon and Vietnam.
My next big travel experience came at the age of sixteen, when I hitchhiked from the Yukon, down the Alaska Highway to Los Angeles and then back by way of Wyoming and a short stint at the National Outdoor Leadership School. The following year, I bought a used motorcycle and spent a summer exploring the Pacific Coast of North America from Haines, Alaska to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico – reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by the light of campfires along the way. By the age of eighteen I had run out of exciting places to explore on my own home continent and so I set my sights further East—so far East that my goal was to arrive back in the West. This journey took me around the world, lasting five years and took me to fifty countries throughout Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia on a shoestring budget of less than one hundred dollars per month.
During those five years, I practically lived five lifetimes. Each country, town, and village touched me in some way. Every person I encountered enriched me with a new understanding of life. It is often said that seeing new outer horizons broadens one’s inner horizons, and indeed for me, traveling caused my worlds to expand far beyond what I thought possible at the time. Not a single day passed in the five years I spent on the road that my awareness did not expand through a new insight or revelation.
A word about past editions of this book
The first and second editions of this book were not necessarily written for the jet setter. I started out with the backpacker in mind, like myself many years ago. I have since learned that the jet setter, the business traveler, or a UN Advisor “on mission” can all be experiential travelers, intrepid travelers; responsible adventurers with an appetite to partake of the banquet of life, traveling to explore and experience what is beyond the horizons—the horizons “out there” and those that lie within us.
Indeed, during the twenty-two years I spent working with the United Nations between the second edition of the book and this one, I was able to explore an additional 50 countries in a way that would have been much more difficult had I been an independent traveler on a shoestring budget. From remote rural areas of Mozambique and isolate villages of Cambodia to the deserts of the Sahara and the mountains of Nepal, I was tasked with connecting with, interviewing, and photographing villagers and local authorities throughout the Least Developed Countries (LDCs). LDCs are a group of 47 developing countries that, according to the United Nations, exhibit the lowest indicators of socioeconomic development, with the lowest Human Development Index ratings of all countries in the world. Some of the images and insights in this edition are from those experiences.
Whether your budget is one hundred dollars per month or $1,000 per day, the two things I believe you must bring with you as an Intrepid Traveler are an open mind and curiosity. You can be eighteen or eighty years old and travel with a backpack, a duffel bag, or a suitcase. You can wear jeans or a suit. The externalities are secondary. A wise monk in a monastery in Thailand once told me that it is the motivation behind the action that determines the quality of the experience. It is precisely your motivation to travel that will be the greatest determining factor behind both the quality of your experience and whether it builds you up or breaks you down.
There are as many reasons to travel as there are travelers themselves, but there is something that ties even the most diverse of travelers together: a sense of adventure, a heightened self-confidence, and a positive outlook on life. Travelers are characters that seldom sit still. They are always wondering what is on the other side of the mountain. The tourist tours, usually in groups, and he focuses most of his attention on seeing, on “window shopping.” Travelers are usually highly motivated, intensely interesting, and wonderfully inquisitive. Their experiences have shown them that the world is indeed a wonderful place. They have a good understanding of global events and feel comfortable with anyone in most any circumstance. She focuses on experience—on meeting people and attempting an empathic understanding of life as viewed through another’s paradigm.
It is my vision that through increased travel and a greater understanding of the world in which we live, that the world will become a better place one traveler at a time. Global peace and global stability can only come through global understanding. Understanding comes through connecting and interacting. Connecting and interacting is what you do when you travel.
Every traveler is intrepid—fearless and self-confident. This confidence arises from being able to perceive a goal and achieve it. It also comes from trusting the universe to provide your needs and knowing with confidence that every situation, no matter how complicated or uncomfortable, is an opportunity to learn. We are never presented with a challenge too great to overcome with the right attitude, and every challenge brings with it new understanding and awareness.
It is commonly thought that to see the world one needs a lot of money. The opposite can be true as well; quite often the amount of money spent on a trip is inversely proportional to the depth of the travel experience. In other words, the more money you spend on a trip, the more you may insulate yourself from the people and the reality of the country you are visiting. If you travel to Mexico City, stay at the Four Seasons, eat American food, and travel to all the tourist sites with groups of Americans in air-conditioned tour buses, you may not really be in Mexico City. Rather, you could be merely “seeing” an image through the framed perspective of a tinted glass window. You could probably get better views from watching a documentary on the National Geographic website.
On the other hand, being too frugal carries an opportunity cost, causing you to miss out on potentially valuable travel experiences. I have met travelers who have passed up a visit to a museum or ancient ruins because of a five-dollar entrance fee. If your budget is too tight to allow a visit to a local museum, it may be time to reevaluate your travel plans.
Getting to the part of the world you have planned to visit may the biggest cost you encounter. However, if you plan, compare prices, or make more stops with longer layovers, you can significantly reduce this expense. Once you arrive at your destination, especially if your journey takes you to the developing (and often much more interesting) part of the world, the cost of living and traveling could very well be much less than you expected.
By spending less than the contemporary “tourist,” you are more likely to encounter locals and engage them in conversation. By avoiding lunch at the Radisson and instead eating in a local restaurant, by avoiding the tourist bus and instead taking local transport, and by staying with a local family in a bed-and-breakfast or at an Airbnb, you are more likely to spend time with people who are from the area, which should be one of the three reasons you are there in the first place. The geography and nature may be attractive, the cultural sites and monuments may be interesting, but it is the people you meet while traveling that will make your travel experience one that will enrich your life beyond compare. When you return home from your travels, you will have made new friends with whom you may be in contact for the rest of your life.
Travel slows down time – and we live longer
I have found that in many ways when we travel, and our senses are exposed to new experiences, we pay more attention to the details surrounding us: We become more mindful of the people, the food, the smells, the architecture, etc. Thus, we live more in the here and now because it is in the present moment where we experience reality. When we do this, our perception of time slows down, like when we were children marveling at and learning about the world around us. Remember how long the month before a birthday seemed as a child? Then, as we get older, we fall into routines and an entire year can go by in the blink of an eye.
I believe we are only truly alive when our consciousness is anchored in the here and now. When our mind is mired in memories of the distant past, we get lost in movies of our own making. We are not here, now. When we are anticipating or worried about events that may or may not happen tomorrow, we are not here, now – we are literally somewhere else in our minds. We are only alive, when we are here, now, in this moment. Thus, the secret to longevity could be as simple as staying present and mindful in the present. Ponce de Leon's Fountain of Youth as it turns out, is not in some hidden faraway Floridian fable—it is right here where I am, in this moment. It is in observing and appreciating the details of my now.
Inward/outward simultaneous travel
While you are on your outward global journey to faraway lands, you may discover another journey occurring simultaneously. You will see, hear, smell, taste, and feel things that will stimulate your spirit and awaken your senses. These new senses will inspire you to contemplate different paradigms about life and how it is lived. Traveling can transform nearly anyone into a philosopher and poet, for life on the road is revealed to you in a wonderful tapestry of contradictions and the kind of raw beauty that defies definition.
Seeing the world as it is in its true nature is what gives the traveler a perspective of life that is often different from those who have never traveled. The journeyer is more apt to view him or herself as a citizen of the world, of the human race, rather than citizen of a country or representative of a specific race.
I have found that for me, traveling quite often awakens a primordial nomadic instinct that creates a desire to forever want to see and experience what is beyond the next horizon. The more we experience, the more we want to experience.
For those who have never tried it, the traveler’s wanderlust can be a curious and rather incomprehensible type of behavior. Some non-travelers even look upon the traveler with either contempt or detached awe, saying to themselves, “I wish I could do that if only _____.”
If you want to travel, there is no excuse to delay. Settle your accounts, pay your bills, take an indefinite leave of absence from work, and hang a sign on the window that says, “Gone fishing – in Tasmania.”
A few notes on the third edition and some acknowledgements
Twenty-five years in the making, I do hope this third edition of The Intrepid Traveler will be of use and interest to travelers who are embarking on their first journey and to those seasoned travelers who can ever-so-well relate to the autobiographical experiences I have included to illustrate a few of my points. I also have tried to write it in such a way that it would appeal to readers who are embarking on the journey of life without transporting their physical bodies to the far reaches of the planet. Armchair travelers can be intrepid as well, gaining every bit as much insights to feed their curiosities and open minds.
This third edition includes a lot of material that simply did not exist when I was doing and living the research for the first two editions. In the early 1980s when I first set out to discover the world there was no email, no internet, and no ATM machines. Placing an international phone call could take three days if there was even a phone available. A letter could take three months to reach its destination. Now all that is required to let mom know you are safe is a Facebook account and access to an internet café or a smartphone.
Also, in the twenty-five years since the first edition of this book was published, I have more than doubled the number of countries I have visited—many during the past two decades of work with the United Nations. I have expanded the sections on traveling as a couple, having experienced much of the world from Marrakesh to Manhattan and from Cairo to Cape Town with my patient and loving wife, Gillian. I also have experienced the joy and adventure of traveling with children and have journeyed to and through several countries from Egypt to Morocco and from Chile to Canada with my two sons, Sage Mandela and Addison Tafari. Traveling with kids opens new opportunities for experiencing a country in ways I had never imagined.
This is a good place to acknowledge that nothing of substance is ever accomplished without the benevolence, understanding, and assistance of friends, family, and higher powers. In recognition of this, I would like to express appreciation to my mother, Nancy Dryden Lorieau and to my publisher at Earth News, Judy Rae. These two women (and their husbands) gave me the push I needed in the early 1990s to put pen to paper and to produce the first edition of this book. I feel enormous gratitude toward my Grandmother Ruth Wyatt Dryden and to her son, my uncle Chuck Dryden. I would also like to thank the late Ted Harrison of the Yukon for believing in me, Ella Cisneros of the Together Foundation for inspiring me, and to Lennie and Alena, for creating a new haven in New Haven. Thanks also to Wes Bernard, who first taught me how to take photos, and to Laura Kullenberg, my first boss in the UN system, who pushed me to take those skills to the next level. Thanks to Jim MacIntyre for an open door; Simona Marinescu for an open mind, and Jamrad Saoman for an open heart and for reminding me to breath. Thanks also to Jamie Birdwell-Branson and Gillian Rogers for editing the third edition of The Intrepid Traveler, and to Dennis Lundø Nielsen of Phoenix Design Aid, for publishing it.
Of the many, many people who helped me out and inspired me along my own journeys around the world: My deep appreciation goes out to Sebastian Copeland (who provided the foreword to this edition), Reinhard Struve of Germany, Salwa el Habib of the Sudan, Martin and Annette Edney of Australia, Zeynep Sinal of Istanbul, Gert Paul Nowosadko of Everywhere, Keven Lafey of Jerusalem, and the Nazmuddin Family of Eritrea and now of Phoenix, Arizona. Thanks to Dimitry Elias Léger, with whom I worked in the post-earthquake rubble of Haiti and who inspired me with his tenacity for writing and the insights of his book, God Loves Haiti. I would also like to recognize, with appreciation and gratitude, the Lebanese monk on Mt. Athos, who changed my life one evening with a single conversation about moments and journeys. Lastly, I would like to express my appreciation to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and the Little Prince, who wrote that “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
This book, as with the two previous editions, is dedicated to the Little Prince in all of us.