Travel Math: 7 Equations for the Indie Traveler

Travel experiences don’t always fall into neat categories; we’re all different and we experience the world through our own unique lens. Still, there are travel truisms that are abundantly clear – and yet poeple spend inordinate amounts of time arguing over semantics.

Since mathematics is all about avoiding the gray areas, we thought we’d put some of those travel truisms into equation form to demonstrate how easy it is to stop having stupid travel arguments and focus instead on what really matters – the traveling.

Oh, and even if math isn’t your strongpoint, we’re pretty sure you’ll be able to figure out these equations.

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We’ve heard the argument of tourist vs. traveler eleventy billion times, and it’s no closer to being settled than it is to being a genuine thing about which to argue. Attempting to distinguish between two words that mean essentially the same thing is ridiculous, especially when the goal is always to place one group higher in some non-existent travel hierarchy.

If you don’t live there, you’re a tourist and you’re a traveler. Done.


Vessels meant to hold the stuff you bring with you when you leave home are simply that – vessels. The ones with straps are better for some trips, while the ones with wheels are better for other trips, but the use of one over the other isn’t grounds for being kicked out of a club. (See earlier statement regarding non-existent travel hierarchy.)

So who cares whether you prefer a wheelie bag or a backpack? If you want a real luggage-related topic to argue about, there hasn’t yet been enough ink spilled over checked baggage fees, has there?


Travel goals are all well and good, but real-time experiences you can have when you get out in the world will almost always trump whatever goals you had for the day. Put down the to-do list, slow down, make eye contact, smile, and take the time to talk to the people you’re breezing past en route to whatever was your next stop.

Chance encounters are never on lists – they cannot be planned, only prepared for. Lists are for grocery shopping. Leave ‘em at home.


Although travel can be life-altering, it takes more than changing the scenery to change who you are. It’s the cumulative effect of the experience of traveling, of being open to new ideas – not just seeing new attractions – that shifts your focus and gives you a chance to see things differently.

When you sip the travel Kool-Aid slowly on the road, you can’t help but come back a different person, no matter where you go or how you get there. In fact, it can happen so gradually you may not even notice the changes yourself – but your friends and family? The ones who stayed home? They’ll notice. Trust us.


Let’s get this straight: calling a destination or experience “once in a lifetime” is an entirely self-imposed limitation. That African safari you’ve dubbed “once in a lifetime” is going to be available before you get there and long after you leave, so the only thing making it a “once in a lifetime” experience is you.

Sure, you may only visit some places once during your life, but that’s your choice – and if you decide later on to go back to any place you’ve previously been to on a “once in a lifetime” trip, you’re basically calling yourself a liar. Avoid this pratfall entirely by getting away from the “once in a lifetime” roadblock. Once in a lifetime, like the unicorn, only exists in our heads. Thank goodness we have control of what goes in in our own heads, hmm?


The amount of money spent on a travel experience does not automatically give it a qualitative ranking. There are some kick-ass budget experiences where additional money spent would ruin what makes them so great, and some experiences that are totally worth splurging on.

Judging an activity solely on its cost, for any reason other than your ability to afford it, paints an incomplete picture of the potential reward – not to mention the fact that “budget” means something different to just about everyone. Focus less on always trying to spend as little as humanly possible and more on what constitutes the best experience for your travel style.


Actually, we’ll solve this one for you: x = your travel style. And y’know what? No one besides you can solve for x. Don’t let anyone – including us – tell you different.

You’re not being measured against anyone else’s travel style, and your own travel style is likely to change over time. Unless you’re taking part in some reality show, traveling isn’t a competition. Do your thing, be happy doing it, and that’s all anyone needs to know.

“Solving for x” is, we think, one of the most personally rewarding things you’ll ever do. Are you ready?

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Cover photo by tkamenick
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