Enhancing Travel by Making Things Harder for Yourself

Editor’s note: Over the past year, we’ve published many transformational travel stories - stories where travel has impacted the writer in a profound way. We will continue to publish stories like these, but we realized something along the way. Part of what makes travel great is the people we meet while on the road. Making meaningful connections is one of the best parts of travel. There are lots of folks out there who are doing really cool, interesting, intriguing, and often questionable things in the world of travel – and we want to tell their stories, too! Writer Will Jackson has met many several of these types of people during his travels, and the following story is about a few of them. 

Graham Hughes recently completed his quest to visit every single country in the world – without flying. It would have been much easier, quicker, and cheaper if he had flown. I mean, at least to the Maldives. They’re a bitch to get to. Not flying also got him into a bit of trouble, like when he spent four days on the open seas in a leaky wooden boat reaching Cape Verde and was promptly thrown in jail on arrival.

So why didn’t the larrakin Liverpudlian adventurer – who finished his Odyssey Expedition in December 2012 – just buy a RTW ticket like everyone else?

Well, obviously he wanted all the fame and glory of being the first person to travel to all 201 sovereign states via land and sea and set a Guinness World Record. But that wasn’t all. He figured limiting his transport options could – along with minimizing his carbon footprint – actually enhance his travelling experience.

“I knew it would add a richness and vitality to the adventure that would be missing if I simply flew,” he said. “I got to meet so many more people – people going about their everyday lives – and spend time off the beaten track that I wouldn’t have otherwise.”


The kitchen floor is lava

A growing number of people are creating artificial rules for themselves to make life a little more interesting, like kids deciding the kitchen floor is lava. Some are looking to “game-ify” their lives using mobile phone apps like Zombies, Run!, which can turn a pleasant jog around the neighbourhood into a desperate dash for survival.

Others are taking part in real life activities like Tough Mudder, a fun run/obstacle course in which the masochistic participants crawl through mud under barbed wire and through forests of hanging electrified wires.

I knew it would add a richness and vitality to the adventure that would be missing if I simply flew. I got to meet so many more people – people going about their everyday lives – and spend time off the beaten track that I wouldn’t have otherwise.

Then there are those travel lovers who are setting a few ground rules before embarking on their adventures. It can be a great way to spice up your RTW trip – and you don’t need to be going for a Guinness World Record either.

It could be that you promise that you’ll “try all local foods at least once” or “never say no to a new experience” or “always wear yellow.” The options are limitless for challenging yourself through travel.

Taking rule-making to the extreme

Before and after

Tanner Ballengee and Conner Morton are two strapping young lads from the US who took their rule-making to the extreme. They decided to embark on their wild ride through Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, India, and Nepal – documented on their blog The Harsh Barge – with a set of ten commandments, the most important of which were: “Never pay to sleep” and “always travel by motorbike.”

“We’d ride our bikes all day, sometimes eight to ten hours, then just sleep somewhere, anywhere,” Tanner said. “As this farmer in India said one night, ‘What’s sleep? You just close your eyes.’ You pay for comfort, not sleep. Sleep is free, and we didn’t need comfort.”

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Other commandments ranged from the laddish “always finish your beer” to the gross “never shave your beard” and “never wash your white T-shirt or jeans” to the bizarre “always honk at dogs (and goats).”

The results of not shaving and washing their shirts were so dramatic their “before and after” shots from the trip went viral on Reddit.

Breaking the rules

In back of tuk tuk

The duo operated on a sort of honor system but did break their rules a few times.

“Some of the later rules like ‘always honk at dogs’ we would break regularly without much remorse,” Conner said. ‘Always travel by motorbike’ was broken a few times. There were a few short parts of the trip, usually between buying and selling motorbikes, where we had to take a bus or train or airplane.”

“And ‘always finish your beer’ was surprisingly difficult sometimes. Like, we would be camping and decide to open the warm beers in our bag, then 10 minutes later all we want to do is sleep.”

Tanner said the pair were usually able to find a friendly local to stay with or somewhere to camp but sometimes they were sorely tempted to pay for accommodation, especially when they were forced to sleep on the streets.

“Being on the streets of big cities like Pnom Penh, where there’s a lot of crime,” he said. “Or getting separated and not being able to get in touch with each other aside from email; it’s scary being in a big foreign city all by yourself, and it seems so easy to just give in and get a hotel.

“But if you want to obey the commandments, you have to find another way. And there’s always another way. You just have to think, and be creative.”

Not all fun and games

Sleeping wherever

Having artificial restrictions certainly has its downsides. Like participating in extreme sports, you can find yourself in some unpleasant and even dangerous situations. Conner and Tanner often found themselves being hassled by the authorities while trying to sleep and riding their motorbikes. On one occasion they crashed out in what they thought was an abandoned building and woke up to find soldiers pointing AK-47s in their faces, and on another Conner suffered a broken ankle when he was hit by a truck, came off his bike, and was run over .

“Sometimes imposing rules on yourself can make you miserable; it’s definitely not for everyone,” Conner said.

A memorable journey

Tanner and Connor

However, Conner said on balance the commandments made the trip much more interesting.

“Our goal on the trip wasn’t necessarily to ‘have fun,’ but to just have some funny experiences,” he said.

He said the core rules about not paying to sleep and always riding motorbikes added to their experience inestimably.

“Never paying to sleep put us in the most memorable situations from the trip,” he said. “We met some people we would have never met otherwise, and you get a true sense of hospitality.

“And traveling by motorbike is so incredibly different to traveling by bus/train, we really got to see a country from start to finish, not just the big cities and popular destinations, but everything in between.”

Have you ever set goals for yourself on a trip? Ever taken it to the extreme like these three guys? Share your stories below.

To read more from author Will Jackson, check out his author bio page.

manifesto - adapt as they go


Leave a Comment

  • Tony Chan said at 2013-03-18T19:01:12+0000: My goal is simple. I flirt with a pretty girl at least once in every city I visit. For some guys that's easy. Not for me. I'm very introverted and painfully shy. While I travel, I don't really care what she thinks when she shoots me down.
  • Nannette Enriquez said at 2013-03-18T15:30:52+0000: Gee...I thought I was hardcore by never staying in a hotel again and deciding to use hostels but then I am a 64 female solo traveler...Oh well, I gotta step it up or should I say down..
  • Loz Intransit said at 2013-03-20T23:54:14+0000: Artificial barriers and "games" are great mind hacks to achieve things. For myself, momentum is key to success. You need to have a few wins under your belt which motivate you continue the streak so to speak. The goals are big mental barriers at first but seeing as we're ultimately the one that created them (whether its not paying for accomm or talking to a pretty girl), surely we find some joy in achieving them. Its that inner motivation that carries you through.
  • Bryan Danger said at 2013-03-22T21:04:11+0000: our only rule is to never follow rules... 9months driving through mexico and central america and going strong! =)
  • Cherie Medel Scillia said at 2013-03-18T18:36:08+0000: Just curious...when these guys went camping, where did they "go" and did they adhere to the "leave no trace" practice?