With a Mission, But Without a Plan: How to Travel Like James Bond
“When one is in Egypt, one should delve deeply into its treasures.”
-James Bond, The Spy Who Loved Me
James Bond knows how to meet women. Wherever he is in the world, he somehow manages to have a beautiful woman at his side. He also knows how to order a drink. With his impeccable taste, he asks, “Vodka Martini. Shaken, not stirred.” And he is always prepared for the bad guys. Bond is rarely surprised, even when the henchmen are waiting for him in his hotel room.
But Bond is more than just a ladies man, drink aficionado and paid assassin. He is the quintessential world traveler. He travels with sophistication and style, bringing along the coolest of gadgets and easily making friends with the locals. Which Bond is this quintessential world traveler? Certainly not Daniel Craig or Pierce Brosnan. It would have to be the one and only Sean Connery. Connery was the first Bond actor, starring in six James Bond films, and many people (myself included) consider him the definitive Bond.
As a kid, I used to watch James Bond movie marathons on television with my dad. It was a kind of bonding experience (no pun intended), and watching the movies opened my eyes to wanderlust and traveling abroad. The movies were shot in beautiful locations across the world, with beautiful women, cool gadgets, and lots of action. At that time, I wanted to be like James Bond. Having spent the last seven months in South America, I came close to reaching that childhood dream. At least as much as I could have without actually being a hired assassin.
The James Bond movies are still a great motivator for leaving your home country to explore the world. But you don’t need to watch Dr. No or Goldfinger to learn how to travel abroad like Bond. Just keep reading.
Leave with a mission, but without a plan
James Bond always leaves with a mission, one that involves stopping megalomaniacal madmen from taking over the world. But he doesn’t leave with a plan. Miss Moneypenny doesn’t book all of Bond’s hotel rooms and plane tickets in advance. If she did, how would Bond ever catch the bad guys? Plans are boring and rigid. Missions, on the other hand, are interesting and flexible.
When planning a trip, you could make it your mission to learn Spanish. Learn paragliding. Or hike Machu Pichu. This would keep your trip interesting and allow you flexibility. When I headed to South America, my mission was to learn Spanish. I didn’t have any travel plans. After seven months, choosing a mission over a plan had served me well. I learned Spanish and was able to stay in my favorite cities longer. I had four homestays, met more locals than your average tourist, and had an incredible travel experience.
As a caveat, traveling with a mission versus a plan won’t work for shorter one or two week trips. But if you have the time, traveling slow and with a mission is the way to go. It is more affordable, flexible, and you will have a deeper experience in each country. If you have less time, you may decide to visit as many countries or landmarks as you can. Just be aware that this type of travel may be a more-touristy and less-profound experience. But if you are time-constrained or get bored easily, it may be your best option.
>> Get inspired by reading about travel missions others have undertaken
Be prepared for the bad guys
“His name’s Jaws. He kills people.”
-James Bond, Moonraker
James Bond is rarely surprised by bad guys. And when he is, he takes quick action. Sometimes, the henchmen are hiding in his hotel room. Other times, Bond sneaks into their turf and surprises them first. And sometimes they are not “guys” at all, but seductresses that lure him in for the kill.
You will be dealing with a different type of bad guy. The one that wants to steal your things or money. If you do your research before you leave, traveling can be very foreign and exotic without being dangerous. Often times, you will be safer abroad than you would’ve been in your home country. You just need to research where you are going beforehand. Check out Wikipedia’s list of countries by intentional homicide rate. This list may not be completely accurate (especially as in many countries the violence is not directed at tourists), but it is still worthwhile to check out.
The U.S. Department of State Travel Warnings and UK FCO Travel Advice also offer a breakdown of country-specific travel warnings, and travel guidebooks will tell you the common schemes of local robbers, but the very best way to learn about the current situation in a given country is to talk to other travelers who are there now. Reports are often inflated by the media, so follow the blogs or twitter streams of people in the place you plan to visit, or talk to others in travel forums like the BootsnAll boards.
In addition to doing research on your travel destination, you can be better-prepared by bringing secure travel gear. There is no stopping someone with a wire cutter, but it makes sense to take the basic precautions so your gear doesn’t get stolen. When traveling overseas, I bring a slash-proof day pack, backpack cable lock, and a slash-proof wallet with a zipper and chain which I attach to my belt.
As a general rule, always be aware of your surroundings. Like James Bond, you must always be conscious of what’s going on around you. When I was in Peru, I took out my credit card from the ATM, and a passerby quickly switched it with a fake card. If I hadn’t yelled for help and chased after the man, I would’ve never gotten the card back. Luckily, all turned out well.
>> Check out some of the most dangerous destinations in the world
Get help from the locals and always have a “fixer”
How many times does James Bond hang out with tourists? Never, except when he is messing up their trip while chasing after the bad guys. He does, however, make friends with the locals (and sometimes more than friends with the local ladies), who often help him accomplish his mission. If you want a deeper travel experience, and a chance to learn the local language, you should do the same.
One of the easiest ways to make friends with locals is to find a homestay with a family. How do you do this? Going through your hostel or tour guide staff is the best and cheapest strategy. Stay in a hostel for a few days and then ask your hostel manager or tour guide about homestay options.
For example, when I was in Salta, Argentina, I stayed at the aunt of my hostel manager’s house for one month. My homestay there was an amazing experience and the highlight of my trip. As another example, in Arequipa, Peru I was introduced to a friendly local Peruvian with a room for rent through my bus tour guide on my first day there. He took me in as his roommate for over a month. In both cases, I ended up paying much less than the cost of a hostel, made lots of friends, and learned more Spanish. If you join a language school, most will offer a homestay option to you. Be aware that it will be more expensive as the language schools take a big cut from your homestay rent.
The more locals you meet, the bigger your network of trusted friends – friends who can help you stay safe, be your “fixer” in a jam, and point you towards the best and lesser-know attractions – grows.
>> Get tips for meeting people on the road
Meet beautiful women (or handsome men)
“Do you know a lot about guns, Mr. Bond?”
“No, but I know a little about women.”
-Largo and James Bond, Thunderball
Wherever he travels, James Bond has no trouble meeting members of the opposite sex. You should have no problem either. As a foreigner in a different country, you will be considered exotic. The ladies (or men) will probably be much more interested in you than those in your home country. (This is especially true if you are from a rich country and visiting a poorer country, and unfortunately can leave to exploitation of the locals).
You can try meeting women or men at clubs and bars, but beware that the people there may be after you for your money or visa (called “visa hunters”). I’ve heard horror stories of a foreigner man being seduced by a beautiful woman at the bar. The seductress sneaks a drug into the man’s drink and steals his money/things after he is passed out (usually in his hotel room). Or even worse, she leads him to an alley where her big, strong friends are waiting to beat him up and rob him. Use your best judgment.
I have found that it’s better to first make friends with locals (see above), and get introduced to their friends. You will have a better chance of meeting high-quality people this way. And less chance of getting drugged and mugged or beat up. The vast majority of the people you meet won’t have ill intentions, but trusting the wrong person can be a big mistake.
Bring the right gadgets for your trip
“Explosive alarm clock, guaranteed never to wake anyone that uses it.”
– Q, License To Kill
James Bond always travels with cool gadgets developed by Q to help him escape or go after the bad guys. You can bring your own cool gadgets too, with a focus on those that help you travel green and travel light.
Personal water filters are no longer reserved for hiking/outdoors enthusiasts. These are great for travel as well, allowing you to get clean water from wherever you’re at. This eliminates the need to purchase bottled water, saving the environment of plastic consumption.
eReaders and mobile devices allow you to read guidebooks and language books electronically. You are saving the environment of paper consumption. And if you are a prolific reader, or traveling between countries (requiring multiple guidebooks), or learning a language, this will also save a lot of weight. Even if you only travel to one country, an eReader weighs much less than a guidebook.
If you will be traveling for a while, get a local cellphone. Cellphones aren’t in line with the theme of going green or traveling light, but they are very cheap and come in handy. If you get one that is unlocked, you can use it in any country. You will just need to change SIM cards when you change countries. After you have a cellphone, you’ll be able to text and call your new local friends to stay in touch.
Pack light but be prepared
James Bond always packs light (minus the gadgets that Q gave him). Packing too much would just slow him down. If you are traveling for an extended period of time, it’s best to do the same. Packing light will make you more mobile. You will thank yourself after you’ve been traveling for a few weeks and see other backpackers struggling with their larger backpacks.
When I decided I wanted to travel long-term, I fit everything inside a carry-on bag, living with only the items inside for seven months in South America. The next time I will probably try to pack even less.
Using a smaller (28 – 35 liter) backpack will force you to pack light and eliminate the need for checked luggage on flights. You will also want to bring a smaller day pack which can fit inside the larger backpack. To keep your backpack light, pack 3 pairs max of each clothing item. Consider washing your own clothes, as it’s better for the environment and easy if you buy quick-dry clothing. Look for high-quality, fast-drying, light material. Pack for the weather you will be traveling in, and use layers to pack lighter (ex. thermals).
You should not need more than one pair of shoes and one pair of sandals. Make sure they are high-quality. When looking for shoes, try to find a gore-tex (waterproof) hiking shoe. Do not go with a boot unless you plan on doing a lot of hiking, as it will be more bulky. When looking for sandals, try to find the kind that are made for walking longer distances, with good foot support. The sandals should also be waterproof, so you can use them instead of flip flops. Try to find multi-use toiletry items, such as soap that you can use for shampoo, body wash and washing your clothes. Toiletry items can be found anywhere, so don’t overpack.
>> Find out how to travel very lightly
The name’s Bond. James Bond.
“Remember that it’s the journey, not the destination.”
As James Bond told Dr. No, “World domination. Same old dream. Our asylums are full of men who think they are Napoleon.” Traveling for the sake of tacking off countries from some hypothetical list for your own “world domination” is not traveling in my book. If you have the time, travel slow and enjoy the journey. Safe travels.
Get more tips for better travel:
- Ditch the Guidebook – Alternative Travel Resources
- Rethinking Traditional Travel – Tips to Break the Mold
- How to Travel Like a Local in Indonesia