To Boldly Go Where Tour Busses Fear to Tread

The author, traveling by carnival rabbit. 

“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.”

~ Lao Tzu



The same could be said for a good travel writer, and as a member of said fraternity I’ve always interpreted Lao Tzu’s words as encouragement to travel for travel’s sake, considering destination merely a by-product. But how to put the emphasis on journey over destination?

My go-to method is to employ whenever possible non-standard modes of transportation which either extend travel time, are nerve-wracking enough to make time feel slower, or (with unreliable modes of transport), require a flexible concept of destination.

As a reader of this column you’re comfortably en voyage mid-flight yourself. Barring unusual circumstances (of either random celebrity spotting or flight attendant dumping a salad on your lap variety), the most memorable moment of this leg of the journey might be a toss up between finally watching Batman Versus Superman on the in-flight entertainment system or (for those with even less patience for convoluted narrative), reading this article.

You’d have no time for the former and barely enough for the latter were your current trip on a six-seat puddle-jumper flight, though the experience might feel longer. Such short-range flights are generally memorable. Engines (or engine, as the case might be) sounding like an overpowered coffee grinder, small-plane flights almost always guarantee personal contact with the pilot. You may be sitting next to them, though do resist the temptation to initiate mid-flight conversation. (A small gratuity for landing the plane in one piece, or at least at the agreed upon spot is always appreciated.)

Boats are an equally unforgettable way to travel, though not always in a good way. In the neighboring Philippines, Indonesia and other nations comprised mostly of ocean with a few scattered islands, water taxis are ubiquitous, indispensible and largely unregulated. Larger inter-island ferries usually have enough life preservers to go around, making diesel poisoning and seasickness the only real hazard. But travelers heading to less-trammeled Blue Lagoon locales may find themselves skirting islands and open ocean on single-engine speedboats. Operators of these tuk-tuks of the sea are generally more interested in speed than safety, which is partly economic and partly a function of maturity: Like their terrestrial tuk-tuk driving counterparts, many speedboat captains are barely out of adolescence. Anchors away!

Overland travel generally offers more in the way of less nerve-racking transit options, but the savvy traveler should be on the lookout for opportunities to make one’s journey more memorable by eschewing convenience and certainty for discomfort and adventure by hitchhiking.

Hitchhiking, generally looked down upon in wealthier nations, is an essential form of transportation in the developing world. In the United States, thumbing a ride is against the law in most places, so hitchhikers need to be on the lookout for police. The situation is somewhat reversed in Belize, where hitchhikers are advised to give up their seat for any law enforcement officials also thumbing a ride.

One interesting exception to the developed/developing world hitchhiking dichotomy is Taiwan, which is unique in that it’s both wealthy and hitchhiker friendly. But thumbing a ride in Formosa comes with its own peculiar price tag; many a westerner visitor to Taiwan has found themselves holding impromptu English classes in the backs of pickup trucks winding through the mountains. Some of these journeys have resulted in lasting friendships, and in at least a few cases, marriage proposals. This may not have been the experience originally intended on setting out, but it does come close to fitting Lao Tzu’s travel philosophy.

Perhaps it was witnessing similar experiences that prompted Confucius’ most well known travel aphorism “Wherever you go, go with all your heart.”  China’s greatest sage was no stranger to travel, and spent much of his life on the road in an era where options for overland travel were limited by the technology of the day. Were he alive in this era, perhaps he’d also choose non-standard modes of travel, dispensing wisdom from a hovercraft or hot air balloon. But it’s equally likely that he’d employ the same mode of travel today as he did in his own life during the warring states period, namely walking. Though slow, walking allows for extended contemplation, which is well in line with both with the sage’s overall character and his second-best known travel aphorism: It does not matter how slowly you go, as long as you do not stop.

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“To Boldly Go… ” Appeared originally in EVA’s inflight magazine, Autumn, 2016 .

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