The Handy Travel Square

Forgive me in advance, this post is a little goofy.

Possibly as goofy as Jack Barker's Conjoined Triangles of Success but without the power of Mike Judge's brain behind it. 

I was hoping this would be a Travel Triangle™ but that didn't work out so Travel Square it is. This is something I came up with when I was winging it across Asia a few years ago with no more itinerary than a loose list of places I wanted to visit. Places scattered across ten countries.

I'd often find myself debating over another night in a flea-bitten hostel or to splurge on a decent hotel if I needed a break. Granted not all hostels would qualify as "flea-bitten," many are quite nice but some or downright hellish. Nice or not, they are by default more adventurous than any hotel because you get to meet weirdos from all over the world, someone might try and steal all your shit, and you might be subjected to the joy of listening to strangers having sex mere feet from you. 

Hotels on the other hand are relatively comfortable, the food tends to be better, and they're often in better areas with better access to the stuff you came to do. But they're often BORING compared to the relative thrill of a scummy hostel, sleeping on the beach, or a couch surf. You will be safe and comfy locked away in your private room but speaking from a lot of experience, you'll probably not meet interesting people and go on adventures with them. If you want adventure, you need to get out of your comfort zone. 

I started thinking of this simple way to visualize the constant interconnectedness of safety & comfort, adventure, and expenditure while traveling. All are important in their own way. Your ideal trip might be one where you don't spend a fortune on hotels so you can spend it on ATV riding, shooting machine guns, and bungee jumping into ravines using ancient, rusting harnesses.

Or maybe your idea of adventure is just not spending any money at all. You have $1500 cash, half of which you spent on a one way ticket to Bangkok. Now you have to not just survive but eventually get back home on dwindling funds, much of which has already evaporated on ping pong shows and betting on Muay Thai fights. Fun!

Conversely, perhaps you just want to spend the morning frolicking under your 800 threadcount sheets, then having a leisurely brunch with a bit of the "local flare" instead of the usual brioche and cafe au lait. When you're good and ready, the concierge will call your personal driver who will spend the next two or three hours showing you the sights and the best selfie spots, getting you back just in time for sunset cocktails on the rooftop lounge. #blessed

In other words, everyone will have their own idea of what constitutes a great trip and they will all be wildly different. 

Here's my idea of A Well Balanced Trip. And notice I didn't say vacation. In my opinion vacations suck, trips are awesome. Trips mean traveling, moving forward, encountering the unknown, and growing. Vacation means spending a shit load of money and coming home broke and disappointed. This diagram shows a nice balance between safety & comfort and adventure, and expenditure at a level that's neither slumming it nor breaking the bank. 

Not the most baller but very well balanced, sustainable travel.

As you can see, you start pushing the red dot around and the dynamics of the trip changes drastically.

Let's start looking at some different travel styles.

The Gap Year Backpacker—see the world with nothing but change jingling in your pocket. Though not necessarily age specific! Backpackers come in all ages and socio-economic levels. Backpacking is more a state of mind than anything else. Backpackers are usually driven by the desire to stay out as long as possible, which usually means living pretty cheap.

A nice, cheap way to see the world when you can do without a lot of creature comforts.

Compare the Backpacker to the next step in this direction. What I call "Gone Native." We travelers know the archetype instantly. You show up in some tiny village in the middle of nowhere and hey, there's a white guy in a loin cloth! And what an odd accent he has despite after some cajoling you learn that he's actually from Nebraska. Some people are looking to disappear into the exotic locales they discover but in the 21st Century, you can run but you can't really hide. 

Gone Native—probably the most adventurous. Definitely the cheapest. Careful though, this guy went native in Himachal Pradesh and then vanished without a trace. 

Gone Native. The one who never came home. 

Here's pretty much the opposite—neither fun, nor adventurous, nor all that cheap for matter—A Relative’s Time Share That They've Pawned Off On You. There's always a catch—it's in the Dominican Republic, but 100 miles from the beach. All it will cost you is the exorbitant annual maintenance fee!

Your Parent’s Time Share. Can't give these damn things away! 

Here's another fun one—Packing The Kids Into The Van And Taking Them To An Amusement Park

I don't know because I don't have kids but I imagine you won't be very comfortable though you will spend a boat load of money. The kids might enjoy the adventure of rollercoaster whiplash if you can get them off their devices for a few minutes. 

Packing The Kids Into The Van And Taking Them To An Amusement Park. The Griswald experience seems to be a universal one, no matter what decade. 

Here are a few more.

The Savvy, Slightly Conservative Solo Traveler

The Savvy, Slightly Conservative Solo Traveler. I'd say this has become my travel style as of late. 

The Savvy, Slightly Conservative Solo Traveler. I'd say this has become my travel style as of late. 

A Meditation Retreat In A Western Style Wellness Center aka Mindfulness in A Resort

I won't lie, if I had the cash, I could use a little pampering and lying in shavasana for hours with only the sounds of the jungle to soothe me. "Wellness" usually means $$$$$

A Meditation Retreat With The Locals

This is kind of a goofy one because waking up at 4am to mediate is not comfortable. However, you will be totally safe once at the retreat center even if getting there involved a ride up a mountain on the back of a motorcycle with trucks whipping around hairpin turns at you. 

Budget Vacation In Cancun

Tacos with sour cream and cheddar cheese. Drinking a margarita that's mostly sugar water out of one of those 3 foot tall plastic monstrosities whilst slathered in sun block on a beach where your peace and quiet are invaded every 30 seconds by someone selling local chachki.

Some other trips to plug into the square might be—a cruise, all inclusive resort, traveling with a tour, round the world trip, use all your airmiles before they expire trip, motorhome road trip, etc., etc .etc. Not every kind of trip can be well represented by the Square. For example, super high-end luxury "adventure" travel doesn't quite fit into the model—a surf trip to Bali staying in the nicest hotels money can buy. Is it adventure? It's definitely luxury. Or maybe—

Luxury Caribbean Adventure Vacation (Surf Lessons, Handgliding, Shark Cage, Etc.)

A tricky trip for the Square.

Here's an even tougher one—

A Chartered Luxury Icebreaker To Antartica Accompanied By A DJ And Your Beautiful Friends

I guess it's equal parts luxury and adventure so it sort of works. It would definitely be insanely expensive even for the hedge fund guy or tech billionaire footing the bill. This one also has the real chance of death or bodily injury, so is does qualify as adventure despite arriving in the lap of luxury.

The truth is "Adventure" is totally subjective. As are "Safety & Comfort" and also the notion as to what's cheap or expensive for that matter. Of course it's also possible to spend a whole lot of money and get jack shit! In that case, maybe it's best to stay home ;)