Thursday, March 17, 2011

Self-directed: pro tip for travelers worldwide

In an endeavor not to sound like a complete snob, I will avoid the “this or that was so beautiful,” and “check out the fish porn,” I might have placed here for posterity and instead highlight a truism that reveals itself each and every time I travel.

The sad souls on those tour buses.

A number of friends asked before I left whether this trip was “self-directed [again]?”


This is, at least in part, a meteorological necessity for me in this trip, but that is beside the point here.

The truism is this: adventures, like life, are more about the journey than they are about the destination. Those sad souls put their journey squarely in the hands of a volume tour agent and their bus driver. And the greatest destinations are often the ones a self-directed journey creates that you hadn’t expected or planned to reach and never would when tethered to another’s itinerary.

As it turns out, this particular trip went remarkably according to plan with zero adjustments required for weather, vehicular or bodily failure. Deano's legendary Old Trout (a 1996 Toyota Land Cruiser VX 4x4 turbo diesel that I am destined to own in this life or another) performed flawlessly and the capability of getting its occupants into and out of just about anywhere provided a liberty and security that would make any adventure more enjoyable. 

Which brings me back to those sad souls in the tour buses.

Many of our fellow trekkers on a well known track in the Fiordlands National Park started their trip in uber-touristy Queenstown, arrived by tour bus and returned the same way. Fair enough. But on numerous occasions I saw scores of travelers boarding and disembarking from neo-European tour buses into neo-European hotels and restaurants like cattle beholden to a schedule certain to end back in the stockyards or worse. It makes me cringe in sadness for them believing that the vast majority had no idea just how close they were (five or 10 km in many cases) to accessible, remote pure natural beauty than they would ever be again. They would see only what millions of others have seen before with zero opportunity to direct their own adventure.

Different strokes, you say? Ok, fine. But I will proffer that those sad souls missed out on more than 90 percent of what their trip actually had to offer.

So my recommendation to you, dear reader, is this: invest in a good map, top up your fuel tanks whenever you stop for food, and self-direct your adventures even if it means getting lost. Be safe, but be brave. More often than not your travels will increase in enjoyment, memories and meaning by several orders of magnitude.

Now with my apologies, a bit of fish porn.