High Points, Low Points, and the Perfect Trip
Greetings from the open road. I’m in what I call real Africa all week, having fun exploring two new countries.
Condé Nast Traveler publishes a feature called “The Perfect Trip Every Time.” It’s a good headline, but I wonder about the subtext: is it really possible to have a perfect trip where nothing goes wrong? I take at least twelve overseas trips a year, and none of them are ever perfect.
When I leave my iPod in the back of a taxi, as I’ve done twice now (Peru and Saudi Arabia), that is not perfect. When I get stranded due to airline delays (Warsaw, Male, Vancouver, etc.), that is not perfect.
Check out Sean and Jodi’s recent updates from Thailand—it’s safe to say there have been no perfect trips to Bangkok recently. A few months ago I was in town and had meetings at coffee shops in the lovely CentralWorld Plaza. As you can see, its current status is definitely not perfect.
Hopefully your favorite shopping center won’t be torched by protesters, but you can probably count on some low points wherever you roam. When I encounter the low points, I always ask myself this question: would I rather be doing anything else?
I could always stay home and drive my Prius to the job at the bank. But since I have neither a Prius nor a bank job, I can deal with the low points. In fact, accepting the low points tends to make the high points more special.
So far this year I’ve had more travel low points than usual. It could be because I’ve been visiting more challenging countries lately, or maybe I’m just tired from an especially intense schedule; I’m not sure exactly. But even with the craziness, I still feel purposeful and motivated to keep going.
High Points on my current trip so far: four new countries! (Well, two for now… but I should get another two next week if all goes well.) Cameroon is a fun little place: it’s definitely real Africa, but doesn’t feel as desperately poor as some of the other spots in the region. I went running beside the port in Douala last night, and had a lot of good memories about running in West Africa years ago.
Low Points on my current trip so far: I had forgotten how challenging travel in this part of the world can be. Some things just don’t work out the way I might expect or want them to. When you try to fight against the system here, you don’t usually get very far.
Also, Equatorial Guinea is quite possibly the most expensive place I’ve ever been. Due to a booming oil industry, everything costs a small fortune in the capital of Malabo. I booked the only room in town for $367 a night, which I suspect is the most I’ve ever spent on a hotel room in my life. But then when I showed up and they couldn’t find my reservation, I was offered a room for $508. Yes, truly—a $508 hotel room, the only one in town, with 8am check-out. Did I mention I was checking in at 11pm?
Continental breakfast goes for another $39, and everything is paid in cash since no credit cards are accepted anywhere in the country. I finally argued the rate down to about $400, or about $44 an hour for the time I was allowed to spend in the room before someone came knocking to evict me at 8:15 the next morning. Crazy! But that’s just how it goes in Equatorial Guinea these days. Keep it in mind the next time you’re planning a holiday trip over this way.
I try to live in the present, but when I hit the low points, I look ahead to the future. Thus, in Malabo I thought about coming to Cameroon and not having to pay $400 for a few hours of sleep. (Thank God the once-a-week Ethiopian Airlines flight to Douala was only two hours late—I didn’t have a backup plan for that one if something went wrong.)
Dissatisfaction comes about from wanting something different but not being willing to take action toward achieving it. I’m taking action, moving forward, always thinking about what’s happening now and what’s to come.
Most importantly, remember that highs and lows go together. Bring on the highs! Bring on the lows! Let’s live a little, people. I’m trying to do the same.
While I’m on the road, I’m also reading a helpful book by Scott Belsky called Making Ideas Happen. Scott writes about the bias toward action, a concept I really like. A life oriented toward action and creation sounds good to me.
Lastly, my take on perfect: don’t try to have a perfect day, a perfect trip, a perfect life. Try to have a meaningful one instead. It will probably contain some high points and some low points, and that’s OK.
How about you—what are your highs and lows?
P.S. A note on comments: West Africa is good for running, but not for high-speed internet. Posting your comments and responding to emails may take a bit longer than usual over the next week.
Awesome post, agree 100%, just what I needed to read right now. Thanks Chris.
Love it. While traveling the world I definitely overused the “A bad day traveling is better than the best day at work” adage….but it was just so applicable, so many times. I was so sick that I lost consciousness on the bathroom floor of a guest house in Chiang Mai….but I was sick in Chiang Mai! In Thailand! After being on one of the last flights out of BKK before the airport got shut down by the red shirts! While I was traveling the world! Woo hoo!!!
Lonely, lost, scared, frustrated, tired. I’ll take it all 100 times over while traveling if the alternative is not traveling.
i had many low points in cairo this winter. when i got to the airport to leave, a long story happened with a security guard not letting us go to the airline’s booth and we missed the plane while sitting in the airport, without knowing we had missed it because it was 2 hours away from departure. and like you said “When you try to fight against the system here, you don’t usually get very far.” trying to fight the system while not understanding what the system is and while wishing you could just curl up somewhere and cry doesn’t get you far at all.
we bought tickets for the next flight which was 12 hours after ours, a 14 hour wait. the only restaurant was burger king and we are both vegetarians. the awesome thing about it was that after that (we went to turkey) every time something went a little wrong we’d say “well it’s not as bad as buying our flight from cairo twice and being in the airport all night” and everything else felt so much easier.
Hey there .. I have to say I love your post today. I am currently going through some self exploration and career transition. Your post today helps perk me up most mornings. I love to travel too and just returned from a trip to Boston and planning a long one to South East Asia in June. Love the attitude about action and creation and lows and highs. Keep up the wonderful posts and hope you have a lot of fun in Africa.
We went on a trip to western China in July ’08 to see a solar eclipse. The low point was pretty much everything up to the actual eclipse. We missed a train in Beijing, had an underwhelming hotel room in Wuwei, almost got mugged at the bell tower (the only tourist place in town) and had complete cloud cover up until 30 minutes before the sun went total. But the eclipse was amazing and made the whole thing worth it.
I’ve found that it often just takes that one amazing moment to put everything right.
Hi. I’m not far off embarking on my first ever ‘travelling’ experience and was starting to panic about the things that could possibly go wrong, until I read your blog. I’ve come to realise – as everybody who has done this sort of thing tells me – that the times when things go wrong are the moments you’ll never forget! I’m sure there will be plenty of those times for us, particularly as we’ll be wandering around Asia on our tod with no idea where we’re going! So far i’ve panicked because my passport expired, because i’ve almost run out of time to get visas sorted, the ‘coach’ we were supposed to be using for our European part of the trip is now a minibus with no loo and i don’t have nearly enough spending money as I thought I would! Oh well – it will be interesting to say the least!!
Thanks for the mention Chris. Bangkok has certainly been tumultuous of late, but through those low points I have tried to remember the tenacity of spirit that binds people together here, and have been bolstered by the willingness of Thai people to come out in the city and help clean up the mess. Part of travel is pushing the limits of your comfort levels and if you can manage to keep positive even when things go awry, it will propel you to an even stronger personal space. And as you’ve said, that’s far more meaningful than coasting, and far more memorable in the end. Thanks again!
One of my favorite activities is camping. I think it was almost 10 years before I managed to go on a camping trip where it didn’t rain, at least a few drops. When I went out with friends, they never knew what to do in case of bad weather, though to me it was expected and old-hat.
I just assume that any trip I go on will have its share of problems. Then, when they happen, it’s not unexpected. Plus, the things that do go right turn out better than I hoped.
Nice travel report, Chris !
Soo adventurous. And even though it’s to go through the lows, they really are an essential part of life. Like in any kick-ass movie, it’s the boring and bland parts that make the exciting ones so much more EPIC !
Chris, thanks for your post and for sharing with us the lessons learned from your journeys. Egads…. $400 for nine hours in a hotel room!
What I find interesting is the way that the lessons you share here — about not hanging on to some idea of perfection and remembering to re-frame whatever is going on in the context of our biggest vision — work so well not just for travel but with every situation of our lives.
Right now, one of the high points of my life is working with the Empire Building Kit that you created. It’s been great for giving me some structure in which to create a business that really is meaningful for me, and hopefully will generate some good revenue in the process. I’m psyched about that.
And on a travel note, I’ll be heading to Thailand this September to co-create an Engaged Buddhist Training Program with some Asian Buddhist friends there… very exciting. I’ll look forward to picking up some travel tips from you and others in the AONC community!
Thanks for the email back Chris.
I love how in both the email & blog post you focused on meaning. Many times we do things just to do them rather than having an overarching goal. Something to think about.
Absolutely right, Chris!
My philosophy is it is all perfect. Yep, even when I broke and paralyzed my arm for 10 months on our world tour, didn’t stop us enjoying it all!
Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems most challenging.-Joseph Campbell
You are spot on Chris. Seems every time I travel there is always something that comes up that is totally unplanned for and unexpected. Of course I am usually traveling with 2 kids so the unexpected is a given.
Would love to hear more about your experience in Cameroon as that is one place I have always wanted to visit and photograph.
You know I love the idea of a bias towards action – move, adjust, tweak, move again. Good. And yes, really memorable holidays have to have at least a little drama 🙂 …
I was on holiday travelling in France in 2004 when my car was impounded for parking on the site of a weekend market. I was so furious at first, but when I met the police at the station, they tore up the ticket, drove me to where the car had been taken (not before offering me a swig of whisky – seriously), posed for some pics and then raved about Melbourne (they’d done a kind of police swap with cops from my home town) before driving off.
Totally made my holiday. I’m sure it’s quite a tame story compared with yours Chris, but I get what you mean!
Have fun! x
Chris, I had to write down a random sentence of yours so I could start using it out in the real world: “I could always stay home and drive my Prius to the job at the bank.” (I may even add something about living in a new house in the suburbs and having to water the lawn…) Of course, with the sarcasm that will accompany the statement, everyone will know that my point is — hey, it could be worse!
Great insights! I will definitely keep this in mind. Your adventurous spirit is very inspiring.
I shared your story of the $400 hotel room with my husband and (affecting his best Groucho Marx impersonation) he said, “A room that expensive should come a girl.”
It then led us to remember some of our favorite low travel moments – being attacked by coatimundi! pooped on by monkeys while we slept! – and lots of laughter. Thanks so much for reminding me that lows are inevitable and often lead to our most memorable, and fun, memories.
Love this — perfect timing.
Highs and lows always flow together when you live out on a limb like we solo-entrepreneurs do. And, in the end, a meaningful life is the only life that is worth living. Perfection not only does not exist, but it’s boring.
Highs: More clients, more contracted work, great support from awesome people.
Lows: Frustrated at things moving slower than I’d like, too many weddings to go to (in only semi-interesting places).
And, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
It is amazing how small micro economic climates can bring about such extreme pricing. To bad it was so high rather than pleasantly surprisingly low!
Be sure to post pictures to flickr you take from these places in Africa, I am very interested to see when difference between the booming area and the not booming one!
You are so right Chris. We must take the lows with the highs. Without the lows we would have nothing to compare. Without the dark there is no light! I’ll take flight delays over a bank job any day :D.
My highs and lows at the moment stem from my virtual pilates business. I’m trading live client hours and money in exchange for time to work on my own online business. The lows are the days I wake up thinking I can’t push any more. Can’t squeeze another hour of teaching or writing in, but then I wake up and realize that I am doing what I love. I couldn’t do it other wise.
Working for yourself comes with it’s down falls, but it’s so worth it. Staying inspired is key and you keep me pushing! Thanks for your constant inspiration.
Without sour, there is no sweet, and without darkness there is no light.
As awful as they sometimes are, I try to look forward to the low points because without them, there’s little appreciation for the high ones.
Hope you’re enjoying all the high points in Cameroon.
Thanks for this post; I needed the reminder. I’ve been overwhelmed recently trying to arrange for an out of state move, and it’s good to remember the reasons I’m doing this – the place I’m going, even if it’s not the original house/neighborhood I wanted, even if I don’t have the details worked out yet, is still going to offer so much more opportunity than anything I could do here.
I recall most vividly both the high & low points in a trip. The times that are mundane, unexceptional, and play out according to plan and schedule generally fade away.
Of course the high points are memorable and fun (e.g. spending a perfect day swimming and sunning on a deserted island in Panama, with full cooler of beer), but those times when everything goes wrong – the weather, transportation, accommodations, everything – often lead to the best stories and memories after the fact… (e.g. when flying to Zanzibar we paid extra to get on an earlier flight, only 90 minutes before our scheduled one, and when we landed learned that our luggage didn’t make the earlier flight, then waiting for our original flight to collect our luggage, oops. And then our luggage wasn’t even on our original flight, but instead went to Kenya. At least while waiting we learned that Air Tanzania allows travelers to check, with a baggage tag, unprotected and loose bunches of bananas and cases of Heineken.)
I have done a lot of traveling.
There have been many, many low points. Oddly, some of the worst low points, including being removed from Romania by an armed and humorless general (a military guy pointing a gun at me with a hat that had three stars on on it) and returning to Auschwitz with a woman I didn’t know to help her say goodbye to her parent after 55 years, have become some of my most memorable experiences.
I suppose that’s why I love travel, I am likely to be inconvenienced but I come home with experiences I could only get while away from home.
Excellent point. I’m more likely to avoid disasters if I stay home and watch television, if I stay in a job I know over taking one that will require tons of learning, etc. But the requisite lows of adventure provide, at the very least, a story for later. Even better than that, they’re an opportunity for learning a humongous growth. Thanks for pointing that out.
Chris – sounds like you are having a pretty special adventure. Good for you – your low points are still memorable and teaching you a lot. You’re inspiring me to book my next trip (the last one to California was pretty perfect!) – maybe Seville… certainly not Equitorial Guinea!
Excellent read! On my blog this week, I posted about the low point of living in a sprawling Brazilian city without a car, as it took me 7 hours to run three errands. I think most people who view living or traveling abroad as “all-dream, all the time” don’t realize the frustration and headaches that go along with “living the dream.” Still, those of us who do break outside of the box do so because we know the highs are worth the lows. But then, that’s the travel crackhead in me speaking again. Be safe!
Great post! nothing better than reading about travel adventures when I can’t go anywhere for the next month!
Just what I needed to read as well, going through a low at the moment but as you said the secret is to accept the lows and look to the future.
I think a $30 sleeping bag and a park bench would have been my response to a $44/hour room. Unless it comes with an overnight “escort” lady.
I completely agree.
One of my favorite authors is John Demartini, and one of his principles is how we’re all challenged and supported at the same time. In other words, there is always a balance to our lives if we look hard enough. So to think you’re going to have a “perfect” anything is a bit unrealistic.
Additionally, I’ve found that every “mistake” usually leads to more positives in the long run, because you’re unlikely to make that mistake again, plus you can help others avoid the same mistake, as was the case for you in guinea.
I always enjoy reading your stories whether it’s about high point or low point. It was too bad about the hotel deal but I feel special that you took the time to reply to my message from Malabo! To be honest I didn’t know where it is so I looked it up 🙂
Hope the rest of the trip will go as meaningful as it has been! Keep the stories coming!
Hi Chris, I am a new reader of your site and find something to nosh on everytime I visit. Thank you.
Highs and lows? Ha. That’s my life of late.
I am in the thrilling, exciting, totally engaging throws of creating, writing and developing a new web application. I am having the time of my life but at the same time dealing, on a daily basis, with my Mom’s failing health.
I feel as if I am giving birth to something on the one hand and ushering out something else.
The bottomline: life is trip — but then you’d know that better than anyone! Thanks for sharing your process.
Highs: traveling to exciting places and observing the culture and beauty of the human race. In Hawaii last fall, a man watched as me and my 8 y/o son played football on the beach, and he asked if I was Joe Namath’s daughter…fun for both!
Lows: being stared at (at times, ad nauseum) for being a single parent to a bi-racial child who bares almost no physical trace to me.
In the spirit of your extensive travels, and his roots, me and kid are about to tackle a puzzle of Africa.
Take care Chris!
Thanks for sharing, Chris. Highs and lows aren’t always travel oriented (although $500 for a hotel room is undoubtedly a new low!). I am personally dealing with the results of a recent bicycle crash, which has left me in a wheelchair with a broken pelvis and clavicle. A low point for sure, but the way my friends have responded has made this low into one of the best periods of my life. Only hoping I can continue to keep this perspective as I enter (hopefully) another high period. Best of luck on the travels and don’t forget: pictures or it didn’t happen!
This post just really lifted my spirits, especially,”have a meaningful life instead”. You are doing a lot of “living” and that helps inspire the rest of us who cannot go at this time in life. Thanks!
When I travel, I try to avoid problems. We all do. I got handed a bill for lunch in Milan, Italy one time (in a very touristy restaurant) that was way out of line. My first reaction was to argue with the waitress. Then I decided that I was in no mood to spoil the day being angry. I paid the bill, knowing that I got ripped off. To this day, my wife gets mad about the incident, but I smile, because I know that it was the first and last time. After that, when we travel, I approach everything we spend money on with caution. I learned from the experience. You have to be on guard a lot more than you would like, but the benefits of traveling far outweigh the risks. Honestly, knowing that pickpockets are a problem most everywhere you go these days, I enjoy being ready for them and protecting myself from theft. I come back from a trip feeling good that I was ready and that I (we) escaped unscathed. It feels like victory!!
I’m a Globe Trotter wanna be just the $ stopping me but when I read your stuff (witch by the way is very fun to read) it just makes me wanna move even more
Need an assistant?
I often find that the least perfect travel experiences are the most rewarding and most memorable. All it takes is a good sense of humor and a positive attitude to turn an uncomfortable situation into an opportunity to explore something new.
Great post, Chris! This line especially resonated with me: “Dissatisfaction comes about from wanting something different but not being willing to take action toward achieving it.”
Well said and something I’ll try to keep in mind when I’m feeling stuck.
I’m visiting Iceland and agree. The sun finally set around midnight, took our time exploring, not getting hung up on ‘setbacks’ and going with the flow.
The low points are always a bummer. My last trip I took was to Puerto Rico with my girlfriend. On the second day she lost her wallet, the rental car company had frozen my checking account, and we ended up stranded in an inland town waiting for her mother to mail her passport. The next day we took a long walk, I got a wicked sunburn. The trip had been a series of lows. So I threw all my expectations out the window. The next five days were a series of pleasant little surprises. We saw a side of Puerto Rico we would have never seen if things went “according to plan.”
What helps me assess, on hindsight, any fix I`d been in is to ask “What did you do with what you had then?”. More often than not, turns out not to be a complete loss though. Any error or misstep becomes an investment from possibly committing a much greater loss later. What happened wasn`t perfect but it wasn`t a dull non-event. Still got something from the experience.
Love this post – Years ago I was in Indonesia and it rained and rained so we couldn’t do the trek that we had planned, but in the village that we were staying/stuck in we got speaking to a teacher and spent the afternoon teaching his class of 8 year olds English. Such a fun and unique experience. You’ve got to turn the low points into opportunities….
Chris ~ I read a similar story about getting to hotels and having the prices up’d. I heard some people bring their laptops as proof of price, or even a printed rec’t. I can’t stand that people get away with that kind of dishonesty. Hope you got a good night’s sleep.
One line in this blog resonated with me at a incredible level:
Dissatisfaction comes about from wanting something different but not being willing to take action toward achieving it.
Amen to this one Chris. As always, I enjoy your blog, and consider it one of the top reads in my feed. Enjoy your travels!
Great blog and stories about your high and low points. Thanks for the info on Twitter about Europe and lower costs. Maybe can spend more time there this year.
I agree there is No Perfect Trip, and I Thank God for that. Five years of travel and living in the small towns between the sights & the Cities gets you into places that you remember forever. Never had so much fun. Travel very light, buy clothes there and ship them home at the end of your trip. Cold hard cash gets you everywhere!, from a ‘one hour’ hotel (30euros) during Venice regatta, to heavenly room with a view in Villefranche sur mer.
Low points: I’ve had some lows, but NEVER bored.Those are the points that you can write a book about. High points: the people and the journey and the sights, and the education….
The perfect trip? Sounds like an all-inclusive resort, which is my idea of hell. I *want* to rub elbows with the locals and meet travelers whose adventures extend beyond sleeping with the bartender. Travel is inherently fraught with an element of risk, but the rewards can be astonishing.
Day tripping in Thailand with an expat through a DMZ encampment between Thailand and Cambodia. We traced the deeply rutted trail, followed by a guard with a submachine gun…in flip flops.
Overlooking the dense jungle expanse, I noticed a fortress of bullet-ridden sandbags. “When was that?”
With a shrug of the shoulders and a dismissive response, he said, “Last week.”
Chris – great post – I just read something on the communicatrix from the last week with a similar bent: ‘moving towards’, like ‘bias towards action…’, it makes perfect sense.
For me, a big high recently in starting out with a blog and writing and being out there, after months of thinking and planning. To be finally moving is very exciting and a kind of journey, like travel.
The lows are around feeling overwhelmed, balancing the day job and wondering where it’s all heading. But these lows are part of that moving forward, towards and taking action and like others who have commented, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Thanks for the thoughts to help situate all this as I move forward.
Wow. That is a CRAZY amount of money for a hotel room! Hope it had a great view and big bathtub or something!
I really liked this: “don’t try to have a perfect day, a perfect trip, a perfect life. Try to have a meaningful one instead”.
It’s easy to get discouraged when the lows hit, but I think if we keep reminding ourselves about the meaning, it helps us to get through. Also, you can’t get the good without the bad so why not see it as humor?
Every terrible situation I’ve been through has turned into a funny story later, so its almost as if are Lows are just our debt to humor. :0)
Learning to live with (and find contentment) in the low-points is something I’ve come to love about hiking. Found this great quote preparing for my first long trek: “I like to make ‘statements of fact.’ When the weather is slapping me around, it helps to say out loud, ‘Damn, it’s hot!’ or ‘My toes are frozen!’ or ‘Rain three days in a row sucks!’ This is not complaining — I’m making statements of fact. Don’t laugh, it really does work. Saying it out loud releases all the frustration, and now I’m just living with what I’ve got.” Barbara Egbert
I was going to ask if you checked to see if you could use some milage points to pay for a hotel room, then I remembered who I was asking. The story will get better as pain in your hip pocket subsides.
Learning to change the things your dissatisfied can be the hardest undertaking in life. The reason being, is that too often we accept the things are the way they are for a reason, and that change is beyond my control. Five months ago I left my job for good, it was a terrifying decision. I don’t ever want to be in that position again. Then again, I also don’t ever want to work for anyone again. I took a leap, suffered a little, adjusted, and forged on. Looking back, with the mindset I had, it was the only thing to do. I wouldn’t change a thing about my decision. Life life without regrets.
Great post Chris.
This def just struck a chord with me. I was driving back from an incredible, random 9 day road trip out West on Sunday, and only one hour away from being “home” [at my friend’s pad], we hit a deer. This unexpected and bummer of an event through an otherwise smooth-sailing adventure created an ending that was far from ideal. Needless to say, we were thankfully okay – unhurt – and had to roll with it. My adventures continued through trying to get home car-less to Kansas City, and now I can only shake my head and smile at it all.
It is all an adventure. It is about the journey. A lot of it is out of our control, but it is what we make of it, how we react, and let it affect us. Perfect is not even something worth striving for, because “perfect” is the helluva story that comes naturally out of our circumstances. That’s what I want at least.
Thanks for your posts! Highs and lows indeed. Aka LIFE.
All the best,
Absolutely true, Chris and @Erin. Highs and low are definitely both a part of life, and no adventure would be complete without them (then it wouldn’t be an adventure, would it–just paradise, and that’s not really as interesting).
Thanks for your work chronicling your awesome travels, Chris. I’m enjoying keeping up and look forward to doing the same someday.
All the best,
Chris, I read this a while back and spent some good time writing some feedback because it struck a chord with me and I wanted to also share some of my viewpoints about what happened here in Thailand alongside Jodi & Sean. I was coming back to check for responses or more discussion… and now I don’t see it here. Disappointing if it was not approved because of the link(?), as I put it in my web url field and I thought it was pretty relevant to this discussion about high points & low points of travel…?
Not sure where it is – maybe eaten by the spam filter somehow? We have many of your other comments throughout the site, and no one would delete it.
Well thanks for the quick response Chris, glad it’s not your intense hatred for my feedback! ;P But sad it got lost in translation. now I don’t even remember all I had to say.
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