Zen and the Art of Traveling

by Ronnie Charrier

We walked out the door, backpacks full for two weeks trekking around New Zealand, double checked that we had everything, and headed up the street to get a bus to the airport. As we neared the bus stop, it suddenly dawned on me to ask my companion the following:

“Do I need a visa to get into New Zealand?”

She (incredulously): “You’re asking me this now?”

I shrugged my shoulders, pulled out my iPhone, and started to look into it. As I’m trying to figure out if this trip has been ruined before it started, the bus pulls up and we get on, waiting in line to dip our passes.

“I forgot to buy a bus pass,” she whispers to me, as she frantically searches through her wallet. “And I don’t have any cash on me.”

The bus driver isn’t impressed, and glowers at us as we pretend to continue searching. Once again, I shrug my shoulders. What else can you do?

We’re 10 minutes into our trip and my girlfriend and I, both of whom have traveled solo on the majority of continents, have already forgotten some of the most basic items we would need for the trip. Luckily I didn’t need a visa and the bus driver let it slide that one of us didn’t pay. 

One of the biggest misconceptions about traveling is that the more you travel, the better you are prepared. This is only partly true. In fact, the only thing that I’ve gotten significantly better at over the years of traveling is not freaking out when things go wrong. Because they will. They always do.

Learning how to deal with these things as they come up is one of the most valuable aspects of traveling. It’s why more young people should travel. Strike that, it’s why more people of all ages should travel.

Having made it out of one country and into another without running into any immigration officers or bus inspectors, we blew our entire fuel budget within the first 4 days of the trip (petrol in New Zealand is incredibly high). The snow came earlier than expected, preventing us from hiking across Tongariro (which was something I was really looking forward to), and it rained steadily for the entire two weeks on the Coromandel Peninsula (which meant we never got to see it). After 10 days of sleeping in a van, having to re-think itineraries, and research where to go next, we had a breakdown.

I didn’t want to spend another day driving 5 or 6 hours and Phoebe wanted a hot shower. Both reasonable requests, yet the two of us immediately started acting like children. Every idea either of us suggested was shot down or met with a snarky comment. 

“Why don’t we go get a nice lunch?”

“We can’t afford it!”

“Let’s go explore the beach.”

“I hate the beach!”

We could afford to eat and neither of us hate the beach. But these moments inevitably come up during every trip.

This is the point where you need to remind yourself and each other that this is all part of the experience of traveling. It’s why people leave the comfort of their own beds and warm showers to see the world and experience something different. Whether it’s a nap or yoga or just splurging on a nice meal, it’s important to figure out what centers you in these situations.

For us, that meant buying a couple of new books, finding a spot by a river to park our van, and spending the rest of the afternoon reading before going to a hot springs to relax that night. The next day we were back to exploring, driving to a new town, hiking up a new mountain, and forgetting about how terrible our mood was just 24 hours before.

Traveling isn’t always easy, but that’s why these experiences are so often life-changing.

“Don’t be a tourist. Plan less. Go slowly. I traveled in the most inefficient way possible and it took me exactly where I wanted to go." — National Geographic’s Andrew Evans, on his 40 day, 40 bus journey from Washington D.C. to Antarctica