The Technium

Laser-Back Travel

Almost any kind of travel you can think of, I’ve done: Solo, pair, family, or leader of a group of 16. Business, expeditionary, leisure, or drifter. I’ve done stupid overnight trips from the US to Europe, and years-long sojourns. And I’ve done many of that perennial American speciality, the two week vacation. Over the decades I’ve honed an effective method for doing a two-week esoteric vacation that seems to work for most of the people involved. For the lack of a better name I called it Laser-back travel. It is aimed at maximizing learning experiences rather than maximizing relaxation.

First, we aim for 12 days. 10 days on in-country experience, plus a travel day (or two) on each end. We’ve found from doing this many many times, with many travelers of all ages and interests, 14 days on the ground is two days too many. There seems to be a natural lull at about 10 days of intense kinetic travel. People start to tune out a bit. So we cut it there and use the other days to come and go and soften the transitions.

Second, when you arrive in a new country, you want to immediately proceed to the farthest, most remote, most distant place you intend to reach during the trip. Do not stop near the airport. Do not rest overnight. Do not pass Go in the city. If at all possible proceed by plane, bus, jeep, car from the plane directly to the furthest point without interruption. Do an overnight journey if you have to. This is not always possible, but proceed as quickly and directly as you can.

Then once you reach your furthest point, you work your way slowing back to the big city (shown in yellow) where the international airport is.

In other words you make a laser-straight rush for the end, and then meander back. Laser-back.

LaserBackTravel 3

This method is somewhat contrary to many people’s first instincts, which are to immediately get acclimated to the culture in the landing city before proceeding to the hinterlands. Get a sense of what’s going on, stock up, size up the joint. Then slowly work up to the more challenging remoter areas. That’s reasonable, but not optimal because most big cities around the world are more similar than different.

In Laser-back travel what happens is that you are immediately thrown into the Very Different, the maximum otherness that you will get on this trip. You go from your home to extreme difference almost like the dissolve in a slide show. Bam! Your eyes are wide open. You are on your toes. All ears. And here at the end of the road (but your beginning), your inevitable mistakes are usually cheaper, easier to recover from, and more fun. You take it slower, no matter what country you are in.

Then you use the allotted time to head back to the big city. And when you arrive there after a week or so traveling in this strangeness, and maybe without many of the luxuries you are used to, you suddenly see the city the same way the other folks around you do. After eight days in less fancy digs, the bright lights, and smooth shopping streets, and late-night eateries dazzle you, and you embrace the city with warmth and eagerness. It all seems so … civilized and ingenious, brilliant! The hustle and bustle are less annoying and almost welcomed. And the attractions you notice are the small details that natives appreciate. You see the city more like a native and less like a tourist. You leave having enjoyed both the remote and the adjacent, the old and new, the slow and the fast, the small and the big.

Laser-back travel is not foolproof, nor always possible, but on average it tends to work better than the other ways we’ve tried.


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