Over the decades I’ve honed an effective method for doing a two-week learning 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 experiences rather than maximizing relaxation.
Here in brief is the method: 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. If there is a small village, or a friend’s farm, or a wild place you plan on seeing on the trip, go there immediately. Do not stop near the airport. Do not rest overnight in the arrival city. Do not pause to acclimate. 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, unpack, explore, and work your way slowly back to the big city where ever your international departure airport is.
In other words you make a laser-straight rush for the end, and then meander back. Laser-Back.
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. The thinking is: 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 so fast it is almost like the dissolve in a slide show. Bam! Your eyes are wide open. You are on your toes. All ears. And there 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 airport city, at whatever pace is your pace. But now when you arrive in the city 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 jaded tourist in a look-alike urban mall. You leave having enjoyed both the remote and the adjacent, the old and new, the slow and the fast, the small and the big.
We’ve also learned that this intensity works best if we aim for 12 days away from home. That means 10 days for in-country experience, plus a travel day (or two) on each end. We’ve found from doing this 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. On the other hand 8 days feels like the momentum is cut short. So 10 days of intensity, and 12 days in country is what we aim for.
Laser-back travel is not foolproof, nor always possible, but on average it tends to work better than the other ways we’ve tried.
Lighting the Lantern
Sometimes, as a travel photographer, I go to a country and really want to get a particular shot. This was one of them.
Some spur of the moment shots end up working out just fine.