As you may know, I’m currently one third of the way into a four-month backpacking trip through Europe and Southeast Asia. While I said that this post would be my last of 2022, I miss writing, have plenty of time for it, and enjoy the routine. So, expect a post every Friday through the end of the year. I am branching from writing about magic to writing about travel (but don’t worry, there will be plenty of magic to talk about when I move to NYC in January).
Let’s get into it. Here are 5 rules for travel, expanded from my instagram:
1. Strangers are your friends:
I can’t emphasize enough how much potential strangers hold. There’s a word, sonder, which is the realization that everyone—from the clerk at the ticket counter to the asshole at the bar—has a life as rich and complex as yours. I feel this constantly. If you’re willing to indulge those people, it will always be worth it.
For example, in Ortisei, Italy, my grandparents and I went to a restaurant that couldn’t seat us. The only table they had was communal, so we’d be sitting with strangers. We accepted, and it ended up being one of the most enjoyable nights of the trip. We probably won’t keep in touch with the couple we met, but the temporary-ness of everything is part of what makes these interactions so genuine.
This rule is especially true in hostels, where a willingness to reach out to strangers is the only way you’ll make friends. I love the very first time I meet someone in a hostel, because we both play the accent game—trying to place where we’re from just by what we sound like.
A sub-rule is to always strike up a conversation with people who look like they’re backpacking. I started talking to someone on a public bus in Slovenia purely because she had a large backpack, it turned out we were staying at the same hostel, and she came out with my friends and I that night.
2. Always accept requests for magic tricks:
This is an important one. I always have something ready, and I’ll prepare extra if I know I’m about to meet people. Magic is such a fun way to bring people together, it’s a conversation starter, and I find it rude to turn down.
Sometimes, magicians say something like “I don’t want to perform socially. After all, you wouldn’t ask a doctor to do surgery at a dinner party.” This is true, but you would ask her for medical advice, and if she responded to your legitimate question with “sorry, I’m off the clock,” that would be unnecessary and rude. I do magic, in part, because I like to perform. So if someone asks to see a trick, I perform! After all, what they’re really asking is “can you make my day better? I want to experience something new.” If I can fulfil that honest and hopeful question, why wouldn’t I do magic?
For example, following rule number one, I started talking to backpackers at the airport in Bangkok, and that is how I ended up doing my first magic trick in a customs line.
3. Embrace loneliness:
When you travel, loneliness is par for the course. There’s no way around this. I’ve been lonely many times, and I haven’t always handled it very well. But, in hindsight, that loneliness is necessary and helpful. After all, you can always go for a walk, or journal, or sit and stare and do nothing. Learning to cope with loneliness is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But now, with a smidge of hindsight, I also realize how productive it is—you learn to not only be ok with your own thoughts, but to embrace them. You learn to place less weight on the opinions of others. And you learn to notice and be grateful for your surroundings. Which leads me to rule number 4:
In Interlaken, Switzerland, an Aussie named Dylan observed that you can see how people’s faces light up when they talk about their passion. It’s common when backpacking to fall into common tropes, like “How long is your trip, where are you going, what’s been your highlight?” But banal questions get banal responses. So, one night in Switzerland, we sat around talking about what we loved. I showed people magic. Gage told us how he became a pilot and, later, a flight instructor. Dylan told us about his journey to become a firefighter. Marc explained the nuances of being an environmentalist in New Zealand, and Heath told us about how he was biking through Europe. When one person was talking, the rest of us listened and asked questions, making others feel seen and heard. As the saying goes, we have one mouth and two ears for a reason.
5. Make time to exercise:
I was having a particularly rough day in Bled, Slovenia. Nothing was clicking for me, despite being in a gorgeous town. Near the end of the day, I realized I hadn’t done much—I rented a bike but spent most of my time trying to find trails and no time doing actual mountain biking. I decided I couldn’t leave without doing something memorable. So, I swam 20 minutes each way to the middle of Lake Bled, where there is an island with a church. I automatically felt calmer and happier, let alone a huge sense of accomplishment for my first solo open water swim. Exercise wins, every time.