Life & Business

Life & Business: How to Let a Trip Shape You (Rather than Shaping a Trip)

by Sabrina Smelko


While many of us find ourselves on a pre-planned vacation, with comfort top-of-mind, Adrian Traquair seeks the unknown, the uncomfortable, and the complete immersion into a new culture. A few years ago, Adrian, armed with his friend Dustin and two self-operated cameras, set out on a mission to row down the Ganges River in an inflatable raft, over 1,500 kilometers from New Delhi to Dhaka. It was all captured on camera and made into a documentary (one of my favorites), Around The Next Bend. And if that wasn’t enough, they’re at it again, planning a 6,000-mile, 3-wheeled auto rickshaw expedition through South America, hoping to capture it all on camera to create another 12-episode series. More than anything else, Adrian, a 30-year-old filmmaker who works in the art department for film and television, is a passionate and experienced traveler on a mission. Over the years, he’s learned some lessons about making (and breaking) travel plans, and his trips have shaped him in ways he could never otherwise have achieved. Today, we’re thrilled to have Adrian share his insight into travel in an effort to encourage you to consider how to let a trip shape you, rather than shape a trip. — Sabrina

If you’d like to know more about Rickshaw South and Adrian’s next adventure, you can show your support on their (hilariously entertaining) Kickstarter page.


I am a passionate traveler and I love to be lost overseas. Over the last decade I have found myself on numerous expeditions of dubious nature. Whether it be rowing 1,500 miles down the Ganges River in an inflatable raft, or losing a game of cards and ending up lost in rural Laos, I have a knack for getting myself into odd positions under inexplicable circumstances. I have found myself in many wonderful, strange, terrible and downright bizarre situations that I could have never imagined or possibly planned for. These experiences, both good and bad, have become some of my most cherished memories. In turn, I have learned to let go of some of the control I love to have and have opened myself up to let a trip unfold naturally, letting the universe steer me to where I need to be. This is what I have learned.


Keep an open mind.

If you leave on a trip with too many preconceived notions of what to expect, you will almost always end up disappointed. Most trips don’t pan out exactly as you planned, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing — I actually prefer it. If a trip does play out exactly as you expect, you might miss out on one of the greatest rewards of traveling: the learning experience.

Initially, some aspects of a foreign culture can seem strange, odd, or even gross, but don’t judge too quickly. Take the time to understand why and you’ll usually find a very logical reason behind the behavior. Local bathroom protocols, seemingly lawless traffic and the anarchy associated with trying to form a queue has stopped me dead in my tracks, but when I do take a step back, I start to see the method in the madness and appreciate the differences. Regardless of how things seem to work on the surface, the underlying human values are the same as anywhere in the world: respect, family and love.


Plan (but dont plan too much).

I love to research, but I need to stop myself once in a while. There is only so much you can learn and even less that you can realistically plan for by sitting at a computer. Before we set out on the Ganges, we spent weeks staring at Google Earth, finding the best places to camp and mapping out how far we thought we could get each day. The second we got on the river, our carefully orchestrated plans went out the window. It was nothing like we expected. It is great to be organized, but when you try and schedule every minute, every outing, you are basically putting blinders on — it takes away your ability to be flexible, your ability to take advantage of situations as they present themselves.

Trips are shaped by every little experience you have, and most of them are impossible to plan for. Every day there will be something that happens that will have a ripple effect over the rest of your trip. Missing that bus wasn’t the plan, but neither was that awesome ride in the back of a pickup with the local family who rescued you from the side of the road. I can guarantee the latter will make for a much better story when you get home. Experiences will come to you, you just need to figure out how to identify and embrace them.


If you’re not sure, jump!

One of the main reasons I choose to travel is to get out of my comfort zone. My normal world, my house, my friends, are easy; life is safe. I can control it and I know what to expect. The longer I spend at home in these routines, the more my mind hedges its bets when it comes to the unknown. When I am planning a trip, things scare me. They shouldn’t, but they do. Not necessarily because what I am planning is dangerous, but because my brain doesn’t know how to react when thinking of something it doesn’t have a definite answer for.

I believe that world/life experience is crucial to personal development and has definitely helped shape who I am as a person. I have learned to give myself the little nudge I need to jump in headfirst. You will never truly know what will happen until you are smack-dab in the middle of it. In almost all my experiences, those “jump” moments ended with a smile on my face and a great story to tell.


Remember the hard times.

I have been robbed, starved, lost, parasite-ridden, delirious with heat stroke and have had more close calls than I can remember. In the moment, I’m always cursing myself for getting into trouble and questioning how I got there. The strange thing is, when I talk about my travels, these are the experiences that come to mind first. Even stranger, I talk of these times fondly.

When I was young I loved the great Bill Watterson comic “Calvin and Hobbes.” Whenever Calvin had to do something he didn’t want to or was complaining about something he had to do, his dad would just tell him, “It builds character.” I didn’t fully understand that maxim at the time, but it makes perfect sense to me now. The sense of accomplishment and wisdom that is gained from digging in and persevering through those hard times is priceless. I have learned more about myself during two minutes of absolute chaos then I ever thought I would know.



Find a good travel partner.

Traveling together is intense, whether it be your spouse, a friend or a stranger. It can turn a new relationship into a lifelong friendship and just as easily turn a solid relationship to dust.

There are a few ways that I have learned to mitigate these risks. First, pick your partner wisely. Talk about your expectations of what the trip is and what the trip should be about before you leave. Clear communication is crucial to any relationship and even more important when you are attached at the hip. Compromise whenever you can, sometimes it’s hard to remember that it’s their trip, too.

Second, if you need it, take a break. I can pretty much guarantee you are going to get sick of whoever you are traveling with. I know I do. This is completely normal. It doesn’t matter how long you are gone or where you are, try to get some alone time. If you are gone a week, take a day to yourself. Pulling myself out of a tense situation and taking time to reflect helps me get over the small squabbles that are usually at the root of a larger conflict.

That being said, traveling alone is one of the most freeing experiences you can have. You lose the security blanket of a partner but you gain the ultimate freedom. Even if you are traveling alone, the above recommendations should still be heeded.

When traveling solo you do not have the same support when times get tough, so it becomes important to ensure you do not overburden your travel plans. Taking a break is also important when you are out and on your own. Sometimes you will need a day to just do nothing. Get a cup of coffee or have a beer and just watch life hustle by around you. When you are doing nothing you have more opportunity to reflect on where you have been and where you are going. Not to mention, watching life go by at full speed helps you appreciate how lucky you are to be out exploring instead of being stuck in the daily grind of real life.

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  • These are great points; I think it is such an important part of life to get out there. When I get scared I think about my deathbed(gloomy, I know). Will I be happy to have the memories of trying new things that scare me and seeing the world or happy that I played it safe. That always pushes me towards the unknown!

  • I agree. Having an open mind about everything really helps. Perhaps you will learn new and better ways to do things or think about situations. Traveling gives you new eyes.