I’ve spent some time thinking of a concept of a perfect day, perfect is such a relative term after all. As I was beginning to deconstruct our typical days on the road, there seemed to be two major types of days: active and passive.
Active travel is your “go mode” – you are departing/arriving to a new location with many unknowns ahead, whether you choose to acknowledge them or not, unknowns will be there.
Thai Railway logo with Bangkok, Thailand in the background.
Passive travel is your “stationary mode” – you have at least several days dedicated to one particular locale, your unknowns are entirely under your control.
Monk enjoying the view in Bagan, Myanmar
Regardless of the type, your every day should be ok, and most days ought to be great. You are traveling after all. Even the most unpleasant experience is often fleeting and will teach you a thing or two. You, as a traveler, could always enhance any situation, just do not panic. Take your surroundings in, it’s fine, be you and let your environment help you be a better you! I am strong believer in “everyday is ok” mentality, being content being you being, wherever you are.
Perfect Active Travel Day
Let’s start with a perfect active travel day. Operations is my primary responsibility during the trip: movement, location, orientation, destination, cash, safety, efficiency and good spirits. Do we have all the bags? What is the count? Dummy check? Do we know where the bus/train station is? Taxi, tuktuk, or walk? When is the departure time? Tickets, passport? Food? How long is the trip? Overnight? Socks, hat, and scarf, ready? It could be a real pain.
Conductor lady is signaling safe departure on a platform of Novosibirsk, Russia; Speedy tram passing by on the Pest side of Budapest, Hungary; Five day motorcycle tour from Saigon to Nha Trang, Vietnam; En route to Rabbit Island, Cambodia; Golden hour photo session with Jenia in Mai Chau, Vietnam
The thrill of a controlled chaos that is our active travel day is what makes it perfect for me. Coping with the unknowns, engaging locals in hand-articulated small talk, reading/listening to books, journaling (argh!), editing photos, looking out of the window, arriving to a city, finding the right bus/taxi/tuktuk and boom, your rapidly changing environment of an active travel day is over, you are here! You have arrived safely, with all your gear, to a smiling face of a guesthouse lady, who is happy you are there, bringing a part of outside world to her everyday.
Most owners of guesthouses and small hotels never travel, there is a business to run. Regardless of how exhausted, frustrated, dirty and overstimulated you are, be an ambassador of your culture. Be kind, smile and magical things will happen to you. Your room is ready; after walking two flights of stairs with your bags, following your host, you find that you even have a window facing the street. The door closes, you are alone – you are finally awarded a minute of peace to come to your senses, let your mind arrive, and decompress – a minute of bliss.
The rest of the day is your reward – first experience of discovering new surroundings. The big task is accomplished, now is your time to shine.
Have you ever worked in the office? I’m sure you have. Imagine an hour long meeting, where you had to present. Now remember the feeling of being done, that uplifting, up-for-anything feeling of euphoria that overtakes your entire being when you get out. Mmm… Aw Yisss!
Up in the air in Phnom Phen, Cambodia.
If you haven’t worked at the office here is the comic to illustrate my point:
Perfect Passive Travel Day
A perfect passive travel day is entirely different story. You are in complete control over what your day. Your main task is to set the conditions right: a trip on boat? a walk around town? breakfast? a scooter ride to an important historical monument? all depends on you.
Your decisions are much lighter in nature than those on active travel days. We allowed ourselves to just be and explore our surroundings at our own pace.
Treating ourselves to familiar food for breakfast in Hanoi, Vietnam. Day trip to Koh Nong, Thailand, a perfect island; An old building overgrown with vines in Budapest, Hungary; Farmer tending to rice fields of Phu Yen, Vietnam
Koh Lanta is a special place for me personally, and I’m sure for both of us. It is an island off the west coast of Thailand, not too far from Malaysia. The lightness of being content and at peace can only be achieved when your mind catches up to your intake of visual, auditory, psychological, crosscultural, physical information. It is on Koh Lanta, I realized that not doing anything at all and letting yourself be is by far the most crucial aspect of a perfect travel experience.
My typical day usually started around eight – nine in the morning. Wake up in a bungalow, under the mosquito net has now become familiar. The sun is long out and there are streams coming through bamboo walls. Jenia is not around, most likely at the beach. Most days she gets breakfast for us from the street vendors. Today she brought back two portions of rice with chicken, topped with an egg, as well as sweet sticky rice for dessert.She’s going to get a massage in a bit. Our bungalow is one of four; L shape layout of the group is closed off by the bar and restaurant. Two cats are often running around, playing, and generally being cute. After asking our manager lady for an americano, I get back to the porch to lay down in a hammock. Tough life.
Hammock time on Koh Lanta, Thailand.
By noon, Jenia is back and we spend time working on the blog and catching up on our media. We have to plan the next move as well. It is hot and breezy. Leisurely existence sometimes calls for a day trip to a different beach or a ride to town. Otherwise, we are off to dinner on the beach. By now, we have sampled most dinner popup restaurants and have a favorite one. Majority of people come for a week or two, you becomes somewhat regular when you stay longer. The restaurant host tells you that your favorite fish – red snapper – is available today. A pleasant walk on a beach after, or a stop at a Rasta bar for a drink. A perfect passive travel day. 🙂 It is also your routine now. The fleeting feeling of familiarity as you stay stationary for longer than a day is what makes a perfect passive travel day. Let the experiences you’ve had catch up with you.
Elephants trunk feel, Koh Lanta, Thailand; Perfect sunset on Rabbit Island, Cambodia.
If you ever traveled in South East Asia, you must have heard the phrase – “same same but different”. I think we finally realized true meaning of it after a month of island living.
Sergey’s recipe for a perfect travel day:
1) Do things you are not comfortable doing – things you find out about yourself might surprise you.
Dragon bite could be dangerous if not treated with pun, Guilin, China.
2) Talk to strangers, even if you don’t speak the language; learn key words – hello, thank you, and very tasty in the local dialect. Strangers are just friends you have not met yet.
3) Be self aware but not paranoid, the world is actually much safer than you think, especially if you are coming from U.S.
4) Get off the “main tourist street” and use public transportation as much as possible.
Taking a bus in Yangon, Myanmar is a fascinating experience, as it never really stops for you.
5) And of course, smile – it will open doors and hearts regardless where you are.
Taking a cable car from the monastery at the top of the mountain, Kanding, China.
Travel is a spectrum between hard work and great fun. Where you want to place yourself on that spectrum is entirely up to you.