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Impulse and Adventure

November 15, 2012

A certain degree of caution is a good thing. If you’re going to cross the street, look both ways first. If you’re in the car, you don’t stand to gain anything by “living life on the edge” and forgoing the seatbelt. Maybe you have a little buyers remorse from spending your college fund on that set of gold-plated lawn gnomes. But short of being stupid, one of the best ways to add some excitement to your life is to make impulsive decisions. Travel itself is is a foray into the unknown – a calculated risk to push yourself outside of your comfort zone and experience new things by literally surrounding yourself with them. Your travel experience is full of exciting risks, and here is why I think you, dear reader, are capable of taking bigger impulsive leaps than you might have thought.

Let’s start small. There is a fast-food restaurant in Japan called Nakau. To give some background, it can be found all over the country and is about as prolific as McDonald’s is in the United States. Their official site is here, although it’s all in japanese, so here is a link to an english review of one of their Sapporo locations. I never visited Sapporo personally but the experience sounds identical. Anyway, their menu system, while not uncommon in Japan, is something I haven’t run into in America. The menu is near the entrance, where you insert money into a vending machine, press the button of your order, and out pops a ticket that you give to the front desk. Take a number, sit down, and wait for them to bring you your food.

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Nakau became one of my favorite restaurants when I was there. Not just because I was on a budget and 290 yen for a  beef bowl sounded amazing, but because their menu had very few pictures and there was no english language option, so I never new what I was ordering until it arrived. Taking these kinds of risks is exciting because the worst you stand to lose is about $3.50 on a meal you really shouldn’t expect to be five-star in the first place. A case like this – ordering food while effectively illiterate – is a fun lesson in impulsiveness and taking joy in the unknown.

Now let’s kick it up a notch with a story of an adventure I had during the beginning of my trip to Japan. Due to flight arrangements, I had to show up about ten days before my program actually started. It would have been simple to make a few online bookings and proceed according to a plan, but why do that when there is a new country to explore? Instead I hopped from Osaka to Nara to Kyoto on a no-reservations hostel adventure. Not knowing where you’re going to stay more than a few hours before you stay there requires you to be open, flexible, and embrace adventure. This is typically better when operating alone, since not only does it make you more flexible, but when you make a mistake it just becomes part of the adventure. If you miss a train now you get to walk and explore. If you were with someone else you might feel like you’ve screwed up and let them down. If you do go with someone else, make sure you pick a good traveling partner (which we may do another how-to post on later) who is also willing to go with the flow. I like traveling alone, but I understand this isn’t always the way to go. Especially for women, where wandering in a foreign city alone at night isn’t such a cavalier decision.

Now let’s analyze the actual magnitude of this type of risk-taking. This was a very strong push outside of my comfort zone that involved relinquishing just about all control I had over my situation. Was it risky? Very. But was it dangerous? No – and that’s where the balance lies in my opinion. Think of the most you could possibly lose, and decide if it’s worth it. In my case, the most I stood to lose was a good night’s sleep, and I was willing to gamble that in exchange for an adventure.

Having to duck into the covered gate of one of Kyoto’s many temples for the night would have been uncomfortable, yes, but not terribly dangerous. I also did this in a country with notably low levels of violent crime or theft. And, finally, I’m a guy, which unfair though it may be, makes it statistically safer choice to make without a traveling buddy. And as it turned out, it all worked out for the best for me and I met a lot of interesting people. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I took another week to do it again in South Korea, and another ten days in Japan after my program was over.

I spent one of my vagabond days photographing the life around Todaiji Temple in Nara, Japan. This shot helped remind me how much more interesting the world is when you approach it with that childlike sense of wonder and spontaneity. The theme would continue to resonate during my time in the monastery and the Buddhist teaching of “present mindfulness.”

The comfort zone is, by definition, a comfortable place to be. But stepping outside of that is the reason I love travel so much, and I try to make that decision last throughout the entire trip. It’s more than just making the decision to go on the first place. If you search for the excitement in these sorts of safe-risk situations it will serve not only to make your experiences more memorable, but it will also greatly increase your confidence. And if you can embrace those moments abroad, then it is comparatively easy to live your life at home like an adventure as well, albeit a less exotic one.

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