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Robert Schrader Headshot

Letter To A Younger Traveler

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Dear Robert:

You busted your ass, beat the odds and silenced the haters -- you made it to India! You've just made a huge step in your life as a traveler and while there's a lot more work to be done, you deserve to savor and enjoy this moment.

I have a feeling that's going to be difficult for you, since you balance your ability to make difficult things seem easy by making simple things more difficult than they are. For this and other reasons, I'd like provide you with some sage advice from your older, more-traveled self.

Please read my words carefully, and keep them in mind not only on this trip, but on the many others you're going to take until we meet again.

Pat yourself on the back. You made it! Although taking a "successful" trip, whatever that means to you, involves more than stepping onto a plane and said plane not crashing en-route, there's a certain amount of triumph you can claim simply by arriving at your destination. Any pride you feel is well-deserved!

Ask if you don't know something. For example, most of the stops on your train from Mumbai to Goa will not be marked, but only indicate that you are headed in the direction of Mangalore, which is way further than you actually want to go. But freak out not -- just swallow your pride and ask any of your fellow passengers if they know where you are. Most will be happy to help! And you'll be happier for having done so, too.

Avoid frivolous shopping, like the saris you're going to buy on the beach in Goa. Not only will you have jettisoned most of the items you purchase in less than a year, but people who sell things to tourists for a living do so only because they know you'll pay them more than their items are worth. You've got most of the financial aspect of travel down, but if you shop too frequently, you're doomed.

Forget your itinerary. Yes, I know you put hours and hours of work, blood, sweat and tears into making it. And it's well thought-out, balanced and relatively feasible. But if you (or, as is the case in this instance, your travel companion) feel like staying someplace for a longer period of time than planned, stay. You might not get the chance again!

Take more long walks on the beach, like the ones you'll be taking every day on Palolem Beach in Goa. Remaining active, but without necessarily having a tangible goal in mind, will allow you to take in your surroundings without losing track of your larger goals in life. It also allows you to meditate on life's "big questions," which can sometimes be harder during travel than "real life" because there's so much to do and see.

Go with your gut. I mean, you'll know the guy who's scamming you at New Delhi's train station is trying to scam you, right? Although trusting your intuition -- and asking that your travel partners trust it, too -- can seem daunting or be unpopular in the moment, it usually pays off in the long run. (P.S. That was some "luxury tour" of the Taj Mahal, huh?)

Live in the present moment. Stop thinking about the awesome travel blog you want to start at some undefined point in the future, and start enjoying your only day in Delhi. Although taking note of ideas, hunches and epiphanies you experience during travel is an important step toward realizing them, you should focus the majority of your energy of enjoying what's in front of you. When in doubt, just focus on your breath, wandering yogi!

Let go of anger quickly. Yeah, it sucks when shit happens, like when your camera breaks as you ride up a fort on an elephant in Jaipur. But you'll dwell on it for far too long and, in many ways, let it ruin your day. Allow yourself to fully feel less-than-savory emotions, but let go of them quickly and return to feeling like you should: happy, thankful and lucky!

Take responsibility and action. To make matters worse, a power surge later that night will kill your computer charger. But you'll go to the local electronics shop and buy a new one. This is good -- do it more often! Taking responsibility for negative situations and action to resolve them, regardless of whether they were "your fault," is the only acceptable response to them. (Hint: This also helps you let go of anger.)

Think of others more often. As if being in India isn't evidence enough, you are far from the only person in the world, and whatever affects you almost always affects others. Instead of always thinking about how something makes you feel, think about how others might interpret it and empathize with them before you wallow in self-pity. They'll almost certainly reciprocate!

Well, I think that about covers it -- for now. I won't divulge too much else, except to tell you that the universe is going to reward you for your continued willingness to take travel risks. By this time next year, your life will have changed dramatically! (Cue dramatic music.)

Until 2013,

Robert (yes, I still go by my full name)