Welcome to the world’s most complete guides to:
- Wherever we feel like going and however we end up getting there (usually choo-choo trains)
- Hacking language learning—from our tips to becoming fluent in a new language to science-based advanced strategies for the true language nerd to just getting fluent-enough in 20 minutes to joke, flirt, and toast
- Shaking our cabooses to Brazilian and lesser forms of music
Hopefully our sweatily earned wisdom will save you folks some time and hassle on the road.
- 1. Sweet, Minimalist Travel Gear
- 2. Comfort + Low Carbon
- 3. Real, Deep Travel Experiences—and Fun, Shallow Ones Too
I’ve been on the road for most of the last two decades. Here’s my take on packing:
- You’ll enjoy the trip more if you pack (even) less.
- The few key things that you do bring should be multi-use and durable. Here’s a minimalist’s packing list to make sure what you do carry counts and is useful.
- Please don’t buy more stuff than you need or replace gear unnecessarily. But if you do need something new, check out our reviews of luggage (you’ll see a lot of rolling backpacks) and travel accessories (portable speakers, hooks, water bottles, hair trimmers, tiny corkscrews, small and large toiletry bags) to get stuff that really works. Poorly functioning or broken gear on the road is no fun.
A lot of things that are better for the planet also happen to make for wiser and more comfortable travel:
- Less is more: Limit the number of places you visit, spending more time in each one. This gives you more time for deeper connections with places and people, reduces your carbon footprint enormously, and saves money and travel headaches.
- Take trains wherever possible. We have a quick guide to European train travel that shows how to get cheaper tickets and travel smoothly, as well as many individual country train guides and other train travel hacks.
- When trains don’t work out, we hope you’ll consider buses instead of flying wherever possible; buses are surprisingly comfortable in Brazil and much of Latin America, and cheap in Europe.
Travel is much more rewarding if it involves something more than staring at ruins you don’t understand or getting sloppy drunk on a beach.
Even small experiences, like learning to make Mexican mole, dance samba, or string together a few words to tell a joke in a marginalized language, can make a vacation into an enriching, memorable experience.
I’m a polyglot who got fluent in 7.5 languages as an adult—and I swear I’m not particularly gifted with memorization or accents. I’ve also read a lot about the science of learning second language learning.
What I’d like to share with you from my journey is this:
- Duolingo, Rosetta Stone, etc. are designed to be addictive and that’s great for keeping you learning. But these are not serious ways to actually become good at speaking a language.
- It’s generally a lot of work to learn a language. Question if you want to do it? Maybe learn to dance, sew, or cook instead?
- If you do want to dive in and be able to actually understand and speak (and not just pass some test), there are strategies that can work great for individual, self-directed language learning.
- Sometimes there’s not enough time in life to learn a whole language, but it can be deeply rewarding to minimally learn a language in order to be able to flirt, joke, toast, etc. I’ve done this with Neapolitan, Sicilian, German, Galician, Russian, Mexican Spanish, and more; it’s a great way to get a little window into the specific mindset of a culture.
Our dear readers, who sometimes even have a point, send in their comments and we update articles continuously—slaving away while on fast trains or overnight buses to keep this thing accurate and useful.