Whether you are the type who plans out a detailed itinerary months before your trip or your fly by the seat of your pants once you arrive, there’s one thing just about every traveler has in common: a sense of adventure. It’s why people jet-set in the first place—they’re looking to have new, mind-expanding experiences they’ll remember (and talk about) for the rest of their lives.
As a world-traveler, Jon Levy has had his fair share of adventure, including a near-death tale of running with the bulls in Pamplona and traveling to far-off countries with complete strangers. Combine those experiences with his background as a behavioral scientist, and you have a uniquely qualified expert on the subject of memorable vacation experiences. Thankfully, Levy has boiled down his secrets in a new book: The 2 AM Principle: Discover The Science of Adventure (out November 8). Yes, there is actually a science to planning the perfect, adventurous trip. And no, you don’t have to do anything as extreme as running with the bulls.
Curious? Here, he shares some of his best tried-and-tested tips for making your next trip your most exciting adventure ever. Warning: Prepare to step out of your comfort zone, forgo your standard routines, and challenge yourself. Now book a flight ASAP.
1. Set a mission.
Human beings are driven by goals. Fun is not a mission, it is a by-product of what you create. Your mission could be anything from visiting seven cities in seven days to participating in running of the bulls or eating scorpions or exotic bugs in Bangkok. Let the goal drive your behavior and give you something to work towards. Don’t worry if you don’t fulfill your mission.
2. The farther you are from home, the more likely you are to participate in new and unfamiliar experience.
Your brain operates differently in new environments. Go to Europe or Latin America. Go to a city with a thriving nightlife or one that is blooming. Think Berlin, Budapest, or Buenos Aires.
3. Constraints are a good thing.
Some people think that the more options people have, the happier they will be. Research by Barry Schwartz found that when we have too many choices, we feel overwhelmed and unhappy. When we have a comfortable range of choices, we are more likely to be happy. If you’re constrained by time, money, or language, use these to your advantage. See if you can convince strangers to buy your drinks for the entire night. Now your constraints are what make it exciting, not a drag.
4. Be a participant.
Say yes, even if you don’t think you’ll like it. Having an adventurous life isn’t about enjoying everything. In the worst-case scenario, you’ll discover that you didn’t enjoy something. At least now you have a good story to tell about it.
5. Know your limitations.
Not all of us have the same tolerance. We need to decompress. Just because you read a story about me dropping myself in a foreign country with nowhere to stay doesn’t mean you need to do it. The key is to do things just outside of your comfort zone. If it’s too far out, it will be intimidating. If it’s too close, it’s boring.
6. Planning is essential but plans can change.
A great adventure is created when you embrace the unexpected, actually go out, and explore.
7. Become a master traveler.
Getting from place to place can be a drag, whether you are stuck in an airport, sitting on a train for hours, or having to get from one side of the city to another. But you can turn travel into the most fun part of your trip. A long train ride can be an epic board game challenge. A 30-minute taxi ride can turn into an amazing battle of Heads Up! People often spend hours in transport so spend hours doing what excites you and others.
8. Make sure to end on a good note.
Research from Daniel Kahneman found that human beings don’t process the duration of pleasure and pain. If you end on a negative note, you’ll remember an entire experience negatively. If you end on a positive note, even if the rest of the experience wasn’t as good, you will remember it more fondly.