Sometimes it’s not the most iconic travel destinations that resonate most with us. Sometimes it’s the hidden places and the unexpected moments that echo in our memories many years later.
In this episode, Steve Brock talks about how we can cultivate curiosity and blend serendipity with planning to make the most of our travels, as well as finding hidden places closer to home, and how we can use the different senses of time to make more of our travel experiences.
Stephen W. Brock is the author of Hidden Travel: The Secret To Extraordinary Trips. He’s also a photographer and his website, Explore Your Worlds, focuses on the intersection of travel and creativity.
- Finding hidden places close to home
- Planning trips while leaving room for serendipity and new discovery
- Why curiosity is a practice we need to develop to make the most of travel
- How the memorable moments of travel might be the ones you don’t plan for
- Different experiences of time — kairos vs chronos
- Recommended travel books
You can find Stephen Brock at ExploreYourWorlds.com
Transcript of the interview
Jo: Stephen W. Brock is the author of Hidden Travel: The Secret To Extraordinary Trips.. He’s also a photographer and his website, Explore Your Worlds, focuses on the intersection of travel and creativity. Welcome, Steve.
Stephen: Thank you, Jo.
Jo: It’s great to have you on the show. So let’s get right into it.
Why ‘Hidden Travel’? Why did you go with this theme?
Stephen: Because I think that I have found over the years of travel, that some of the most important experiences that you have on a trip or in life, for that matter, tend to be the hidden ones. The ones that don’t happen in the big moments, sometimes even in the small ones.
I think that ‘Hidden Travel,’ in the book it explores more than just hidden places, that’s part of it. But it’s those hidden emotions that you have, the hidden experiences, hidden connections with people, and with other types of things.
And even within yourself those kind of hidden longings that you may have, that you don’t ever get a chance to experience except when you’re on a trip.
Jo: Wow, so many things I want to talk about there. But it is interesting because you talk about hidden travel, and we’ll get into the travel piece. But we’re recording this still in pandemic times. And one of the things that I think is keeping me sane is trying to ‘travel’ more locally to me.
How do you suggest we find these hidden places closer to home?
Stephen: I think part of it is kind of a key theme of the book. And for me, almost as a life philosophy is this idea of intentionality that it doesn’t come to you without some effort.
A lot of people say, ‘I just want to go lie on a beach. I don’t want to have to work.’ But I think the fun thing is, when you’re home, you can actually be practicing a lot of things about travel. You can be honing your skills at paying attention. You can be learning how to explore.
You can work on growing your own sense of curiosity. So I think there’s a lot of things. I just know this, that for me, one of the things I found is just all the wonders that lie within a half-hour from my home here.
This last summer, when we were in lockdown, we were still able to go outside and go outdoors. I’ve done fly fishing, for example, probably started about maybe 10 years ago, but I’ve only done it maybe a dozen or so times before last year before that.
Then I found this spot on this river, where I would start going and I would go several times a week. And I would stay longer because I could, I didn’t have anything else to do or places to go. I would discover, for example, 15 minutes from my home there are on this section of river, I discovered one night by staying longer than normal to twilight, there was this family of beavers. This family of river otters, this bald eagle that, it made a sound like a Canada goose, which was very bizarre but very interesting, or these little salamanders. All these different wonders so close to home I had never seen before.
My wife and I spent a lot of last summer camping. We live in the state of Washington, the United States here, just near Seattle. And we explored parts of the state that were new to us. It was marvelous, I had pretty much the same type of experience in my own state that I get when I go on an international trip.
You didn’t have the language issues or some of the cultural issues. But there’s wonder all around us and it just takes a little bit of effort and a little bit extra time sometimes to find that.
Jo: I think that is great. And I think you’re right about the time of day, I think that makes a big difference. Whether you normally walk at a certain time of day, and then you change that. So you go early morning, and there might be the bird song or like you said you stayed after dusk and things start to change.
Even going out in the dark in an area that you know very well can make things look completely different. So I agree with you that in fact, the pandemic has almost forced us to look more carefully at the places around us.
I really got into fungi this last year and I got this app (Shroomify) and instead of just walking past the same logs, it’s like, ‘Oh, what is that?’ Looking it up on the app and trying to figure out what it is. I definitely didn’t do that before, like I might have taken a picture but I wouldn’t have tried to identify what type it was or tried to figure out what the Latin name might be and stuff like that. I think that comes down to your idea of attention, right?
Stephen: It’s both attention but the thing that is, to me, the intriguing part about it that I don’t think we fully appreciate during lockdown is that that’s also a form of practice. For example, you’re learning how to pay attention to the fungi and the things that you didn’t really notice before.
I’d be willing to bet that next time you’re on an overseas trip or a bigger trip, you’re still going to notice those things in a new way and have a deeper appreciation for them. Even though right now it may feel like, ‘Well, I’m just doing this because I’m in lockdown, I have nothing better to do.’ But you’re actually cultivating your skills, your travel skills so that you can apply this later on. So it has multiple benefits.
Jo: So yes, we can be grateful for where we are now.
Let’s get into the actual travel, which for us is very exciting. You have a section on Start Before The Beginning, which I love as I’m a real planner. Right now I’m surrounded by travel books that I’ve bought in preparation for trips. I’m definitely a planner. But I also try and leave a bit of time.
What are your recommendations for preparing for a trip in one way, but also leaving room for serendipity?
Stephen: I have the belief that the purpose of planning is to provide peace of mind for most people. There are some people that absolutely, just their favorite part of the trip is planning. And I think that’s great.
There are other people who think that planning is just a ball and chain that keeps them from experiencing things, their own discoveries. I find that planning helps you to deal with the logistical issues so that it frees you up to discover things on your own. There’s a book, you may have read it, it’s called Getting Things Done by David Allen.
Jo: Oh, yes, of course.
Stephen: And it’s really about productivity. So you remember that part in there where he says, ‘Write things down.’ Because when you write things down, you make lists, you don’t have to carry them around in your head. And the more you put things, you free your mind up by putting things down into paper or on the computer, it frees you to pay attention better back to what we were talking about.
To me, the purpose of planning is to get things down so you don’t have to be thinking about logistical issues.
I just remember a trip to Ireland once, where we were just winging it, we didn’t make any reservations. And it was just, it was great but we also spent a lot of time hunting down a B&B or a hotel or something like that, whereas if we had had reservations, we wouldn’t have had that problem.
In today’s world, particularly, there are some real key blessings out of COVID, believe it or not, and one of them is you have fear reservation policies. Not only can you now change your airfare or your airline ticket but a lot of hotels allow you to be more flexible.
That flexibility allows you then, to book a trip, but you’re not locked into it so that you can actually change and have that flexibility. But the key piece to me, is this idea of freedom in limitations, that the more boundaries we have, the freer we actually are.
In my day job, I work in a branding and marketing agency and we work with a lot of creatives. And folks like that will they tell you they don’t like to have these boundaries, but they do much better work. And they will tell you in the end, that they appreciate having a very clear, for example, creative brief or directions because it frees them up to be more creative.
I think that’s the same thing for travelers, the more that we have things in these little categories or boundaries, it frees us up to discover more.
I would say this, two big things you don’t want to do is over plan. One of the lines in the book I think is really important, which is the purpose of planning is you’re not preparing an itinerary so that everything goes well, you’re actually preparing yourself for when things don’t.
So the part of that planning process is like preparing for a speech, or a presentation, right, the more prepared you are, the freer you’ll be. But I always say this too, be willing to cast aside any plan in light of discovery once you’re on the ground because plans are only a starting point, they’re not supposed to be this confinement.
Jo: We did do a lot of long weekend trips in Europe, or even within the UK. And you have to plan because you want to see certain things. And, in fact, I only learned this week, I was planning on planning a long weekend trip to Vienna, and everything is shut on a Sunday because it is a Catholic country.
It’s so interesting because I just didn’t think that would happen because in most places you can go to the museums on Sunday or you can go to cultural things, obviously not the churches or whatever. So I was like, ‘Whoa, that makes Vienna difficult for a weekend trip.’
It means if you hadn’t planned a day of rest into your schedule you would struggle to do everything. That’s really important for me to know for planning but as you say, I also make sure never to do more than one museum or art gallery per day. My husband says, ‘No, we go to one. You can take us to one cultural thing but that’s usually enough for the day and then we leave the rest of it open.’
Stephen: There’s a thing in the book, it was a little factoid that I came across called the ringing effect. And it’s the idea that all systems reach a point where, when they hit a certain number of their capacity, beyond that number, an additional factor that hits the system isn’t going to just be a little bit more of a problem, it’s going to be catastrophic.
That’s when you have, for example, on a highway or a freeway or motorway, you have a traffic backup. When it hits 95%, one additional car on that road can suddenly cause everything to shut down. So interestingly enough, that number for human beings is around 75%.
If you plan more than 75% of your day, and this applies to travel, it applies to your work life as well. If you try to plan in every single hour if you get beyond that 75% mark, you actually are less productive, you get less done because you have no margin.
It’s those margins of time that allow you to make new discoveries.
Jo: I love that. I love going to these quite dense cultural experiences. The museums, and the art galleries, and places, cathedrals, and places like that, which have so much to look at, and so many interesting things. We tend to do that in the morning.
And then we often will just go and lie on the bed in a hotel, or whatever in the afternoon for, say, three hours, and then go out again in the evening for dinner, and maybe something else. But that really explains it. I’ve never heard that before. That’s awesome.
Stephen: It affects you, obviously physically, in terms of your emotions, all of that. But the planning piece, back to your point of the reservations.
I don’t know what the world’s going to look like travel-wise, after COVID. But I’m hoping that we’re starting to see people taking the idea of over tourism more seriously. So that places, let’s take Florence, Italy, for example, going to a museum there, you can’t get into the Uffizi without a reservation.
There are some places, the same with the Alhambra in Spain. There’s a lot of places now that if you don’t plan ahead, you simply will miss out. So part of it is not overplanning, but at the same time knowing what are the things you need to plan for.
That’s why, to me, planning isn’t always about locking everything down. It is about knowing what you need to lock down.
Jo: You’ve mentioned curiosity as a practice, and to me, this is so important. But it’s also something that I think people almost need to train and to be more honest like you talked about hidden emotions.
It’s taken me a bit, I admit it now, but I really love graveyards like Père Lachaise in Paris, or when I came to New Orleans in the U.S., the first thing, I did was go on the graveyard tours. I love cemeteries, I love catacombs and crypts. And I used to think, ‘oh, I mustn’t mention this or go that way, because people will think I’m weird,’ but of course, now it’s all in my novels!
That curiosity was almost something I was trying not to acknowledge. And now that’s what I do put in.
How can people tap into their true curiosity instead of just, ‘okay, here’s another tick list destination that I’m not really interested in?’
Stephen: It starts with knowing what it is that you actually love. And believe it or not, most human beings don’t know what it is that they really deeply, truly love. Where you and I are in terms of United States, UK, Western Europe, we’re so kind of keyed into distractions that we don’t really know what our deep passions are.
So to me, part of the opportunity of COVID is to explore those things that really move you and find out what those are. Or at least to get hints of those that you can then explore those more on a trip.
One of the ways to do that is to think of a trip as a learning laboratory. You have this opportunity to explore your interest. I talked to one person who has a friend who, what she does she loves roller coasters. And so she plans all of her trips around amusement parks around the world.
And you think okay, well, that’s a nice little hobby. But the fun thing about that is that she has connected now with this entire community of roller-coaster aficionados, and she has found her tribe, if you will. Part of it has led to not just new places and destinations, but that curiosity has grown into relationships that she really treasures and she has some great friends as a result of that.
One thing I think it’s important for people to remember is that curiosity is not the same for everybody nor is any single person curious about everything. I may be curious about, for example, history type of things as you are, you’re curious about cemeteries, but I enjoy learning a little bit about biology or physics or things like that but I’m not as curious as a scientist might be.
Know what it is that you’re curious about, use your trip as a way to explore that curiosity because it gives you the freedom to practice things you would not do at home.
I may take a cooking class on a trip that I would never take at home. Or I may explore a new type of physical activity, like kayaking on a trip that I just wouldn’t do at home. Use the freedom that you have there from the routine to not only spark that curiosity but to pursue that curiosity.
Jo: I agree with that. And it’s interesting, because when I was researching pilgrimage before I went on a recent trip to Canterbury from London, a walking pilgrimage, I read this, ‘Stranger, pass by that which you do not love.’ That kept coming back to me as I was walking, it was like, ‘Oh, I’m meant to love walking in there,’ English countryside, for example, and it was very nice.
But actually, I love being in Gothic cathedrals. I love Gothic architecture. And I love religious relics. And although I enjoyed walking in the English countryside, for me, the highlights of my pilgrimage were these man-made memento mori and gorgeous architecture.
And it’s admitting that what you love might not be what other people love, as you say like you mentioned that person with the roller coaster, it’s like, I just not interested in that at all. But it’s great to do that.
And as you say, there’s always a community of people who will love what you love. Often it’s not your partner, or your children, or your in-real-life friends, is it?
Stephen: No, in fact, there’s a line in the book, that, to me is one of the key things, which is, ‘The worst day or the worst place with the right person can be amazing. And the best place with the wrong person can be a nightmare.’
Your traveling companion can really affect how you travel and how you experience it.
So you really have to work a lot of that stuff out before you go to know what your interests are.
There’s a couple of things that you can do, if you have different interests, you take turns. You and your husband, he may not like the museums as much, but you don’t spend all your time in a museum, half the day you do, half the day you don’t. You take turns, or you go your separate ways.
Nothing ever has to be that you have to spend 24 hours together with a person on a trip necessarily except for maybe in some really kind of really uncomfortable or unsafe type of places. You can do different things like that.
Going back to your trip, your pilgrimage walk, one thing back to your first question about hidden places. I would say this, if I recall, the two most meaningful experiences you had on that trip were at the beginning and at the end. One was that it was a wetlands type of place near the industrial area that you came across.
Jo: Yes. Oh, I’m thrilled that you enjoyed it.
Stephen: Yeah, well, the thing about it is that, to me, was a perfect example of a hidden travel moment, which was, you had no idea before you started that place existed. And yet, it resonated with you, in part because of what you had just come out of in terms of the commercial industrial space, it was kind of gritty and kind of ugly.
So you appreciated it more as a result of those circumstances. The last one, if I recall, was that moment, I think in Canterbury Cathedral, where you’re sitting there before the service and watching them practice and that moment.
You had all the factors going for you of the things you love in terms of the architecture, the space. You had a sense of accomplishment of having made the walk and we’re sitting there now enjoying the fruits of that. All those things come together and knowing what those things are and still being surprised by them.
That to me is the wonder of travel is you can orchestrate the fact that you were in a cathedral, which you like, but the moment itself still surpasses everything. That’s a great travel moment.
Jo: You’ve done a wonderful job of picking up one of mine. I wonder, what about you? You’ve got these hidden places at the end of every section in the book.
Any particular hidden places or hidden travel experiences that stand out for you as part of your research?
Stephen: There are some. Actually, the most important and most meaningful ones are ones that are not in the book simply because they’re too private. They’re going to be things like one I lived in Germany being on a train invited to stay with his family for a long weekend in Switzerland.
Or when I was in Turkey, weird set of circumstances, being invited to meet one of the top photographers in Turkey and invited to his home, which is literally a cave on the side of this cliff. It overlooks this amazing valley and everything in his house is handmade artworks and stuff. Those things though, those stay private because you don’t want to share those with others, you can’t.
But in the book, I think one that resonates. This is ‘Books and Travel’ after all, right? So there was that example when, this is probably a decade ago, we were in Scotland, and we went to dinner at this, as Americans, the traditional Irish or Scottish, in this case, pub, we had a wonderful dinner there. That was fun just in doing that.
And then you’ll appreciate this one, Jo, because we went out afterwards we went…it was with my parents, my two sons, my wife and I. My wife and my mom stayed in the pub, my dad, my two sons went to explore the little town of Glamis. There’s not much there. But they have this beautiful cemetery.
So it’s twilight, or actually, just after sunset. And we’re exploring the cemetery and we come across this area, a sign that said, ‘St Fergus’s Well.’ And we go over there and there’s this little tiny spring, this little pool of water, with this metal cup on a chain hung next to it. And it’s surrounded by these stones that are all kind of moss-covered.
What struck me as to anyone else that looks there and goes like, ‘Okay, that’s a bunch of rocks and some water.’ To me, I grew up, I worked as a professional magician through college, and I got the love for doing magic when I was in middle school or before high school.
I remember reading the book, The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart, which is about Merlin the magician. I have these memories of this book and this place, this Crystal Cave where he lived. And when I see this little spring, this well, St Fergus’s Well there in Glamis, it just completely brought me back to that scene, I thought this is what the Crystal Cave must have looked like.
So I had that moment, which you appreciate, which is that connection between our interior life in our exterior world. And that all came rushing together right then. I think those are the type of moments that resonate most with us when those two things connect.
Jo: I can imagine this, I’ve seen many of these ancient wells in Scottish locations or English locations. These are not particularly dramatic locations, but you had an emotional experience there. And like you mentioned my experience, it was called Crayford Ness and it’s an ancient salt marsh that even the Romans, and before that, the ancient British tribes would have walked past.
What’s so interesting, so you’re also a photographer, and you mentioned this other photographer in Turkey. I wanted to take a picture at Crayford Ness of this salt marsh and I tried and it just did not match the emotional thing in my head.
Did you have the same experience with this well in that there is absolutely no way you could have taken a photo that reflected your experience?
Stephen: My editor of the book, because the book has a number of photographs throughout. Her comment was, ‘Don’t you have a better photo than this one for this well?’ And it’s like, ‘No, actually, I don’t because I was too caught up.’ I just was doing it for documentary purposes at the time, not to try to get a great picture.
Because it’s exactly what you said, you get so caught up in it that you can’t fully capture the emotions of it. So I would say that, yeah, most of the places that have mattered most to me, I have really bad photos of or no photos of because you can’t. You’re not even thinking.
It’s like food, I’m a terrible food photographer because I’m already three-quarters of the way done with my meal before I think, ‘Oh, I should have taken a picture of that.’ But I’m so interested in eating that I don’t think of that.
Jo: We do occasionally do these degustation menus, where you have 10 courses or 12 courses with matched wines. And often the earlier ones, I’ll take a photo and then by the fifth course and the matched wine, the photos have just disintegrated into nothing!
Stephen: Right, right. Exactly. I think that’s okay, because again, to me, it’s all about the moment. That’s why you’re enjoying the moment there and do have to document it. I had someone once told me this that actually was John Medina. He is the author of the book Brain Rules. He’s a molecular biologist who has done a lot of research in terms of neuroscience and how the brain works and how we think.
We were talking about my book and travel and kind of these moments. And he was very straightforward about it saying,
‘It is very, very difficult to completely enjoy a moment and curate it for another audience at the same time.’
His point was, as a travel writer, or any type of writer, or a photographer is, it’s very difficult for you to experience and enjoy that, while you’re thinking about how can I use this on my blog, or for a magazine, or whatever. It’s always going to be that trade-off between capturing it for others, versus just enjoying it for yourself.
Jo: Yes. And that’s so interesting as well because the other moment you mentioned on my pilgrimage that even the song, Evensong, the practice, you don’t take photos in a religious setting like that, during that. And again, I don’t have any photos, but also video. I did try once and my husband, we were in Jerusalem, and I was like, ‘Can you video this?’ And he did. But I just didn’t like it.
As you say, I didn’t want to be turning my own gaze into what someone else would see through a camera later on. I wanted to sink into it myself. I do take a lot of photos for my own, like the fungi, for example, I don’t share a lot of those photos, because they’re not great. But I take them in order to remind me later and find out what it is.
You’re obviously a photographer and your wonderful sights explore your world, you have a lot of photos and you do.
How do you balance that between obsessing around making things look nice and doing Instagram and social media and then using images to go deeper into a place?
Stephen: Well, actually, I was near you, to me, relatively near. Dorset is nearer to Bath than Seattle is, so I’ll call it nearby.
Jo: That’s true.
Stephen: I did a photo tour with Charlie Waite, who’s one of the top landscape photographers there in the UK. And we were talking about that very issue about how people say is like, ‘Well, you just don’t experience a place when you’re looking through the lens.’
He said, ‘No, it’s the exact opposite because a good photographer is going to take a lot of time before he or she ever snaps the shutter release, to see the place and to really get to know it well.’
An example was on this photo tour with him. We went to this place that’s like this tree tunnel, a road going through all the different trees. And after about 30 minutes there, I thought okay, I’ve exhausted every possibility here.
We stayed for another two hours in that place. I just thought this is crazy, what am I going to do for two hours here? What he was teaching me was that there’s so much more to see than the initial cursory glance can capture. And sure enough, a couple of things happened.
First of all, I started seeing the area outside the tree tunnel, and the surrounding fields, and everything, realizing there were beautiful things there. And then, by being there for an extended period of time, I was there when this lone bicyclist came speeding down the road there through the tree tunnel and it made for a far more interesting photo than had I just stuck with the original ones that were just about the trees themselves.
All that to say is, I think photography with intentionality I think can be great. I think that photography without intentionality can actually, yeah, I mean, you can fall into the stereotypes. I mentioned the Alhambra in Spain, I remember being there and this one young woman. I watched her, I was fascinated with her because all she did was she would just move from scene to scene, and then take selfies.
So the majority of everything she saw, was technically looking opposite of the scene itself because she’s looking toward the phone. I kept thinking, ‘Well, she’ll come back and now she will really appreciate the place,’ she never did. It was all about looking into the phone.
It was just using the beauty of the architecture there as a backdrop rather than actually appreciating it. So that to me is kind of sad. I think you can do it. But I mean, everyone has a different, what their interest is there and their reason for being there. So I can’t say that was bad. It was just bad for me because to me, she never got a real sense of the place itself.
Jo: Whereas, I went to the Alhambra and then wrote a fight scene there. Because that’s what I like. In my book, Gates of Hell, that’s set mostly in Spain and lots in Granada, and Barcelona, and other places. A lot of my photos are of architecture, to be honest, because it’s so beautiful. And I find it very hard to describe in words. So that helps.
Coming back on the sense of time there. You mentioned the two hours in that one place. And you do have a whole section on aspects of time in the book. This is something I think about a lot at the moment because, in this pandemic, time is really weird. It feels like it’s been going on forever. And yet also time passes swiftly.
I do measure my life also by the photos. I do a photo book every year. As we’re recording this and towards the end of February 2021, I’ve got barely any photos of this year already. And it’s like what has happened to my time, every day seems the same. Has that happened to you too?
How do we use that weird sense of time in traveling?
Stephen: Oh, it totally does. In this last year is I don’t think anything can quite compare to it because you’re right it, on one hand, COVID years are like dog years, one just feels like seven years for everyone. On the other hand, it seems like, ‘Where did 2020 go?’
I don’t know if there is an equivalent anytime else in our history of that, but I know on trips, when you travel, time can be actually one of the most hidden factors in a trip and we don’t think enough about it, I believe.
To me, the breakthrough moment was understanding the difference between what the ancient Greeks used to call ‘kairos’ time versus ‘chronos’ time. Chronos, it’s what we’re used to, it’s time in a quantitative sense, like minutes and hours.
Kairos is a qualitative sense. When you say, ‘What time is the party?’ That’s chronos. But you say, ‘Did you have a good time at the party?’ That’s kairos.
For me, the shift is on a trip or even during COVID is trying to relentlessly, because it requires discipline to do this, is to shift my own mindset out of chronos and into kairos. So that instead of saying like, ‘Oh, I only have two hours in this one place,’ instead, I start thinking I may not have a whole lot of time, but I can use this time to discover or experience a moment here.
There’s that great line I love.
Cesare Pavese, the Italian poet who says, ‘We don’t remember days, we remember moments.’
I think that’s really true. How do you shift from watching your watch, or the clock to thinking in terms of moments?
What’s been really helpful for me is the book, The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath, it’s a business book. But I found it to be one of the best books on helping me to appreciate time in a different way. It’s about how to basically create these defining moments.
An entire chapter in the book is devoted towards taking their principles and applying them towards travel. And it’s been one of the most transformative things I’ve done with trips is learning that you can not only experience these defining or magic moments, but you can also actually create them. And there’s an example that I give of a trip with my family to Italy, and Slovenia, where we did that. But it’s pretty amazing.
It’s really simple, real quickly, four factors that they list in The Power of Moments. A defining moment, the characteristics are, number one, elevated. It’s different from your daily routine. Travel, any type of thing on a trip is pretty much elevated.
Number two, it’s a moment of pride or accomplishment. You did your marathon, right, and so that’s a moment of accomplishment there.
A moment of connection, where you connect either, I find it not just with others, which is kind of their intent, but I think it could be a moment with your interior life or with others or with a place.
And then finally, is a moment of insight, where you have this aha moment of you learning something that ties back to what we’re talking about with curiosity and your interest in the well.
If you can actually try to create these moments of elevated accomplishment, insight, and connectivity, or connection on a trip, and it just makes everything in that place even better.
Jo: I think that’s great. And that is the problem with these COVID years is the lack of moments and because it almost has to be an active process. It’s, as you said, going and fly fishing or you’ve actively chosen to do that. Whereas, I feel like so much of this year is a passive consumption of Netflix, everyone’s watching a lot of Netflix!
Or of something to fill some time when we might normally be doing something else. I think that active participation and the active choosing of those moments is so important.
We’re running out of time, I feel like I could talk to you forever. But, you mentioned one book there The Power of Moments and this is the ‘Books and Travel’ show.
Apart from your own book, what are a few other books that you recommend about travel? Or what do you love?
Stephen: One of the nicest compliments I’ve had so far was by a reviewer of my book where they said it’s a combination of Rolf Potts book, Vagabonding. And I have no idea how to pronounce his name correctly, but Alain De Botton, The Art of Travel. How do you pronounce his name?
Jo: Alain De Botton.
Stephen: There you go. Thank you. Okay. So those two books of Vagabonding and The Art of Travel have their kind of classics to me in that sense, so those are obvious ones.
A more contemporary one is Rediscovering Travel by Seth Kugel. That one gets at why you would either hate or appreciate this one, Jo, because I’m like you, I’m more of an introvert. And travel has really helped me to realize that what Seth mentions in Rediscovering Travel is that a lot of times the best travel moments actually are those that you encounter when you meet others and things like that. So it’s really a lot about that.
It’s been an encouragement to me, as well in that area. I think another one that’s really good during COVID is Alastair Humphreys book, Microadventures. Do you know that one?
Jo: Yes. Al has been on the show! [Episode 10: Adventure, walking and My Midsummer Morning]
Stephen: Well, there you go. I just think that that has been, the fact that you have five hours, you have one day, great, make a micro-adventure out of that, I think that’s really useful during COVID.
And then, beyond COVID, I would say there’s an entire series of books called the ‘500 Hidden Secrets‘ series. And these are 500 hidden secrets of Bruges or Paris, or London. They have a number 30, 40, I guess now in the series of those.
From a hidden travel standpoint, they really do get at some of the hidden places and experiences there. So those would be probably the ones I would recommend.
From a travel writing standpoint, anything by Pico Iyer, I think, I would recommend, I just love his writing. His latest book on Japan, living in Japan is he lives in a suburb. So there’s nothing stereotypically mystical, or magical of the Japan that we think of as tourists that he writes about and he still makes it fascinating.
Jo: I actually have that book. I was just looking for it in my room, which has books everywhere. I have that book on Japan. I’m planning a trip to Japan this year in search of these monks who self-mummified, obviously not in modern times, in ancient times. They would self-mummify by eating this type of sap over time, and then sitting there and waiting to mummify, and I’m like, I have to go find these dead monks. That’s very cool.
But of course, that trip is off this year. But again, that’s an example of tapping into what you love, I guess.
Stephen: I was going to say your research trips are, to me, one of the best examples of a trip with a purpose. I would just wrap up and say the key aspect to me of hidden travel is this idea of using travel, not as an end but as a means.
Too many of us think of travel, a trip itself as, well, that’s the end, that’s what I’m going for. But your research trips are a perfect example of like, no, it’s a means to an end. The end is the book, you’re using travel to do the research on it.
And I think because you have a purpose for that trip, you’re actually gaining more out of it, and getting more about the country or the place as just a traveler. Because you’re going as an author as well, that combination, you get the best of both.
Jo: That’s great. And let’s hope we’re both back out there in the world soon.
Stephen: Yes, indeed.
Jo: Where can people find you, and your book, and everything you do online?
Stephen: The main site for everything is, as you mentioned before, it’s ExploreYourWorlds.com. It’s about the world in you as well as the world around you, so hence the plural on worlds.
And there is a subsection there for Hidden Travel, where you can find out about the book or Amazon, Barnes & Noble, most of the places, at least here in the United States, are getting at the book it should be available there, and then other places over time, but at least for now, I know it’s on Amazon, at least.
Jo: Brilliant. Well, thanks so much for your time, Steve. That was great.
Stephen: Great. Thank you.