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Five Tips For Making Travel Meaningful

Clouds move over the Potala Palace in Tibet's Lhasa prefecture.
Feng Li
Getty Images
Clouds move over the Potala Palace in Tibet's Lhasa prefecture.

Few know more about the art of travel than acclaimed writers Paul Theroux and Pico Iyer, who have a combined six decades of experience chronicling their adventures around the world.

In his book The Tao of Travel, Theroux highlights the work of some of his favorite travel writers, including a conversation with Iyer. And 100 Journeys for the Spirit, which Iyer wrote the foreword to, features an essay by Theroux about the Lhasa prefecture in Tibet.

Theroux and Iyer give NPR's Neal Conan a list of things they do to make travel meaningful and how they go about being a traveler rather than a tourist.

1. Pick a destination that raises more questions than answers. "When I travel," Iyer says, "I want to be moved and I want to be transported and I want to be sent back a different person." Visiting places like Ryoanji in Japan, he says, inspires questions that reverberate long after you leave. "There's something in it that is always elusive ... that keeps bringing you back, again and again."

2. Leave the technology at home. "The more the world moves toward movement and acceleration and data, the more something in us cries out for silence and stillness and spaciousness," Iyer says. Iyer has visited monasteries for the past 20 years just to escape his phone and laptop, and he says he has found it liberating and even luxurious.

3. Rely on yourself. Self-sufficiency can be one of the best parts of travel, Theroux says. He says walking, looking for water, and just experiencing the simplicity and primitivism of life can lead you to a destination you end up truly loving.

4. Visit a charismatic place, not a pleasant place. "I would never call Jerusalem beautiful or comfortable or consoling," Iyer says. "But there's something about it that you can't turn away from." Similarly, he says, sitting in a very simple place like a Californian monastery in the midst of a storm takes you back to an essential, almost primal sense of fear or isolation — yet another part of the beauty of the experience.

5. Just go! "I still feel that ours is the only developed country in the world that's not full of travelers," Iyer says. Whenever you take yourself to some magical space abroad, he says, you see people of many nationalities, but few Americans. Take the time and trouble, he advises, to seek out the new places.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.