Perfect Travel Guide - Kintamani Bali

The Perfect Travel Guide That Doesn’t Exist

Derek Perspectives, Travel Tips & Advice 53 Comments

Perfect Travel Guide - Kintamani Bali

Wouldn’t it be brilliant if there was one definitive, perfect travel guide full of specific instructions that, when followed step-by-step by anyone on the planet, magically guarantees that we will be out there traveling the world long-term in no time at all?

Oh, it would, it really would.

But, the reality is that no matter how much we want such a guide, it simply does not exist.

When we first discover that travel might be significantly more accessible than we once thought, it is natural for us to suddenly crave some set of concrete instructions from others and a pamphlet full of clearly laid-out rules from those who have already achieved such a goal. We want the do’s and the dont’s, we want someone to tell us exactly where to go, exactly what to pack, exactly what to expect, exactly how to earn money and so on. We want to find a holy tablet of travel (the stone or electronic kind) to guide us from our mere desire to experience the world directly to the real thing, actually experiencing it first-hand.

When I decided that I wanted to try and travel for as long as possible, believe me, I wanted a set of rules and instructions too. I wanted someone to tell me, “Hey Derek, all you need to do is this, this and that and you’ll be able to travel for as long as you want my friend.

Oh how much I wanted someone to tell me that! Well, nobody told me that. Nobody gave me any detailed plan to follow, nobody handed me that perfect travel guide and nobody provided me with a manual that guaranteed to lead me to all of my travel dreams.


Interestingly, I was actually floating in the South China Sea when I first started to realize that I might have to figure out my traveling life on my own. You see, the crew of the party boat/snorkeling trip that I had joined in Vietnam that day back in February of 2000 had been serving endless drinks to all of us passengers as we made our way from the pier towards the snorkeling location. After an hour of hanging out with other travelers and throwing back several of these ‘free’ drinks, it was time to snorkel and so I joined everyone else by jumping right into the water, thinking that was a perfectly sound idea. And then, after a couple of minutes of trying to snorkel, I quickly began to drift, farther and farther and farther away from the boat, with my semi-inebriated self unable to find the strength to stop it.

All of a sudden, with the vessel now very far off in the distance, I realized that I was all alone in the water and that none of those other tourists swimming around this sea were going to help me get back. If I wanted to get back, I would have to find the strength from within to do it on my own.

And I did. It was painfully difficult though and I wanted to stop swimming several times and give up as my body strength was nearly depleted. But I wanted to get back to that damn boat so badly that I somehow pushed onward, fighting the current, fighting the rough waters, fighting my exhaustion, until I got there.

Then, sitting by myself on the top deck of that boat for the ride back to the town of Nha Trang, I realized a couple of important lessons…

First, I had to take responsibility for my own actions and I had no choice but to deal with the consequences, especially when I make bad decisions.

Second, while there might be others around me that can help from time to time, when it comes down to it, it’s truly up to me to create the life I want to live. There is no lifeline to hold onto that will tug you straight to where you want to go. You can’t just yell out for help, close your eyes and wake up exactly where you want to be. It takes tremendous effort, fierce dedication and an unwavering focus to reach your destination, but if you want it badly enough, you’ll absolutely find a way to get there on your own.


What I’m trying to say is that I know you’re excited to travel, I know that you’re spending hours online searching for destinations far and wide, trying to figure out where you want to go in this world and how and, well, searching for that magical step-by-step plan to follow, the plan that will make your travel dreams so easy to achieve, in the snap of a finger.

And now you hear that no such plan, no such guide, exists.

However, this should not be viewed as disappointing news, far from it. If you really want travel to play a major role in your life, one day in the future you will indeed be hiking around the Romanian countryside or watching the sunset from a Fijian beach or attending a football match in South Africa or meeting new friends in Kyrgyzstan. You will be somewhere in this world when all of a sudden you will stop what you’re doing and look all around you, amazed at where you are and how you got there. And at that point, you’ll think to yourself, “I’ll be damned. I made it happen.

I’m not saying all of this just for the fun of it. I’m saying all of this because I have continuously met people out there in the world who have achieved their travel goals in incredible ways, people who have had to figure out how to make it happen for themselves, just like all of us, and, who did just that.

Yes, you can make it happen too. I have absolutely no doubt about that. Many experienced travelers are here to assist and to help you move forward as much as we can (that’s the whole reason I’ve created two travel resources myself after all) but ultimately, you have to make the real decisions.

Take a deep breath, think about the advice and suggestions that you’ve picked up from others, make sure you fully believe in yourself and then put your left foot forward. That’s how you start creating your own path, the kind of path that you’ll need to create if you want travel to become a reality.

Enjoy the adventure. I know you will.

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Comments 53

  1. I totally agree with you, Earl. The real travelling experience comes from the things we do not expect to happen, all the different situations, decisions and people we meet. This makes our travel a truly adventure, unique for ourselves.

  2. You can be prepared for any eventuality that comes along. You just have to trust that you have the right stuff to figure it out … that’s why travel is so awesome for character building!

  3. Well there may not be a step by step guide but there is a resource where you can ask travelers of all kinds how to accomplish your own personal travel goals. Almost a holy grail of information and contacts. It’s called Plansify and you can skype with travelers about pretty much any questions you want.

  4. This was one of your best posts ever, perhaps even your best.There are only two people in this world who I’d expect to write a post like this, and you happen to be one of them.

  5. Ideas for posts: The Traveler Rests. Many long travelers stop for a while, then go again. (Didn’t Marco Polo tell his Silk Road travel stories in jail, in Italy? : ) Time to pause and reflect. So many places the long traveler can go, in thought, while resting comfortably. Items enjoyed that don’t fit in a suitcase: maybe an extended keyboard — feet up, keyboard on lap, computer on table, no need to hunch over the MacBook for now. etc., etc.

  6. Good post because there’s a million articles out there on how to leave your routine, everyday life for a life of travel. And they’re all the same. But you know what? At least the advice is less annoying then all the people that tell you all the time “how lucky” you are to be doing it. That gets my goat.

    The biggest piece of advice, and that goes for anything in life, is to tailor your life to what you want to do. That means working, planning, and preparing yourself for your objectives. If you want to be a big business tycoon it means going to school, studying hard, networking, and outworking others. Travelling is the same thing. If you’ve always wanted to travel (as I have and I’m sure you did) then you start with your plan early and make decisions, professional or economic, to pursue that goal. Don’t buy a million dollar house, don’t waste money on fancy cars, don’t tie yourself down with a bunch of kids. There’s a hundred different ways to do it. In my case I saved, invested wisely, and started my own business. I have a nice condo in a trendy part of town that I can rent easily. I didn’t want a house in the suburbs – I always wanted to travel and I wanted something that was easily marketable. My condo now funds most of our travels. I started a business that is not location-dependent. Another decision made with the final goal being to travel. Anybody can do the same, but in different ways. All the have to do is define their goals early and work towards them. But that is why I get irritated with people saying ‘you’re lucky’. No, I’m not lucky. I knew what I wanted and planned towards it. I didn’t have 4 kids, get stuck with a huge mortgage on a house in the countryside, didn’t buy 2 cars to get me from my big house to my location-dependent job in the city. I think the important thing if you want a life of travel is to not get locked in/stuck with your decisions in life. And that’s basically what you’ve stated on your 2nd point.

    But your 1st point is also dead on. We make mistakes in life that lead us away from our goals. It is then up to us to work towards making up for our mistakes. I think this can be even tougher than following and plan and doing everything right. A lot of people make bad decisions and compound it by following up with more bad decisions. My boss had a saying “your first loss is the best loss”. It had more to do with financial trading than anything (holding on to a bad trade or doubling up some of the worst things you can do) but is true in life too. Recognize your losses, liquidate your position, move on to something else. Ie. Get back to working towards your end goal.

    Sorry I babbled on. Good post Earl.
    Frank (bbqboy)

    1. Hey Frank – Those are great points and I definitely agree. Travel is no different than any other path in terms of the need to create a general idea of what you want to do, figure out what steps are needed and then move forward. For some reason, I do think that many people believe travel just ‘falls into place’ which of course, isn’t how it works. But in my opinion, this is great news because it means that someone doesn’t have to be ‘lucky’ or doesn’t have to wait for things to ‘fall into place’ to achieve their travel goals. They simply need to figure out what steps they need to take and then take them, working hard along the way, just as anyone does who wants to achieve any goal in life.

  7. Great post, Earl! Agree with you, there is no perfect guide that will indeed be perfect for all. You learn as you go 🙂
    I do read lots of travel guides and blogs because I enjoy the pictures, appreciate the writing, as well as love learning about new places.
    But when I travel, they don’t seem to matter that much as I really feel the magic happens in the process of discovering things by ourselves, in the uniqueness of each person’s journey and experiences.

  8. Great post, Earl. You’re very right… we would love a guide that tells us step by step how to get there, ha! Once we open the door to some travel, who knows what doors will open for us to continue traveling. Love it!

  9. You know, I’m happy to work it out on my own (mostly). If travel was super easy, I just wouldn’t get much out of it and wouldn’t grow as a person much.

  10. I always have a bookguide with me just to read a little bit about places I’m going to visit or ‘just in case’ but I never treat it as a Bible that I follow. Moreover, I’ve found this year when I was in Sri Lanka that Lonely Planet’s guide to SL (2012 edition so ‘the newest’) is really not updated and if I had followed all the advices they provided… I probably wouldn’t go to SL at all! In their perspective it was chaotic (ok, it was in this Asian way but not everywhere!) and solo female travellers shouldn’t leave the hotel on their own not to be harassed by locals. And I’ve found that everywhere in Sri Lanka people were friendly, helpful and very polite!
    That was the first time I was sooo disappointed with LP’s guide, however, as I mentioned – I never trust guides in 100%. 🙂

  11. Hello Earl! I’m also wandering, with the only exception I don’t have a blog like yours 🙂 When my friends ask me to give them a detailed guide to make a perfect trip I think the same, that guide doesn’t exist… but they don’t believe me! They should discover the place by themselves, cause the’ll feel other things than mine, or meet different people than the ones I’ve met. Thanks for the post!

  12. Hey Earl, I’m so glad to see that you’re back on your feet and recovering well from your illness. We missed you. 🙂

    Now to your question: Have I been hoping to find a perfect, step-by-step guide? Not really! I do love reading Lonely Planet guide books though. I like their writing style and their general overview of places. As for a step-by-step guide. Well, that would be silly for me, but I appreciate that it’s necessary for others who are leaning out into the wide world either for the first time, or to places unknown. I’ve even written a few myself LOL!

    Am I ready to make it happen yourself? Always. The pudding is in the eating. I read a little, sometimes even a lot, and then when I get to my destination, I close the book and make things happen!

    1. Hey Victoria – That all makes sense for sure and the key is to realize that it is important to put the guide away from time to time and just go out there and experience a destination on your own, without any specific plan. Usually that leads to some of the most rewarding experiences, thus reducing our reliance on guide books over time…

      Glad to hear you’re ready to make it happen yourself!

  13. Hi Earl,

    Your Vietnam story is so telling. We’ve heard many stories of snorkelers and swimmers drowning, especially in Phuket. Many Chinese and Russians are poor swimmers. They hop in dangerous waters and die, after flailing, and with no skilled, trained operators keeping an eye out for them. It’s sad but it puts the honus on each one of us.

    Take full responsibility for your travel life and write the guide as you go. From being sick as a dog in India, to nearly losing my life in Bali (motorbike accident) to nearly being pulled out to sea in Phuket, to about 20 more experiences, I never blamed anyone. It was all my doing, or the doing of The Universe, for me to learn from.

    I’m grateful for these freeing experiences and like yourself, I pinch myself at times. Even though I travel with my fiancee Kelli I think sometimes, damn, we did this…..It’s crazy, because my last vacation before this 40 month world tour was a trip from NJ to South Carolina, in 1989. My next trip wound up being from NYC to Denpasar Bali – first flight by the way too, at 23 hours total – some 20 years later.

    What a journey, learning as we go along.

    Thanks Earl, super inspiring dude.

    I’ll tweet it now.

    Signing off from Savusavu, Fiji.


    1. Hey Ryan – Thanks for commenting and I do agree that we need to take responsibility for our lives, for our decisions. That’s definitely something I’ve learned over the years and while it’s so convenient or easy to place the blame on others, that simply doesn’t do any good in the end.

      Glad to hear you’ve ventured beyond the US with this current, lengthy trip of yours and here’s to more travels in the future!

  14. Glad to see you back on your feet again, and posting once more. Hope everything is ok.

    Enjoyed the post as well, as I was thinking about another situation I currently have at the moment and it totally related to that as well.

    1. Hey Michelle – A great quote indeed and so very true. We can take any situation and make it a happy one in the end. We do have that ability.

  15. Earl, even if this guide/recipe for success existed… do you think you would appreciate it and follow all the step by step instructions? Most people can’t appreciate advice and guides (maybe, if they pay a lot of money and the definition of “a lot” is different for everyone depending on their travel style). A perfect guide would take the excitement factor out of the equation. Then what is the point of doing something, anything that is not exciting? Life turns into a boring chore and we turn into pre-programmed machines. I’m sighing with relief such a guide (to anything, not just travel) does not exist.

    I admire your ability to think so reasonably and act so adequately when your mind was a little blurred that day in Vietnam. Your insights can be applied to any aspect of life (does this sound like a perfect guide? I think it does. Haha) that’s why I keep reading your blog religiously. Glad you are back and kicking and please come to Chicago! I might be able to help you live your other dream- stand up comedy. Think about it:)

    1. @Sugar Plum Fairy – Funny you mention that as I have been working on my comedy over the past month, at least on paper. We’ll see when I’m ready to try it on stage 🙂 And I agree about the guide wouldn’t actually be appreciated or followed…I just think people want that guide in order to have something concrete to hold on to so that they feel confident enough to take the first step. After the first step, I’m confident they would toss the guide in the trash once they realized that it’s actually quite useless.

  16. Earl,

    I loved this post! I am about to go back to school (I’m a teacher) after a summer where my travel plans didn’t exactly go as planned. I was bummed about it for a while because I dream of travel during my school year and it gets me through until summer comes. But it also has me thinking. I’ve spent every year the past few years wishing I traveled even more than I do and my travel has been significantly cut down since I opened my own business- a CrossFit gym. I love owning the gym and feel the sacrifice is worth it most of the time. But there will always be times when I look back to the time in my life when I backpacked Europe for a month without any thing else to think about and I feel sad that my life doesn’t allow for that now (though I know it will again!).

    Ironically, reading your blog has helped me to realize that what I love most about travel is the mentality that I have while traveling and that I can start to apply that to my life regardless of where I am. It’s about appreciating all of life and not sweating the small stuff.

    Thanks for being so insightful about life in general and for giving me my travel fix from home. You definitely help me get through until I’m able to explore again (Switzerland here I come Feb 2015!!!).


    1. Hey Katie – That’s a great way to look at it all and I do believe that we can find happiness almost anywhere. It is up to us to have the right mentality that allows us to look at every aspect of our life, no matter where we are, with fresh ideas and a positive attitude.

  17. A similar thing happened to me when I was traveling alone in Bolivia and got food poisoning. Granted there was no one awake at 2 am when it hit me, but I realized I had to completely take care of my sick self! It wasn’t fun, but I survived to tell the story. Definitely can’t prevent that type of thing from happening.

  18. Good to see you’re back posting! We missed ya!

    Here are my two cents:

    Unfortunately I don’t think we are all looking for a “perfect travel guide” to make a hop on to long term traveling… Usually that “perfect travel guide” or “just a little bit more money” or “maybe for next year hon” tends to be fear (read panic) of storming out of a hard built comfort zone into the -relatively- unknown.

    And it’s normal! It’s human nature to look for safety and comfort but it’s also what stops us from living AWESOME lives instead of merely reading about them online.

    You rock curly haired traveling hero. Keep on bringin’ the inspiration.

    Hugs from Cancún.


    1. Gracias Cris and those are good points. And I think that sometimes, those are used as excuses for not starting such an adventure that one truly wants to start. It’s easy to say ‘next year’ or ‘I need more money’ or ‘I’m trying to learn exactly how to make it happen first’ instead of just getting out on the road, learning as you go and actually making it happen sooner.

  19. Nice post and great to see you back on your feet.

    There is however a plan for each person, the problem is it only suits that individual, their travel goals/dreams and their skills/resources available to make it happen.

    The journey for each to fulfill said plan is what makes for such interesting reading (I’m sure we all glean small ideas from each other)!

    1. Hey Chris – Definitely. We pick up things from others we meet along the way and then we work hard on our own individual plan, incorporating those ideas as we can. As long as we’re not afraid to create our own path, and we don’t think we need to follow exactly what someone else has done, that should open us up to a rewarding, albeit challenging at times, adventure in life.

  20. Hi Earl,
    Thanks for this candid post.
    I am currently trying to figure out how to make a living and travel at the same time. While part of me wishes there was a step-by-step guide (cause it’s darn hard, you know

  21. As someone who is just starting to plan her own digital nomad life, as a bikepacker at that, I’m actually pretty glad to not have a perfect travel guide. I look forward to discovering things on my own, and just go where the roads will take me instead of following what someone else has done or written. Learning by doing! 🙂

    1. Hey Cecilia – Then you should have no problem at all. That’s a great attitude to have for sure! I wish you the best with your adventure.

  22. I wouldn’t want a travel guide 🙂 I like visiting an area, getting lost, and eventually finding my way. My husband doesn’t like that very well, but that’s part of the adventure for me. A guide would take that away. Don’t get me wrong, I love online resources that give me a good idea of what to expect. I just don’t want a step-by-step, hand-holding guide 🙂

  23. I swore that I have gotten some emails from app developers saying they are working on such an item, but I have yet to download one on my phone. Wow, sounds like a scary experience on the Nha Trang booze cruise. Glad you made it back safely.

    1. Hey Ted – Ha, I’m sure there are people trying to do just that…let me know how it goes when you do download one 🙂

  24. You’re right when you say that the perfect travel guide doesn’t exist. Travel is all about mistakes, adventures, difficulties and challenges, yet it is the most fulfilling aspect of life. Thank you for this inspiring article.

  25. One of the best things about traveling is how different our perceptions can be of the same location and experience. A travel guide with suggestions is always appreciated but it’s a lot more fun to combine tips and ideas from other travel bloggers and make your journey your own!

  26. Yep. When we visited Sarajevo a few years ago, our friend in Ohio (from Sarajevo) talked to us about the risks, warned us to be very careful, but also told us about the unique-to-Sarejevo things we should do. We listened, and were careful, but felt she might be overstating the risks. Our first night there we were robbed as we left one of her recommended restaurants. From there it was an adventure of police reports, a $200+ phone bill, worried hotel management who thought we would skip on our bill but most importantly a loss of innocence. Though we had traveled fairly extensively in Europe, our friend cautioned us that Bosnia was not Europe. Throughout this adventure, we often heard “This is Bosnia. It’s different here” as long-distance charges piled up, banks refused to cash our small stash of travelers’ checks and my ATM card refused to work. The point is, we had heard that things like this could happen. We knew about the importance of money belts and not acting like tourists, but it was all abstract until Bosnia. Wouldn’t trade the experience for anything, but we are definitely more prepared when traveling in edgier cities and countries.

    1. Hey Susan – That’s definitely unfortunate but I think it’s one of those things that can happen anywhere. I know of plenty of travelers who have had similar situations in countries where you wouldn’t expect or that you would think are much less edgier. And likewise, I know of plenty of people, myself included, who had nothing but amazing experiences in places like Sarajevo or other countries that might seem a bit edgier. So I think the take away from all of this is to just understand that things can happen anywhere and all we can do is use our common sense at all times in order to reduce the risk.

  27. Hi Earl,

    As someone who is working on creating a guide book of sorts, I’m afraid that I have to agree with you. I don’t think that travel resources are a bad thing, but I think that travel is about discovery.

    I also think there is a trend towards dependance. Someone else must sort things out for me. And those who travel with that mindset really never experience the full depth of the experiences available to them.

    1. Hey Vernon – There’s definitely a way to find a good balance between the two. Nothing wrong with resources of course, they can be extremely helpful. The key is to take the info you learn and use it to get out there onto a path of discovery.

  28. Isn’t that the point of travel – to wander as you wish, get lost, figure things out and revel in the exhilaration. As you mentioned, it takes an iron will to ‘make it happen’. I hate rules, and within travel, that’s the beauty of it….you can do as you wish!

    Personally, I’ve been working towards this for a DECADE. Finally, the location independent skills have been learned, money saved and I’m leaving a great job in January right before I hit 40 to visit SE Asia (actually, Goa India first for a couple months), and it’s supremely exciting to take life by the balls and do your innermost desires.

    1. Hey Jeff – It sure is but I think many people don’t realize that at first and need something to hold onto in order to gain the confidence to get started. Anyway, congratulations on the upcoming change for you! Looking forward to hearing about the adventure!

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