Important Travel Rule

The Most Important Travel Rule

Derek Perspectives, Travel Tips & Advice 56 Comments

Important Travel Rule
It was simply stunning.

The sun was rising over the holy Ganges River, with the gentle foothills of the Himalayas off in the distance, the town slowly awakening into a soft pink glow. The atmosphere so peaceful, so serene.

I stood there enjoying this sunrise for quite some time, watching the monkeys hop around the rooftops in front of me, smiling at the first sounds of chanting and music flowing out of the ashrams nearby.

I could not have been happier.

About fifteen minutes prior to this, I had been sound asleep in my room four floors below. I was sharing that room with a female traveler I had met the day before, having decided to split the cost of accommodation to save money. The budget guesthouse was nothing special but the bed was actually more comfortable than most, allowing me to sleep quite well.

Until I suddenly awoke at 5:45am. When I opened my eyes at that time, I knew that something was wrong. My stomach was in such pain, with intense cramps, and I was starting to sweat.

I realized that I needed to get to the toilet quickly.

It happens, especially when you’re willing to eat anything while traveling and from anywhere.

Naturally, I could have used the squat toilet in the bathroom attached to my room, but after looking at my travel companion still sound asleep on the bed, and understanding very well what was about to happen, the thought of waking her up with my stomach issues was not something I wanted to turn into reality.

I decided to look for a public bathroom in the guesthouse instead.

With little time to spare, I grabbed my roll of toilet paper, left the room and went to the reception area, clutching my stomach, but there was no toilet to be found. I checked the small restaurant off to the side of the ‘lobby’, but no toilet to be found there either. And since none of the guesthouse staff were awake yet, I had no choice but to continue searching each floor of the building for a toilet, holding on as best I could, quite sure that I wasn’t going to make it much longer.

Again, it happens.

A few minutes later, after having checked all four floors, and unable to hold on any more, I reached the semi-open rooftop. I quickly checked two doors up there but they were locked.

I was drenched in sweat by this point, with my stomach in great pain and so, thinking I had no other option, I started to unbutton and unzip my shorts right then and there.

And that’s exactly when I spotted a large potted plant in one corner of the rooftop.

Perfect. I ran over, down went my shorts and I sat right on the ledge of that deep pot, with my rear end hovering over the plant itself.

What relief, a few minutes of such relief.

After the issue eventually ran its course and it all came to an end, my mind started racing. What if I got caught? What if my travel companion figured out what I did? Did I really just do this? That’s when it suddenly hit me that I was on a rooftop and people on other rooftops next door, if there was anyone awake, could probably see me.

I really hadn’t been paying attention to anything other than my stomach and the pot.

So, while still balanced over that plant, I looked up. I lifted my eyes to the world around me, hoping nobody was staring back in disgust.

Again, I just looked up.

And that’s when I was treated to one of the most beautiful and memorable sunrise experiences I’ve ever had. I remember saying to myself, “Wow”, over and over again, completely fascinated by the sudden transformation of this town from a clump of semi-darkness to a fairy tale setting covered in such magical light. With my shorts still down by my knees, I could not believe how this early morning had just taken such a turn for the better.

Of course, I then saw a woman sweeping on a nearby rooftop and it reminded me that I should probably put my shorts back on and get off of this plant. So I cleaned myself up as best I could, pulled up those shorts and then I walked over to the railing that surrounded the rooftop.

Then I just leaned there for a while, a long while, staying focused on the brilliant experience, waving to the woman on the rooftop and receiving a big smile in return, just soaking it all in.

And I can remember every moment of that sunrise so well, even today, some 10 years later.

The most important travel rule?


We should always look up at the world around us. We’ll miss too much if we don’t. And by ‘look up’, I mean really try to notice as many things and as many people as we can, no matter where we are or what we’re doing.

When we’re walking down the street, sitting in a restaurant, waiting at the bus station…look up. When we’re feeling frustrated or lonely, when we’re lost and unsure what to do or where to go…look up.

If we always remember to just look up, to look all around, to notice what is in front of us, what is off to the side, what is off in the distance, everything that makes travel so great will multiply right before our eyes.

When we look up, we see the store fronts, the architecture, the bicyclists, the fruit stalls, the political posters, the flower shops, the long lines at the pharmacies, the graffiti, the snacks people eat, the local fashion, the pace of life.

We see the smiling faces, the curious people, the potential for connection with those around us. We can’t meet many people by looking down.

By noticing everything around us, we gain a deeper understanding of every destination we visit. And at times, often when we least expect it of course, we might even see something so interesting or breathtaking or perhaps life-changing, that the experience will stay with us forever.

Kind of like my surreal sunrise in Rishikesh.

So let’s look up, always look up. Yes, even when we’re on the toilet, or a potted plant if that’s all we can find.

Have you had a memorable experience as a result of suddenly paying attention to everything around you? Could be while traveling, could be while at home?

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Comments 56

  1. Scott Burke

    I discovered a somewhat similar “technique” as well — on my first trip abroad. I was living in (very) rural Nepal for 3 months. But even with a great host family and endless fascinating experiences (or maybe because of??) — I would still find myself feeling so disconnected from my family and my world back home. I especially worried about my parents, even though they were still middle-aged at the time. Anyway, on clear nights in that farming village in Nepal, I would often step into the dirt road next to our house and look for the moon. Even if it wasn’t full, I still found comfort in seeing something familiar from home; knowing that we all shared the same object and could look at it and experience the same thing, even though we were so far away from each other physically (“we” meaning family & friends back home but the global “we” too, as in the entire human species). It made me less homesick, less disconnected. Great post, Earl!

    1. Post

      Hey Scott – That’s a great thing to do and definitely an easy way to bring back some of that connection with those we miss on the other side of the planet! Thank you for sharing!

  2. Vinjabond

    The rising of the sun during the dropping of the deuce. A story only a traveler can truly appreciate, bravo… and thank you. Also, don’t forget to look down.

  3. Tom Fuszard

    What a riot, Earl! I’m sure the plant benefited from the extra fertilizer. I had a similar experience once while deer hunting. Fortunately I didn’t need to wait long for relief. I was the only occupant of that part of the woods.

    Your suggestion about looking up is a good one. I find it to be true for local areas as well. I’m often amazed as I walk around Milwaukee, in particular. Downtown still has a number of older buildings whose architectural nuances are noticed only by looking up. Too often my eyes are down while my thoughts are on the upcoming meeting or sales call.

    When I take the time to glance up, I am treated to some fascinating works of art engraved in or attached to (gargoyle type objects) the sides of buildings. So, yes, make a habit of looking up. (Incidentally, it’s good from a personal safety perspective, too. Pickpockets and others seek those who are distracted.)

    Good column, Earl.

    – Tom

  4. Terry

    I have had that experience a few times though in different locations…especially looking up and the majestical view trancedentalising my eyes 🙂 good s**t happens:)))

  5. Mademoiselle Nomad

    Hi Earl! What a hilarious story!!! As I was reading and knew what was coming up (or down in this case haha) I was like ‘no, noooooo’ and then you did! I think it could have happened to any of us on the road and I appreciate your raw honesty. Your blog is refreshing, it tells not only of the beautiful, wondrous things about places to explore and discover but also about the everyday, mundane tidbits of reality. Thanks for being so open and genuine!

  6. Holly Joy

    Ohhhh what a funny story! I love that you can still vividly remember that sunrise to this day… And yes, I absolutely agree with your travel rule: Look Up!! And also: Smile! You never know who you will meet 😉

  7. Alice stevens

    I couldn’t agree more, there have been countless times when my breath was taken away as I looked up and noticed how beautiful the sky was !
    After the rain in Thailand, at sunset on a rooftop in Sydney with bats flying all around, at sunrise on a train in Canada, every sunset at home, …
    ( I would make it a general rule -instead of a “travel rule” 😉 )

  8. Jeff Bronson *Kraven*

    Missed catching up with you in Goa.
    While it’s not funny, I cracked up when reading this as I see this is how it can be in India.

    No toilet when you need it most, heat, bugs, “taxi my friend” and a million other things making you want to go bonkers.

    Speaking of the Ganges, I’m planning to hit Varanasi in a couple weeks or so.
    Thumbs up for TP and looking up!!

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  10. Mike | VagabondingMike

    –Priceless (as always)–

    Reminded me of when the COMPLETE OPPOSITE happened in S. Korea.
    I had eaten heavily for 5 days and wasn’t able to ‘take care of business.’
    I was traveling with my then girlfriend who luckily/unlucky was a physician.
    I sucked-it-up, told her the situation and she prescribed me some laxatives.
    (needless to say…quite the awkward conversation)

    The next morning (after laxatives kicked in)…well…let just say I decided it was better to utilize the facilities down the hall…and thank the lord I did!

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  13. Sally

    Oh man, had to laugh- sorry! Traveling through 3rd world is full of those crazy shitty stories- I found out that actor Michael Landon died while I was in Morocco in desperate need of toilet paper- newspaper works too(just read real fast lol) Glad you could find a silver lining in your Delhi-belly moment!

  14. Jen

    Look down, too … because sometimes people sh** in unusual places and you may need to step over it! Very funny post, Earl 🙂 Thanks for sharing such an embarrassing moment. (I could have made a pun there about em-bare-ass-ing, but I didn’t want to push it. Oh, there I did it again…)

  15. Renuka

    I enjoyed reading the second half of the story, when the ‘look up’ part was mentioned. I agree it’s so important to be curious, to be observant in order to learn about a place. But your ‘potty’ story was a bit disgusting! I mean, couldn’t you find a toilet??

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Renuka – As I wrote in the post, no, I could not find a toilet. If I could have found one, I would have used one.

  16. Hayward

    No. That was just nasty and inconsiderate. Surely the rule should be “Clean up”! Which I hope you did by the way, otherwise you’ve just earned yourself a nasty boy award!

  17. Nigel

    Did I just read a post about Earl taking a S*** in a PLANT Pot?!? It happens! ROFL I have no idea if this was supposed to be funny or not but you have got a way with words my friend!

  18. the Miss

    I have to agree this is top advice. As a traveller on a different type of adventure, via a boat on the high seas, I find when I look up, out, or for a new perspective when the shit is hitting the fan or the plant in your case life always gets better. When I take the time to savour the moments even the horror ones I realise how wonderful the world and the peopel we met truly are.

    Loved the story
    the Miss

  19. Kendal

    mmmm did you clean up after yourself? I mean somebody takes care of that plant and somebody else would have to deal with your, ah…. shit… literally. That’s probably the worst thing you could leave around for someone else to clean up…

  20. Chelli

    Great story, and as many have already said, it was well written. It made me laugh and it was just what I need today. Thanks.

  21. grahame

    Wow! Earl
    I can’t imagine what the potted plant must have felt like, and you say that this was to be the most important travel rule. Can’t wait to see what your second most important travel rule is. Hope all works out well for you in the next episode. When a man’s gotta go, a man’s gotta go. Can’t say it was an enlightening story, but the night sky certainly lit up for you.

  22. Drew Meyers

    “LOOK UP.”

    Indeed. This resonates. In fact, this is pretty much the mission of our company: to get people to go see the world face to face rather than experience it through their phone/computer (looking down).

  23. Steph Rogers

    I was in stitches reading this! I know that stomach ache more than I like to admit. Nice post though! I find myself staring down at my phone so much that I miss life passing by. Really great post!!

  24. Monte Gray

    I guess the second most important rule of travel then is to know where the nearest bathroom is in case of an emergency!

  25. Steve C

    You really know how to tell a story, any story. Yes, I think we all have similar stories, maybe not quite into a potted plant, but ……. let’s not go there.
    I agree about looking up. It went unmentioned, but the elephant in the room was the ubiquitous Smart Phone. Looking down at your phone means you’ll miss what you came to see.
    As for that sight in India, it reminded me of staying in a “penthouse” room ($4 dollars per night) in Varanasi, monkeys and all. We also woke up just before sunrise to take a slow rowboat ride on the Ganges to see the Ghats. As it turned out, and we didn’t plan this, but it was one of the most holy days and thousands of people were lining the river, doing their religious thing. It was a spectacular sight. As a photographer, the morning light (and evening too) is the best. Just don’t spend so much time with your eye looking through the lens.
    Although, if we hadn’t looked down, we’d have missed the dead body floating by, within ten feet of our boat! Ah, India.

  26. Shane

    Hey Earl, we met a chap caught short in a similar way on the way to Petra’s Monastery. Sadly for him when he looked up all he could see were the dozens of people who had no choice but to walk past him as we made our way to the top of the steps; the poor man.

    Also, and this this is something I sometimes have to remind myself, I would add ‘from the camera’ to your good advice.

  27. Igor Scaldini

    Great tip Earl,
    I see many people missing all the beauty of the places where they pass through because they are always worried with something else like “I am gonna miss the metro!” or “It is cold, lets get out here!”. It is sad because those people are missing the main thing about traveling, which is living a completely different experience and discovering a new world with your own eyes and heart.
    I remember once in Canada when it was really cold outside that everybody wanted stay home but I was so happy (it was the first time I saw snow) that I spent hours outside, on the cold, without caring for it.
    Thats the kind of experience I always seek while I am traveling and that I wished other people understand.

  28. Jee Ann

    I think I just died! Although, I know for sure that that situation is more common than people think. That must’ve been one awesome sight, though. In the city, especially, or when you’re living a busy life, you tend to sleep in and rarely get to enjoy the sunrise, which I think is a magical moment, the “silver hour”.

  29. kandyce

    hilarious. and sorry about this. though i must admit, i don’t know a single seasoned traveler who doesn’t have some kind of ‘hijack the bus and force the driver to stop’ (or, search the hostel to find an unlocked toilet) urgent poop story.

    slightly unrelated, but where in rishikesh did you stay? i’ve stayed a few times and haven’t loved any of the places i’ve stayed. (in fact, one place i’d go so far as to say i actually loathed.)

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Kandyce – I’ve stayed many places in Rishikesh but like you said, not really stand out. I don’t remember the name of this one but these days, I prefer to stay in Laxman Jhula area at one of the guesthouses on the main road, right on the Ganges.

  30. Daniel

    Earl, so:
    1. First and foremost, poor plant!! It suffered a lot that morning. I dont think it enjoyed the sunrise as much as you did dude..:)..But..when a man must go, he must go!!
    2. How did you take that photo? Did you remember to grab your camera with you when you went looking for that toilet? Were you like..”umm, I am about to unleash my stomach contents somewhere, but let me grab my camera to commemorate the occasion? :))) Dude, I read this story before my mundane Excel office job is about to start, and my day is just off to a better start.
    3. Absolutely right about looking up. Today I was going to work. As I work in the financial district, I see everyone in a hurry all the time. But today my mental voice just said “Slow down. Free your mental space”. I listened. Things just magically come into perspective. Goals become clearer. Your soul is able to communicate with you. Bigger picture emerges. Petty things don’t bother you anymore. Peace comes.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Daniel – That photo is from a different sunrise experience…didn’t have my camera with me on that rooftop unfortunately!

  31. Bruno B

    I’m constantly saying to my friends to look up. It’s remarkable how we can find some details we didn’t noticed before in the streets we pass hundreds of times in our everyday lives. Discovering something pleasant like this is a guaranteed smile every day!

    Great and original post Earl!

  32. Nikita

    I was expecting something more along the lines of “always locate every potential toilet when you arrive at a new location”… But look up works as well! Definitely we miss a lot when we just stare at our own feet, concerned bout our own worries.

  33. Jean | Holy Smithereens

    Such a nicely written and described post, I felt your pain and slightly had the burning sensation too! LOL. it reminds me of a scene in one of the chapters in Shantaram when he saw a man use the edge of a cliff for a ‘plant pot’. Yes, look up indeed! And stock on toilet roll..;)

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