After spending the past couple years exploring what the world has to offer, I found myself coming back to a couple rules I try to live by while on the road. These rules aren’t strict but instead they are guidelines to help me engage in my adventures. I’m so grateful I have the chance to travel around the world and I don’t want it to become a wasted opportunity. Here is a list of those travel rules I try to live by and some examples of each…
1. Don’t plan too much
Part of the excitement is the spontaneity of travel. Whether it was backpacking through Southeast Asia or taking a road trip through the National Parks out West, there was never much of a plan. No hotels, hostels, or campsites were booked, we just “winged it”. I find that things will work out, and if they don’t, they become even fonder memories. My lack of planning has brought me to some amazing places and I have met some incredible people because of it.
2. Always say yes, (especially when trying food)
It pays off to say yes. Being a food enthusiast, I find this rule particularly important. I will try anything, and I mean ANYTHING as long as it won’t kill me. While in Northern Vietnam, my buddies and I found ourselves eating a Vietnamese barbeque at 1 AM with some locals eating everything from chicken feet to pig intestine. Or the time my host family in Ecuador cooked me a tender piece of cow tongue in peanut sauce. Delicious… But this rule can also apply to more than just food during your travels. Just say yes.
3. Find some spots that are less traveled
It’s always fun to get out and experience a place in a way not many people have. Pick the less traveled hiking trail, and more often than not you will be rewarded. I have gained a more raw experience when attempting to get off the beaten path. When in Cambodia, we rode our mopeds into the countryside with no agenda. After getting stuck at a muddy road, an elderly man approached us. We then found ourselves drinking an ice cold beer with the local man that could only speak Khmer and French (due to this area being colonized by the French) in a wooden shelter at the edge of rice fields. We could barely communicate, but we all knew how to laugh. A lot of places around the world are popular for tourists for a reason, and I’m not saying you shouldn’t visit these places, too. But it is nice to mix in the places that are void of tourists as well.
4. Do something meaningful (volunteer, create content, work)
I gain a more complete experience when I do something meaningful. I enjoy taking photos/videos and showcase the natural world through my camera lens. I am a biologist, so I naturally seek out these wild places. I also try to incorporate some sort of volunteering when I travel. Last month, I spent an entire month as a marine conservation intern on Koh Tao, Thailand. It felt great to be part of a group working on projects I really believe in. I also have worked a volunteer at a marine conservation organization on the coast of Ecuador, tagging and monitoring sea turtle activity. In Cambodia, we volunteered to help out at a local kindergarten in an area of extreme poverty. These kind of experiences really enriched my travel experience.
5. Do something that scares you every day
This is one of my biggest rules I try to live by. I don't remember where I first heard this, but it stuck with me ever since. Something about the rush of excitement from being uncomfortable keeps me wanting for more. It sounds cliche, but it really makes you feel alive. For example, in Laos we hiked/scrambled up a muddy path in the pouring rain to the top of a massive limestone karst. We had to climb up makeshift ladders put together with moldy wood and rusty wires. We even had a couple of rungs snap on us… but we made it to the top and the view was breathtaking. I was terrified and ecstatic at the same time.
6. Don’t take it for granted
Another cliche, but I can't stress enough how important this one is to me. Life is short. More now than ever, I understand I can’t live forever. I know I am extremely fortunate to have travelled as much as I have. I constantly pinch myself as a reminder to cherish all of these moments. Everywhere I go, I soak as much as I can in like a dry sponge dropped into a bucket of water. Yes, cheesy, but that is honestly how I feel. I have seen so much, and I strive to see so much more.
To keep up with Cooper's travels, check out his Instagram!