How to Travel (According to Paulo Coehlo)

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Paulo Coehlo is a Brazilian author whose books have been translated into countless languages and read by millions of people all over the world.

Anyone who’s ever read any of his books (such as The Alchemist, which has sold 65 million copies in over 160 countries) will know that he’s a deeply thoughtful man, who likes to write allegorical novels (i.e. stories that use characters and events to symbolize/represent concepts and ideas).

Coehlo said that he realised early on in his life that travelling was the best way of learning new things, and he recently outlined his top travel tips on his blog – many of which should be taken into consideration by anyone going traveling.

Coehlo first recommends avoid museums altogether when traveling. As he says “if you are in a foreign city, isn’t it far more interesting to go in search of the present than of the past? It’s just that people feel obliged to go to museums because they learned as children that travelling was about seeking out that kind of culture. Obviously museums are important, but they require time and objectivity – you need to know what you want to see there, otherwise you will leave with a sense of having seen a few really fundamental things, except that you can’t remember what they were.

To me it sounds like he’s saying ‘if there’s something specific (such as a particular exhibit) that you want to see at a museum, by all means go and see it, but don’t just visit museums because of a sense of obligation when there’s nothing you particularly want to see there’.

Secondly, Coehlo recommends spending time in local bars. “Bars are the places where life in the city reveals itself… By bars I don’t mean nightclubs, but the places where ordinary people go, have a drink, ponder the weather, and are always ready for a chat.

So what should one do when hanging out in a bar? “Buy a newspaper and enjoy the ebb and flow of people. If someone strikes up a conversation, however silly, join in: you cannot judge the beauty of a particular path just by looking at the gate.

Paulo Coelho

Instead of hiring a paid tour guide to show you around, Coehlo recommends finding a local (unofficial) tour guide instead. “The best tour guide is someone who lives in the place, knows everything about it, is proud of his or her city, but does not work for any agency.

So how does one go about enlisting the help of local people such as these? “Go out into the street, choose the person you want to talk to, and ask them something (Where is the cathedral? Where is the post office?). If nothing comes of it, try someone else – I guarantee that at the end of the day you will have found yourself an excellent companion.

Sounds like a good way of getting into adventures!

As well as giving practical tips, Coehlo also provides more general ideas for traveling. He notes that when traveling you shouldn’t try to compare your current trip to anything you’ve previously experienced.

As he says, “Don’t compare anything – prices, standards of hygiene, quality of life, means of transport, nothing! You are not traveling in order to prove that you have a better life than other people – your aim is to find out how other people live, what they can teach you, how they deal with reality and with the extraordinary.

Coehlo is also an advocate of traveling slowly and giving yourself time to really take in the sights around you: “Don’t try to see the world in a month. It is far better to stay in a city for four or five days than to visit five cities in a week. A city is like a capricious woman: she takes time to be seduced and to reveal herself completely.

Finally, Coehlo notes how only by traveling alone (or with your spouse, if you’re married) can you “truly leave your own country behind“. Why is this? “Traveling with a group is a way of being in a foreign country while speaking your mother tongue, doing whatever the leader of the flock tells you to do, and taking more interest in group gossip than in the place you are visiting.”

Of course, traveling with a group of friends can be great fun, but if you’re really trying to experience another culture and immerse yourself in a new location, it’s easier to do so if you’re by yourself.


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