A few years ago, I spent some months learning to dance salsa in Ecuador. I spent every afternoon at a tiny dance studio, hidden in some guy’s apartment, and in the evenings they would take me out to salsa clubs to show off our moves. It wasn’t part of an organised “experience” with some company. It was just me at a little dance studio, in a regular Quito neighbourhood, learning to salsa every afternoon.
I spent three months with those people, who became close friends of mine, in what became one of the most memorable chapters of my life.
Often people email me and ask, “Hey Bren, how do you find these experiences when you travel? How do you get away from, you know, just taking photos of statues and stuff?”
And the answer is pretty simple:
Follow your curiosity.
That’s more difficult than it sounds. Probably because it goes against everything society has told us our entire lives. As soon as we’re any older than, say, sixteen, we’re told not to follow our curiosity. If you see something that might be fun, like mixing music, or writing songs, the answer is no. Study. Work. If you’re not a millionaire and you spend any longer than two nights a week writing songs, you’re an idiot.
“How is that going to help you make a living?”
“You’re not good enough to make a career out of it.”
“Who’s going to pay you to write songs?”
Instead you should be taking extra shifts at the restaurant, or doing a computer class, or some other high-work-ethic-proving activity that will help you buy a house some day.
But if you want to live a colourful, curious life; a life that is more than just “pay bills and die”, you need to look beyond that.
The truth is there are a few of us, and in my experience it really is a small few, that need to know what’s out there. Not just in terms of travel, but in terms of everything.
Some of us have to see it all, some of us don’t care.
Some of us wonder, some of us don’t.
If you’re here, I’m guessing you’re one of the ones that do.
And if you do, you’ll understand why your curiosity is so important. You’ll understand that the point of writing songs isn’t to become a professional, or to become the best songwriter in the world, or to make tons of money, or to even sell songs at all. The entire purpose of writing songs is to simply…wait for it…write songs.
This might come as a shock to many – most would say they thought the point of writing songs was to get a record deal and get famous and stuff – sorry. You were mistaken.
Why is this important?
Because it removes the pressure from your curiosity. It gives you the freedom to explore again. And not just for two weeks on a Bali vacation, but every single day of your life.
When I took my first salsa class in Quito, it was this simple: I was chilling in the hostel and I Googled “salsa classes quito”. I called one of the numbers. I made an appointment. I went to the class.
But even I had to battle my curiosity to get there. In the back of mind I was thinking “Should I really do this?” as if it was a life-changing decision. I procrastinated making that phone call for an entire morning. When the first number I called didn’t answer, I almost decided that was it! That was enough of a hurdle; salsa’s just not for me.
The craziest thing was, I wasn’t even doing anything that day. If I didn’t go to a salsa class, I would’ve literally been sitting on the couch doing nothing. If I went to the class and didn’t like it, the consequences were zero, even less than zero. It’s not like I had to reschedule a meeting or rain check on a hot date or rush there from work. But I still I had to push myself to make that phone call.
Luckily, I made a second and third call, or I would have missed out on what was one of the most enriching experiences of my life.
I know for a fact this happens to you too.
Maybe you see a sign for a cooking class, and you think, ooh that would be fun, but then you shake your head and keep on walking. Probably be crap anyway, right? Waste of time yeah?
I know this happens, because people tell me it happens. They’ll say, “Oh yeah I was going to do so-and-so when I was in Thailand.”
And I ask why they didn’t, and they shrug and say “I don’t know.”
Well I do know. Because everybody around you has been doing the same thing your entire life. You can’t see any point of investing in something like that if you only get to do it once, or if you’re not going to be good at it, or if it’s not going to make you any money, or it won’t make your resume look better. So you pause for a moment, and you think about it, and then you shake your head and go “Mmmmm naah” and keep on walking. Better to just drink beer and watch TV, like everyone else.
Tell me I’m wrong. Tell me all your friends back home haven’t been talking for years about learning French or taking piano classes or learning to dance or taking a wood working class.
“I wish I knew how to ski.”
“I wish I knew how to box.”
What are they doing this weekend? Are they all at a skiing class and practising their boxing?
Cough. They’re out drinking. Watching Netflix. Beer sales have never been higher. Netflix subscriptions are through the roof.
There’s a reason the child learns how to do a million things in five years, and us adults go ten years without learning anything.
The child is curious. The adult is not.
Perhaps that’s why the road is so good at helping us rediscover our curiosities. It’s like a second childhood. You land in a new country and you can’t even read signs, nobody understands a thing you’re saying, you can’t even speak, someone gives you food and you don’t even know how to eat it. You’re suddenly three years old again. It’s not a coincidence that your senses are set alight, and you’re inspired to follow your curiosity again.
That’s exactly what Quito was. You might notice that during my time there, I went to salsa class every day, invested many hours into it, and even a bit of money. But it wasn’t anything more than dancing. I didn’t set out to become a salsa champion. I didn’t pack up my entire life and relocate to Quito permanently to train for a big competition. It’s not like I was willing to dedicate the rest of my life to salsa or anything. I just did it, because I was curious, and it was fun. Nobody wanted to give me a job because of my new adventure. It didn’t put me in line for a big promotion. In many ways, it was a completely meaningless experience, as if I was just playing in my backyard. That’s what made it so special.
Here’s the catch. Back home, that experience would have been outrageous. I would never have done it. If I had danced one night a week, that would’ve been fine. But if I’d headed off to dance class every single evening? People would have thought I was mad.
Are you trying to be a pro dancer? No.
Are you training for a competition or something? No.
Then why the hell are you dancing so much?
Umm because I want to? You’re crazy!
Then your 9-5 boss will get mad and say you should stay at work later. Focus more on your career. Dancing won’t earn you a living. Your girlfriend says you should stop spending so much time on that “silly salsa thing”. It doesn’t pay the mortgage.
In regular society, there is a full scale war on curiosity. But let’s not forget that other fact about regular society: Everyone is miserable.
The road is not regular society. The rules are different. So if you want those authentic, inspiring experiences, you need to push yourself to do things you would never do at home. That’s why we’re out here, remember? Follow your curiosity.
There is no pressure when it comes to curiosity. If you sign up for a cooking class, it’s not because you’re trying to be a chef or you’re researching a blog post or you need class credit. You’re just doing it because you want to.
There are no rules when it comes to curiosity. There is nothing that says you can only be curious on Sunday and on Monday you go back to your old life. No. You can be curious every day. Or just once a week. Whatever you want.
There are no boundaries when it comes to curiosity. Small restaurant you want to try? Go. Little town by the forest you want to check out? Hitch a ride. What would a child do?
There is no discrimination when it comes to curiosity. It doesn’t care about race or gender or age. There are no exams for your curiosity. There is no performance review on your curiosity. There are no curiosity KPI’s.
When you see that pamphlet for a basket weaving class, you don’t need to ask yourself “How many baskets will I sell? Should I do it? Will it be worth the money?”
Of course you should do it. Curiosity is always worth the money.
This is where those magical travel experiences are. Behind a curious mind. You need to try things. Ask questions. Make the phone call and book the class. It’s not like anyone ever came and knocked on my door and said “Hey I heard you’re looking for an authentic life-changing experience, come with me.” You go out and find them. But also remember those great experiences that fill you with awe and inspiration – they’re not hiding anywhere either. In fact they’re probably offering salsa classes, in a little studio like mine in Quito, just down the road from your work. You’ve just stopped seeing it.
In travel, in life, these life-changing experiences are all around you. Just choose one and go.