Why The Grand Tour Is So Important

Travel

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This past summer, I took a trip that I’ve been dreaming about since I could remember. I had just graduated and didn’t have any solid plan yet. I didn’t know what my next step in life would be, but I knew that this was the perfect time to take a break and travel before I would be thrown into adulthood. Being an adult could wait, but fulfilling a lifelong dream and my #1 bucket list item could not.

My dream was to drop everything, pack my bags, and travel through Europe. I wanted to see those beautiful landmarks that I’d only ever seen in photos. I wanted to make lifelong friends that I otherwise wouldn’t have met. I wanted to eat and drink all of the delicious foods from other parts of the world that I can’t go buy at my local grocery store. But most importantly, I wanted to discover things that I never knew and expand my mind beyond my own country.

I had been out of the country a handful of times before, but I wanted to do something bigger. I wanted to be away longer and tour with a group of people I had never met. Traveling was just as important as pushing me outside of my comfort zone. I actually wanted to be a little bit uncomfortable the whole time I was away. I believe with all certainty that stepping out of my own little world and what feels safe and familiar is the best way to grow. The truth is that great things don’t come out of our comfort zones. They come when we do something that is a little bit risky and a little bit scary, but completely worth it.

This past June, right after I walked across the stage to receive my diploma, I went on a month long trip abroad that I booked through EF Ultimate Break. This trip was going to be a tour of all of the major cities in Europe. It started in Rome, Italy and ended in Barcelona, Spain. 8 counties, 11 cities, and over 30 complete strangers traveling together.

Day two of the tour, I was standing right next to the Roman Colosseum listening to the best tour guide I’d ever had. (Side Note: If this woman would have taught my AP European History class back in high school, I’m sure I would have done a lot better.) Every bit of this tour was fascinating, but the part that caught my attention the most was when she started telling us about an old tradition known as “The Grand Tour.” There I was standing right next to the Colosseum and hearing about the concept of The Grand Tour for the first time. I had no idea that there was a name for it, or that this trip was so popular throughout history. All I knew was that I had to take this trip before I “kicked the bucket.”

 

What is The Grand Tour?

The Grand Tour, for anyone who isn’t familiar with the concept, is a cultural tour that used to be taken by young, upper-class men at the end of their education. At the time, it was viewed as a right of passage. Women and lower-class people could also have taken this tour if they found a generous sponsor, but it was not very common. This tour would loop throughout Europe and could last anywhere from a few months to even years. It was believed that by traveling and being exposed to different languages, cultures, music, and artwork that these men would return cultured, sophisticated, and well-rounded. And they didn’t just walk around museums and admire other cultures. There was a lot of studying done too. Throughout this tour, the men would study languages, art, and politics with the help of their teachers and guides (and also chaperones) known as a “cicerone.” Sometimes they would also bring family, teachers, or friends along for the tour.

On top of an already exciting trip, these young men would have an unlimited supply of money seeing as they came from Europe’s richest families. They would return home with crates full of books, fine clothes, artwork, sculptures, scientific instruments, and other artifacts. Could you imagine traveling Europe for 3 years with an unlimited supply of money as a right of passage? That’s the dream!

Not surprisingly, this trip involved a lot of shopping, mischief, and overall shenanigans. Drinking, sex, and gambling were also strong themes during this journey. They did not spend all of their time studying! It was a very interesting tradition indeed. A time meant for young people to learn, explore the world, and make mistakes. How lovely.

This tradition mostly happened in the 17th and 18th century, but actually stopped once traveling became easier and more affordable to us peasants. What a shame!

 

Years and years later, The Grand Tour tradition has died off. But I wish so badly that the concept would come back. I’ve found many different tour companies online offering affordable trips throughout Europe that are meant be act as The Grand Tour, just like the one that I had been one. It’s marketed as a way for young people to celebrate being done with their education, have a wonderful experience traveling the world, and expand their minds further before settling down into a profession. And that’s exactly what I did, but unfortunately, it’s nothing like it used to be. It was a rather short trip compared to what used to be taken, and there were no chaperons that traveled along with me to teach me different languages, or to teach me about art and culture. Maybe that should change.

Why is The Grand Tour so important?

I think the world could benefit so greatly if young people were encouraged to travel by their parents and teachers. Encouraging young people to visit different cultures to actually study them and giving the freedom to roam and to meet people everywhere could lead to world peace and acceptance. Especially if this tour didn’t just visit Europe, but other continents and countries too. Traveling is what makes people realize how small their own reality is. It opens them up to new people, new possibilities, and new ways of life beyond what they’re familiar with at home. It reminds people that they’re actually not the center of the universe!

It’s a shame that this concept of The Grand Tour ended the moment it became accessible to women and lower-classes because everyone could benefit from an experience like this. I encourage anyone who wants to travel do it! It’s the best investment you will ever make. And I encourage parents and teachers to inspire young people to take time off and travel, for a few months or even a few years. College students spend up to $100,000 on their education now (at least that’s what mine costed). But why don’t we encourage young minds to put that money elsewhere and invest it in the greatest classroom of all?… the world. There’s so much more we can learn by hopping on a plane and going across the world then we will ever learn from a textbook, four walls, and a professor one year away from retirement who clearly does not want to be there. Am I right or am I right?

Lastly, I want to leave you with this.. One of my favorite quotes by Anthony Bourdain that perfectly embodies my feelings towards travel and it’s importance…

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s OK. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”

-Anthony Bourdain

What are your thoughts on the concept of The Grand Tour? Do you think it’s important for young scholars to take an extended tour abroad? Have you gone on a trip like this or encouraged someone else to? Comment below!

 

A Lesson in Pura Vida

Travel

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This past spring break, I went to the beautiful country of Costa Rica. Costa Rica was the place that I dreamed about for years. There would be nights I would lay awake thinking about how incredible it would be to see La Fortuna, to hike a volcano, and to see monkeys jumping from the trees. I imagined every moment of this trip and thought about how badly I wanted to be there. Then, by the generosity of Matt’s parents, he and I were finally able to take that dream trip.

He talked about how incredible it would be surf the waves of Costa Rica, and I talked incessantly about all the animals, hanging bridges, and waterfalls we would see. When the day finally came, we went there in search of adventure, delicious cocktails, beaches, and sunshine. And trust me, we got all of that. But what I wasn’t expecting from this vacation, was that I would leave having learned a very valuable lesson.

What I saw on this trip (aside from all the exotic wildlife and landscapes) was the poverty. Please excuse my previous ignorance, but what slipped my mind through all my fantasies of this trip and the preparation for travel, was that Costa Rica is still a third world country. A quick Google search will show you that the poverty level in Costa Rica is at a record high. Over 21% of its citizens are living in poverty – that’s over one million people. And 10-12% live in extreme poverty, meaning they have a severe lack of food, clean drinking water, education, health care, and shelter. In some areas of Costa Rica, the poverty levels are as high as 30%! But what is even more shocking, is that even though the poverty rate is this high, the country actually has the lowest poverty rate in all of Central America. 10-12% of the population living in extreme poverty is low?

I noticed the poverty while driving through Costa Rica from city to city. I was able to see with my own eyes just how little the Ticos had. The poverty is noticeable just by looking at the houses that were broken down shacks, no larger than my bedroom. Going from a gated community in suburbia to seeing homes that looked uninhabitable makes one pretty self-reflective. It was the definition of culture shock. But even though I could see what little all of the locals had, I never met complete strangers that were so wonderful to be around, so pleasant, and so polite.

You may have heard of the phrase “Pura Vida” before which means “simple life” or “pure life.” It actually came to the country of Costa Rica from a Mexican movie, ¡Pura Vida!, in the 1950s. The Costa Ricans liked this phrase that symbolized eternal optimism, and it stuck. Now it’s a phrase that’s spoken in every town and in every household across the country. If you’ve ever been to Costa Rica, then you know that the words Pura Vida ring through every street, store, home, cafe, and restaurant. I’ve heard the phrase many times before, and I knew what it meant, but I never personally met anyone who embodied it.  But it Costa Rica, every person I came across greeted me with a warm smile, asked how I was, seemed genuinely interested in getting to know me, and always said goodbye with a heartfelt “Pura Vida.”

Pure Vida is not just some popular saying, in Costa Rica, it’s a way of life. It’s the idea that life is wonderful and we should be happy just to be alive. The idea that you could live in a tiny little hole in the wall but be perfectly content with the smallest pleasures in life. Small pleasures like laughing with a friend, spending the day on the beach, being around family, or sharing a drink with someone. It’s the idea that happiness comes from within, not with earthly goods and services.

I’m sharing this today because it’s a phrase that’s worth incorporating more in our one culture. In America, at least in the areas where I have lived, there’s a completely opposite mindset. Americans tend to view happiness as an end goal, as something that needs to be achieved through hard work, promotions, lots of money, and luxury. And although we conceptually understand that “happiness is not a destination, it’s a way of life,” we act very differently. Most people, myself included, try to find happiness outside of ourselves. People tend to think that happiness can be achieved if we only went and bought that handbag, had more social media followers, had a nicer house, had a more expensive car, bought Starbucks every day, had the latest iPhone, an Apple watch… you get the idea.

And I think that this could be why there are so many self-help books and blogs floating around today. People go on this life-long search for happiness, only to realize that it’s not achievable by money and possessions or popularity, so they go looking for advice. Did you know that Costa Rica is was named one of the happiest countries in the world? And I doubt many of them have picked up a self-help book.

That being said, what do we do about this? How do we embrace Pura Vida into our lives?

Step One: Go to Costa Rica (not really, but just humor me for a second)

I had always understood what Pura Vida meant, but I can honestly say that I didn’t quite grasp the meaning until I traveled to Costa Rica and saw it for myself. I didn’t really get it until I saw the homes that people lived in… the same people that drove us around, took us on adventures through the rainforest and brought us coconuts on the beach. That’s eye-opening.

I believe with my whole heart that it’s lessons like this that make traveling so important. It’s incredibly easy to get wrapped up in our own little world – staying in the same town, reading the same news sources, shopping at the same stores, going to work every day, and getting caught up in our little projects like redecorating or baking gluten-free cookies… It’s easy to forget what’s going on in the world outside of yourself. That there are people who live with far less than many of us do, but live with such happiness and gratitude.

Of course, not everyone could afford to travel at the drop of the hat. The idea is to not get so caught up in what’s directly in front of you. Read different news sources, listen to new podcasts, watch documentaries, reach books, and get an idea of what’s happening in the world so you will be more grateful for all of the blessings that you have instead of being caught up in work, daily dramas, and social media.

Step Two: Simplify your life in a way that makes sense for you.

I see thousands of bloggers that preach about simplifying and becoming a minimalist. But let’s be realistic, not everyone is going to read a blog post and decide to sell all their possessions and move into a tiny house. That doesn’t work for everyone. In order to simply, you don’t have to do anything crazy. You can start by decluttering the house, turning off all the notifications on your phone, or taking a personal day. It could even mean learning saying “no” to people or getting rid of toxic friendships. Whatever works for you personally to turn off the “noise” of everyday life and ground yourself. When I started to simplify it meant spending less time consumed by my technology and more time spent pursuing my hobbies and passions.

There is both physical clutter that we keep in our lives that take up space and drain us, and then there is the mental clutter. I don’t need to tell you that the mental clutter is much more exhausting. It’s incredible all of the bullsh*t that consumes our time. Emails, text messages, notifications, meetings, lunch dates, errands, cleaning, etc. I didn’t see any of the Costa Ricans getting anxious about their email inbox while I was there! So find a way to simplify so there’s more time for joy, passion, love and happiness, and less time spent on the meaningless tasks that fill up the day.

Step Three: Find ways to add gratitude into your life

There are hundreds of researchers now that have proven in their studies that people who express gratitude daily are happier people, have a greater sense of life satisfaction, are physically healthier, and have better relationships. If you really want to read the science go for it, but I think those researchers may have been wasting their time. Anyone that embodies the “Pura Vida” mentality knows that already.

I know that for at least us Americans it can be very hard to start thinking every day about the things we’re grateful for it. Simply because it’s difficult to change our mindsets from all of the things we have to do throughout the day and reflect on what we’re happy about. Many won’t do it because it doesn’t feel productive. But if you regularly think about the things you are grateful for, or regularly talk about them or write about them, it becomes a habit. This habit will ultimately lead to a happier life. One way that I focus on gratitude, is every night before bed I write in detail about something I’m grateful for that day. It’s usually about a paragraph long, and it only takes five minutes. By ending the day focusing on something that makes me feel really happy and grateful, it reminds me how lucky I am all the time. It brings my attention to the more meaningful relationships and experiences in my life instead of on the mundane. That pure life mentality doesn’t come naturally to me, so writing is how I began to introduce it into my life.

Step Four: Fill your time and surround yourself with things that make you feel great

This may seem like a simple or cliche piece of advice to adopting a more grateful mindset and embracing Pura Vida, but hear me out. Most people that I know settle in dozens of little moments throughout the day for things that are good enough, rather than what makes them feel energized and alive. Most people I know are so focused on how “busy” they are that they forget about how they’re feeling. They might put up a piece of artwork because it was inexpensive at Marshalls, go to a job they hate so they can pay the bills, read a book that they have to finish just because they started it, or listen to a radio station just because it’s on.

Millions of people live their daily lives like this. Then what happens is at the end of the week or at the end of they feel exhausted and unhappy. This causes them to go out and drink all night, online shop all day, sleep for twelve hours, binge-watch Netflix, eat a whole can of Pringles, etc. This I think is the real difference between my culture, and theirs. Our mentality is different which then causes people to search for happiness in outside objects and entertainment.

There are a million ways to change this, but it’s about what works for you. Instead of searching out comfort in food, work, shopping, Netflix, etc. find happiness in the people in your life and whatever genuinely makes you feel good. When I decided to make this change, I surrounded myself with things that made me feel happy was to call good friends on the phone, spending my free time working on hobbies, picking out music that made me feel inspired, exercising and eating better, listening to motivational speeches, and more. I do anything and everything that now adds real happiness, comfort, and gratitude. Don’t just settle for what’s good enough, go out of your way to surround yourself with the activities and people that make you feel wonderful.

Have you ever been to Costa Rica and come back with the same lesson, or did you have a different experience? What do you do to adopt the Pura Vida mentality in your life? How did you simplifying your life? And do you have any gratitude ritual of your own that helped? Let me know in the comments!

I Pretended to be a Travel YouTuber for a Week… Here’s What I Learned

Travel

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What comes to your mind when you think of a travel photographer or a travel videographer? If you’re anything like me, then you have visions of nothing but ultimate luxury, beauty, adventure, and fame. And it seems effortless! Easy stuff right? All you have to do is travel the world and take photos for a living! But this past spring break I decided to do a little experiment. It decided to spend my spring break shooting a Go Pro travel video while in Costa Rica. And I learned what life is really like for someone who creates travel videos for a living… and let me tell you it’s far from easy. This is what I learned while shooting a travel video that you’re favorite YouTubers won’t tell you:

1. You have to have a plan
If you think you could just shoot a travel video on the spur of the moment without a plan… you’re so wrong. In order to create a video that will get people interested, you have to have a beginning and an end. You need to seem like you have a story to tell. Before my trip, I have to plan the entire introduction and ending to make sure that when I got back my footage made sense. The planning process also involved getting the rights to a song and deciding on a theme and style that I wanted to shoot so I could take my videos accordingly.

2. You always have to keep the shot in mind while on vacation
When everyone else is sipping Pina Coladas, you’re thinking: “How do I capture this moment? Should I move more to get a different background? There are people in the way, I should wait for them to move. Maybe I should face the camera this way instead? Is it in focus? Is the lighting too harsh?” You get the idea.

3. You’re constantly thinking about your camera
When you’re trying to shoot a travel video, your camera is absolutely everything and it starts to make you a little paranoid. When you’re not actually shooting something, your mind continually thinks: Will someone steal my camera? Is there something on the lens? Is there enough storage? Is there enough battery? Should I have brought another sim card?” It adds anxiety to what should be a super relaxing week spent in a tropical paradise.

4. You constantly have to keep the audience in mind
While pretending to be a travel videographer I learned that if you’re someone who makes a living traveling the world and creating content, it means making content all the time. And it can’t be half-hearted either. It means creating interesting, engaging content on all social media platforms. It sounds easy because we use social media all the time right? But it involves thinking of blog ideas and taking notes, shooting videos, making interactive stories in the moment, tweeting about your adventures, and posting on Facebook or Instagram. Doing all of this all day long is surprisingly exhausting.

5. It can be scary!
If you want to shoot a video that people will actually want to see you have to be willing to get out of your comfort zone. You have to be willing to zip line, get close to wild animals, skydive, jump into freezing cold springs, and do all of the things that you’re scared to do, but will keep people coming back to view your content. This past trip I was so determined to get a shot of me petting the cow, but the cow ended up being super aggressive and almost knocking me to my feet into barbed wire, as he proceeded to rip the fence out of the ground.

6. You have to have a lot of patience
It takes a long time to get that perfect shot for a video, so you sometimes have to take it a few times just to be safe. Another thing that I learned, was that people act very different on camera. We tend to act awkward and stiff as soon as we know we’re being recorded. Which means that if you’re shooting a video you have to redo it over and over again to get someone to loosen up, relax, and act normal. And let’s not forget all the other hundreds of tourists that keep getting in the way of your shot… there’s nothing that will test your patience more…

7. You have to edit everything and it takes a looong time
Although editing can be fun once you get in the hang of it, coming back from vacation with 32 GB of video footage and having to edit everything is super intimidating. Organizing the timeline of the video, putting it together, and getting the video to match the beat of the music takes a lot longer than I was anticipating. If you’re a student with four part-time jobs like me, it could take months to get through editing.

8. You’re not really on vacation, you’re working
It’s your job to bring the audience along on the trip and keep them entrained. You can’t drop the ball and spend the day enjoying your vacation in private. There were many moments when I didn’t want to have to film or make a story, but that’s a travel videographers job. They have to get that footage even if they don’t feel like it.

9. Without Wifi, you’re screwed!
When you’re traveling to certain areas of the world, Wifi can be hard to come by. Even businesses that advertise that they have Wifi might not have working Wifi. It’s hard to keep in touch with your audience if you’re not able to share those moments with them throughout the day.

10. Everyone gets annoyed with you
When you’re trying to shoot a Youtube video, take Instagram stories, and take a perfect picture of you, basically everyone gets annoyed by you. You have to hold everyone up and reshoot something over and over until you get it right. Nobody likes that person who spends so much time on their phone on vacation!

What I’ve learned from this experience now that I spent a week pretending to be a travel videographer is that I have so much more respect for travel photographers and videographers now. It’s not as easy as it looks to travel the world and create perfect content all the time. It can be surprisingly exhausting. There’s a lot of little things you have to think about in order to create a video, and it takes a long time!

SO, with all that being said, would I ever consider being a travel videographer for a living? Maybe. Being a travel photographer and videographer for a week was surprising stressful, but I don’t think there is a single job in the world that is stress-free. If I was going to be a little stressed out, I guess I’d rather be a little stressed while I have a cocktail in my hand while I’m sitting at the base of a volcano rather than in an office! Personally, I think I’d be more of the traveling blogging type rather than a videographer.

What do you think? Have you ever shot a travel GoPro video or Youtube video before? Would you consider creating videos for a living? Or would you rather do blogging instead?

Photographer: Matt Rutski