How to Travel Heavy

Jason Brashares
November 14, 2016

Traveling light is about the things you bring and the things you don’t. It’s about embracing the freedom that can come from limitations. One limitation of traveling light is that you can’t be weighed down by all of your stuff. That means you need to leave a lot behind. Which means you need to prioritize your material possessions. Meaning that you need to truly understand what’s going on in your mind when you deem an item “essential.”

Once you start doing the difficult work of trimming baggage (both literally and metaphorically) you’ll start to see that with each item left behind, a bit of freedom is gained. The limitations of “lightness” actually helps facilitate the sensation of freedom that is one of the greatest benefits of travel.

Traveling heavy, á la Marty McFly, isn’t so much the opposite of travelling light as it is complimentary. When you travel heavy, you get deep and thoughtful and, well, heavy. It’s about paying attention in a way that makes you more open to the true gifts of travel, beyond just status and escapism, gifts like perspective, compassion, connection, novelty, wisdom, and awe to name a few.

To pay attention in a way that opens you up to those gifts, it helps to practice non-judgmental observation. I’m not talking about the kind of judgement you might exercise when sitting next to someone on a bus that is listening to music at full volume without headphones (that person deserves judgement). The judgements I’m talking about are the automatic thoughts and feelings that you have when observing the world in general.

Non-judgmental observation asks that you do everything you can to quiet your mind, turn off your internal auto-correction (aka biases), actively resist the urge to categorize and systematize, and just absorb the inputs around you. Let the world flow through you and do everything you can to prevent filtering of that flow. You’ll find that you see/hear/feel more than you’re used to. The flow of information is faster and more robust when it isn’t slowed down by your internal filtering system. Needless to say, it takes practice.

Every heavy traveler has their own way of absorbing all the wonderful novelties of a place that was previously foreign, and maybe even scary, but is now becoming familiar and maybe even comfortable. Some travelers focus on the differences of the cultures they encounter. Others focus on the similarities. Some may spend their entire time in exotic natural settings without ever speaking to a single local. Still others may think that the only exploring worth doing is of the culinary type.

Personally, what I find most fascinating while traveling is noticing how the interconnection of local peculiarities creates the essence of a place. The essence of a place is the expression of its local individuality and is created by things like its landscape, history, culture(s), weather, politics, etc.

By paying attention in a non-judgmental way, learning a bit of local history, experiencing the rhythm of local weather patterns, and noticing the way the topography mixes with certain cultural practices and economic conditions, an awareness of the local logic begins to emerge. You begin to see the reasons for things rather than simply noting that “stuff is different here than where I come from,” making your connection to the place that much more profound.

Seeing these kinds interconnections can really make your experience of a place more intimate and meaningful. So instead of spending your time trying to find picturesque cliches in front of which to take your latest selfie, try finding ways to let the essence of a place seep into you and change the way you see the world.


Jason Brashares

Co-Founder of InnerConnected.

I've led backpacking and hiking trips in the American Midwest and Southwest to places like the Grand Canyon, Havasupai, Zion, Bryce, Kettle Moraine, Starved Rock, Devil's Lake and many others.

I'm also an easy-going, nerdy, introverted, artist and amateur philosopher who thrives in a quiet space and is easily goaded into meaningful conversations.

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