10 Travel Tips From Jack Kerouac
The Beat Generation was all about getting gone. So go with it.
From hiking Northern California’s coast in Jack London’s footsteps to watching a bullfight in Mexico while high on opium to embarking on an epic road trip across the U.S., Jack Kerouac’s travels could inspire even the most conservative non-traveler to embrace their wanderlusting spontaneous side.
The Beat generation’s cofounder and reluctant poster boy penned many a novel in which travel is a character in its own right. Case in point, more than 50 years after publication, his legendary novel On the Road endures as a blueprint for modern voyagers who view travel as a spiritual quest. So, what better place to look for travel inspiration than from the pages of Kerouac's novels?
These quotes will get you through any travel situation life throws at you, courtesy of Jack Kerouac. Can you dig?
1. Ditch Social Media
Resist the urge to take perfectly crafted, Instagram-worthy photos. Instead of constructing an idealized version of your trip on social media, take a cue from Sal in On the Road and focus on having an authentic experience. Use the time you’d usually spend posing, cropping and filtering to actually enjoy your journey. That’s something Kerouac would double tap (just kidding, he’d never be a square with an Instagram account).
“I realized these were all the snapshots which our children would look at someday with wonder, thinking their parents had lived smooth, well-ordered lives and got up in the morning to walk proudly on the sidewalks of life, never dreaming the raggedy madness and riot of our actual lives, our actual night, the hell of it, the senseless emptiness.”
—On the Road (Sal)
Image via Bethan Phillips/Flickr
2. Skimp on Accommodations
After all, you’re not on vacation to sleep; so don’t book that overpriced hotel room. Opt for a cheaper lodging alternative. Try couchsurfing, renting a room, staying in a hostel, camping—in Kerouac’s world, a tight budget simply isn’t an excuse for not traveling. Hell, the floor is as good a place as any to spend a night. Just be sure to do your research to make sure where you’re staying is safe.
“Better to sleep in an uncomfortable bed free, than sleep in a comfortable bed unfree.”
—The Dharma Bums (Ray)
3. Pack Less Stuff
Approach packing with a minimalist mindset, focusing only on the necessities. When Ray set out for San Francisco in The Dharma Bums, he tossed a few things into a rucksack and ventured into the wilderness in a pair of sneakers. While I don’t suggest that you skimp on preparedness, less is always more when it comes to packing, especially backpacking. Adopting the mantra: If you can carry it, you can bring it, bro.
“I wanted to get me a pack complete with everything necessary to sleep, shelter, eat, cook, in fact a regular kitchen and bedroom right on my back.”
—The Dharma Bums (Ray)
Image via Marko Anastasov
4. Don’t Forget the Snacks
Even free thinkers need sustenance every now and then. In The Dharma Bums, Ray learns this the hard way while hiking a trail that Jack London used to walk. Aside from having food and water on hand in case of an emergency, keep your favorites on hand for munching. If you’re a seasoned traveler, I don’t have to tell you a snack that hits the spot simply can’t be underestimated while on the trail or on the road.
“A nice big Hershey bar or even a little one. For some reason or other, a Hershey bar would save my soul right now.”
—The Dharma Bums (Ray to Japhy)
5. Follow Your Instincts
Whether you’re mountaineering through backcountry like Japhy and Ray or meandering through city streets, trust your gut. There’s something to be said for following your instincts and letting spontaneity be your guide. Additionally, if you take Japhy’s advice and approach obstacles as “cute little problems,” you’ll be much less likely to let any roadblocks hold you back during your travels. So, basically, don't be an idiot.
“Don't think. Just dance along. It's the easiest thing in the world, actually easier than walking on flat ground which is monotonous. The cute little problems present themselves at each step and yet you don't hesitate and you find yourself on some other boulder you picked out for no special reason at all.”
—The Dharma Bums (Japhy to Ray)
Image via Nat Urazmetova
6. Take a Solo Trip
Get lost in your own thoughts, entertain your daydreams, and really listen to yourself. Turn off your phone, tune out social media, and go on an introspective journey. While you’re at it, push your physical boundaries and don’t be afraid to feel the sting of your limitations. You’ll learn valuable things about yourself in the process.
“No man should go through life without once experiencing healthy, even bored solitude in the wilderness, finding himself depending solely on himself and thereby learning his true and hidden strength. Learning for instance, to eat when he's hungry and sleep when he's sleepy.”
7. Lose Yourself in the Journey
Embrace the escapist notion of travel, especially if it means losing your sense of self. Take a step back and view yourself as a stranger would and seek the answers to the more elusive questions of your life via an out-of-body, out-of-mind experience. Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity, to seize everything you ever wanted in one moment, would you capture it, or just let it slip?
“I woke up as the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, when I didn’t know who I was—I was far away from home, haunted and tired with travel, in a cheap hotel room I’d never seen, hearing the hiss of steam outside, and the creak of the old wood of the hotel, and footsteps upstairs, and all the sad sounds, and I looked at the cracked high ceiling and really didn’t know who I was for about fifteen strange seconds. I wasn’t scared; I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a haunted life, the life of a ghost.”
—On the Road (Sal Paradise)
Image via DalioPhoto/Flickr
8. Don’t Plan Too Much
Remember: It’s about the journey, not the destination. In On the Road, two guys hitchhike to California looking for something they don’t end up finding; yet they’re still optimistic on the trek home, proving that even a “failed” journey can be a successful one if you learn something about yourself in the process. Just go, man.
“They have worries, they’re counting the miles, they’re thinking about where to sleep tonight, how much money for gas, the weather, how they’ll get there—and all the time they’ll get there anyway, you see.”
—On the Road: The Original Scroll
9. Don’t Sleep
You only live once, right?
“‘I just won’t sleep,’ I decided. ‘There were so many other interesting things to do.’”
—On the Road: The Original Scroll
Image via Storm Crypt/Flickr
10. Forge Your Own Road
Dean, the catalyst for Sal’s travels in On the Road and pseudonym for real-life adventure seeker Neal Cassidy, declares that the road is up for interpretation. So get out there and figure out what it means to you. And when in doubt, just do what Jack Kerouac tells you to do.
“What's your road, man?—holyboy road, madman road, rainbow road, guppy road, any road. It's an anywhere road for anybody anyhow.”
—On the Road (Dean)