In my last trip to Taipei a girl from the hostel warned me about falling into “The Party Trap”. I was just getting acquainted to the hostel, and I was pretty confused at first. After all, falling into a party trap sounded fine to me. She described “The Party Trap” as follows: one night you stay up and have a few beers with the hostel guests. After a while, or maybe the next night, everyone decides to go to the bar. After a good night at the bar you find your self waking up an hour or two later than before. This doesn’t seem to be an issue at the time, especially because your on vacation. However, this process starts a feedback loop. As the days continued you find yourself waking up later and later, until you begin opening your eyelids just before dusk, and you realize there is nothing to do except prepare for the inevitable night of partying which is coming your way. This is “The Party Trap”, it can quickly get out of hand, and you easily feel lost and dysfunctional.
As I falling into the trap, I realized the importance of a routine, even on vacation. Since I was travelling alone, there was no one to pressure me about the typical mindless, non-activities, like going to see monuments and statues that have little-to-no effect on me. Instead, I was able to go at my own pace, but to go at my own pace, I must have some sort of pace. So after falling into the party trap, and perceiving my time slipping away from me, I decided to make some changes: focus on practicing Chinese, get up before dusk, and try to get in some writing, thinking, or walking. This sounds basic, but can essential when travelling on long vacations or holidays.
This time in Taipei I am working, so creating structure is built in. I make sure to hit the gym almost every day, work online, try to practice mandarin with the locals, etc. It feels good. However, I visited my favorite hostel – Meander, and talked to some people that reminded of the importance of structure.
I walked into Meander around early noon and met a guy sitting on one of the couches. He seemed introverted, but approachable so I engaged him in conversation and it became clear he was dealing with a severe lack of structure and routine. He had two more weeks of vacation, but had already been travelling for a while and had no idea what to do. This is when I suggested he try “living” instead of “traveling”. Make some structure, dig into some of the life and culture. Without providing too much unsolicited advice, I merely suggested going to the gym, and finding people to practice Chinese with. These two activities alone can be quite fulfilling, and add great dimension to living in Taiwan.
A few days later I ran into a guy I met the first time I stayed at Meander. He had been on a sabbatical for way too long, and seems to have got absolutely nowhere in terms of figuring out what direction he wants to take his life. Based on his body composition (from a glance) it was clear that he does not exercise, he also doesn’t speak Chinese, and probably spends most of his days doing nothing. This blew my mind. And once again made me appreciate the importance of self direction and structure.
Simply creating some daily “essential” activities on an extended vacation, sabbatical, holiday, or whatever can be a game-changer. Do what you want to do. Do you love reading? Then spend some time each day reading. After you read, go for a walk or get in some light exercise, try learning the local language, or learning something local. There are so many ways people can spend their time to get real value when going on extended travel, but many people are not very self-directed, and thus fall into a default state of non-activity when other people aren’t telling them what to do.
Even the most spontaneous people need some kind of consistency, whether it be working out, cooking, reading, making something, etc. Otherwise life pure chaos, and seems almost meaningless. Having small, yet productive tasks to accomplish can bring a lot of psychological satisfaction while leaving time available to for satisfyingly spontaneous moments. Don’t just fall into “The Party Trap”, and don’t let your time off become time off from life.