Travel University | Organization 101

The skills you learn in school and college are only abstractly related to real life. If you zoom out and focus on the actual skills you are learning from age five to twenty-one, it is not math, history, or science, but instead, obedience and memorization. To be successful, you learn to please the authority figure at the front of the classroom and to memorize and regurgitate information on tests.

To achieve high grades in school, which is the endgame of any student, you learn to identify the information that is most likely to be tested, and you set up a way to capture that information and reproduce it when necessary. Humans are naturally lazy. We look for the most efficient ways to get what we want. If what you want is a 70% grade, the most efficient way to get it is to cram for exams.

In schools, paying attention during classes and actively practicing what you’re learning is not an efficient path to good grades. Most teachers give test review, letting you know in advance the most important information that will be on the test. Tthe most efficient way to get a decent grade is to wait until that point and only study the pre-test materials. The common skills you practice in every class is how to memorize information and perform on tests, skills that have little application in the real world.

University is an extension of this system. Although the information you are memorizing is more relevant to life in many cases (sorry arts majors), the actual skill you are learning, practicing and refining is how to memorize and test. Projects and papers are just other types of tests. You learn to look for what the professor wants and how to deliver that.

With the amount of information available to us increasing rapidly and becoming easier to access through the internet and smartphones, the value of actually memorizing information declines. You should be developing the skill to use information as you need it, not stockpiling it with no practical application.

While students are busy in college continuing to learn obedience and memorization, they are missing out on learning the foundational skill of organization.

It is reasonable to wonder what traveling, when you have nothing on your to-do list and only a small bag on your back could teach us about how to survive with an inbox full of emails and a million tasks to keep track of, or a house full of disorganized things. Travel doesn’t help you learn how to fix those problems, but it helps you to avoid them in the first place by learning the value of living simply.

Research is starting to back up what travelers have been learning for decades, that having less stuff makes you happier. Having a desk full of unorganized paper, the floor of your room covered in clothes and piles of random things lying around your room stresses you out, even if you aren’t aware of it.

When you go traveling for a long period of time, you quickly start to realize how few things you need to be happy. With one pair of shoes, shorts, pants and a few shirts, you cover virtually all your needs. Since you are moving around almost every week, packing up all your possessions and physically carrying everything you own, you don’t fall victim to the same “what if I need it” mentality that makes you hold onto things you don’t need at home.

As you travel, moving from one hostel to the next, you start to become envious of the people traveling with less stuff than you. Instead of wrestling with their bag for 10 minutes to get it closed, they can throw everything in and be on their way in a minute or less. Backpacking constrains your space to a point where you are forced to start thinking about how to use it efficiently. And when you fail to use your space efficiently, your aren’t able to hide from it like you are in a home. You can’t pile your stuff in the corner of a hostel room. You will be regularly faced with and frustrated by disorganization. This is exactly the motivation you need to start learning how to be more organized.

As you learn to accumulate less stuff, you also gain organizational skills from the logistics of planning a long trip. It doesn’t matter if you are booking everything months in advance or are winging it, there is always a lot of planning involved in travel. Figuring out what hostels you’re staying at, what towns you’re going to visit, how you’re going to get there and keeping track of your important things like passport, phone, tickets, and reservations. You learn how to prepare for a city, how to research locations effectively and how to navigate once you get there.

When you get back home after traveling, you won’t yet be a master organizer. But you will have learned to appreciate simplicity. You will know that you need much less stuff than you thought you did before, and eventually, you will realize that part of the enjoyment and freedom of traveling is the freedom from things. 

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