Owning Your Decisions

I recently spent 12 days in Peru traveling solo.

It seems like multi-month international trips has become something of a rite of passage for our generation, but I’ve never found a good time to fit it into my schedule. 12 days was the longest I’ve traveled outside of family trips to China with my parents, and my first time traveling alone.

I wasn’t that familiar with the country, had only a basic grasp of Spanish, and a fairly light list of things to do and see. Rather than traveling because I had always wanted to go to Peru, I went because I thought it’d be a good opportunity for personal growth.

Solo vs Group Travel

When you travel with other people, they all have different things they want to do, so you end up compromising on where you go, what you see, and how much down time you have in between.

When you travel by yourself, every decision is your own. Want to keep searching for that hole-in-the-wall restaurant someone told you about? Feel like hanging out with that rowdy but fun group of travelers from the UK? Want to do a last-minute trip to another town? You make all the calls. And face all the consequences.

Like doing a startup after working in a large organization, the freedom and control are a double-edged sword. You no longer have to worry about what anyone else wants to do, but you also have no one to save you from poor decisions.


Refining Your Enjoyment Mental Model

What ends up happening (both in doing a startup and in traveling solo) is that you refine your mental models. For travel, that mental model is basically about understanding what kind of activities, people, and lifestyle make you happy. Every decision you make is an experiment:

  • I think I’m going to like eating ceviche at this restaurant
  • I think I’m going to like visiting the historic center of this city
  • I think I’m going to like hanging out at the hostel just reading

Each decision leads to an outcome (“Great!” vs “Meh.”) and with this plethora of data, you get to rapidly refine your personal enjoyment mental model.

Learning From My Peru Trip

The trip was a success. Not only did I visit beautiful places, gain a new appreciation for Peruvian history, and meet some interesting people, but what I got most out of the trip was the confidence to own the activities and interests that make me happy. It turns out, my personal enjoyment mental model includes:

  • Only doing one or two activities per day
  • Spending lots of time working out (bodyweight exercises or running along the cliffside)
  • Reading books (finished Kite Runner and the new Scott Adams book, also got halfway through the Steve Jobs bio)
  • Consuming good (and ideally cheap) food and drink
  • Writing/blogging (found an opportunity to share a story of a Chinese-Peruvian entrepreneur)

Have you traveled solo? If yes, what did you get out of it? If no, what’s holding you back?

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Jason Shen

Jason is a tech entrepreneur and talent expert. He is CEO of a performance hiring platform called Headlight, a Fast Company contributor, and an advocate for Asian American men. Follow him on Twitter at @jasonshen and subscribe to his private newsletter.

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