When most people think about the perfect Primal vacation, they’re thinking about camping, rock climbing, surfing, trekking, scaling mountains, fording rivers, and generally being out in nature. There’s some truth to that. Natural beauty abounds all over this world, and most folks following the Primal Blueprint have a deep-seated appreciation for the natural world. However, being Primal is about far more than just diet, exercise, and being outside. Those may get most people through the door, but the movement has grown and my thinking has evolved to encompass a wider range of qualities and sensibilities. As Primal travelers, you are exceptionally thoughtful. You value experiences over things, and the things you choose tend to enhance life experience, not replace it. Your vacations should be no different.
So these are my top tips for engineering the perfect Primal vacation. Coincidentally, they’re great tips for anyone looking to have a memorable, transformative experience in a new place.
1. You don’t have to go far
I don’t care where you live. Stunning natural beauty is within your grasp. Incredible nature-based getaways are right there.
Here’s what I sometimes do to find new places. Go to Google Maps. Center on your location. Zoom out until your see a big patch of green which indicates a green space—a forest, a nature preserve, a national, state, or county park. Google its name and look for lodging (maybe a cabin, maybe camping, maybe an AirBNB) and things to do/climb/hike/explore. There: you found a local spot for nature-based vacation that you can visit on a regular basis.
2. Buy your tickets or cement your plans at least six months in advance
Flying by the seat of your pants and being spontaneous has a certain romantic quality, but there’s extra value in planning ahead of time. Not only does buying ahead of time save you money and allow plenty of space to make work arrangements, it provides the pleasure of anticipation. As Flaubert said, “Pleasure is found first in anticipation, later in memory.” The doing, the being there—it’s all great. Why not add extra value?
3. Slow down
Instead of a 2-week whirlwind tour across six countries, focus on one and really settle into it. The last thing you want to do is feel rushed and disappointed afterward, like your experience was superficial. You want to savor your surroundings.
Spend an entire day just exploring a neighborhood. Read a book in a hammock. Linger over morning coffee and talk to the cafe owner. How long has he been in business? Does he have any kids? What are their names? Before long, you’ve got a list of restaurant recommendations and maybe even an invite to his place for dinner. Or maybe not, but at least you made a connection with a human being you’d otherwise never cross paths with. It’s the small connections with people and places that matter and make the trip memorable, even if they never show up in a guidebook or online review site.
4. Avoid itinerary slavery
The skeleton of an itinerary improves a trip. Know where you’re going to sleep, what kind of attractions are in the area, a list of great restaurants to try, and choose from the list in real time. But consider—and this may be my personal preferences speaking—skipping the strict itinerary planned from your laptop months before you even sniffed the new place and signed up for the tightly regimented tour of all the big historic sites. Itineraries can be real tyrants. Actual experience of the destination has a knack for changing your mind. Allow it to happen.
5. Visit the local outdoor gear shop
The best place to learn about off-the-beaten-path adventures, trails, waterfalls, swimming holes, treks, climbs, and caves is the local outdoor gear store. Every country with a significant tourist industry should have them. So when you get there (or before), Google “outdoor store [your destination],” go to the smallest/most independent one (indie outdoor gear shops tend to have the most diehard employees), and ask for excursion recommendations. Ask the clerks where they like to go/hike/climb/explore. And buy something small, even if you don’t really need it, as a show of appreciation.
6. Be sure to relax
If vacation is a break from day-to-day drudgery, we may instinctually seek to fill it with wall-to-wall excitement and adventure, to go from one extreme to another, from ziplining to white water rafting to parasailing to rock climbing to surfing. In my experience, this is a mistake. Drudgery is stressful. That comfortable unhappiness many of us feel trudging into the office, going through the motions isn’t traumatic, but it wears us down. Going to work every day, doing the same thing, feeling time slip away from you as one day blends into the next? It’s more damaging and stressful than we think.
So yeah, get the hell out and get dirty, sweaty, and sore regularly. Hike stuff, climb stuff, swim and leap and endure. Just don’t let that be the entire trip. The antidote for drudgery includes some novelty, a bit of adventure, and a dash of derring-do laid upon a bed of chilling out.
7. Eat in
First, get a place with a kitchen. Next, go to market. My favorite part of going to a new country is visiting the markets. Farmer’s markets full of fresh tropical fruit you’ve only seen pathetic simulacrums of back home. Butcher shops with entire animals being disassembled into cuts you’ve never seen. Edible insect markets, fish markets, spice markets. Olive oil sold in old plastic water bottles. Shawled grandmas elbowing for the best produce (watch what they choose). It’s the stuff of life.
8. Rent a car (or bike)
Maybe you hire a driver (surprisingly affordable in certain countries). Maybe you rent a car and do the driving yourself. But however you do it, mobility is everything for the Primal traveler. If you want to get to those hidden hot springs no one knows about, the bus won’t get you there.
Another way renting a car adds to your trip is that driving in a foreign country is just exciting. It’s like learning to drive all over again. Everything’s new. New traffic laws, both formal and unspoken. New traffic signs. Remember when you first got your driver’s license and simply going to the store was a blast? It’s like that.
9. Read fiction from or about the destination
Look for the seminal work or works from or about the place you’re going. Read them. You’ll often learn a lot more about a place from literature than you would from a dry travel guide.
It doesn’t have to be from the modern era or even based in reality. Reading myths and legends and historical fiction may not provide factual accuracy but they can help create a sense of wonder. Going to Greece? Read Homer! Going to Denmark? Read Beowulf!
Also, Google “[destination] travel writing.” There are many curated lists of recommended books for travelers to each country. Googling “Iceland travel writing,” for example, pulls up this recommended Amazon shopping list.
10. Embrace the 80/20 principle
Assuming you don’t have any crippling food intolerances, allergies, or sensitivities, ease up when exposed to new cuisines.
If the Spanish family you’re staying with makes a big platter of paella and you don’t normally eat rice, don’t worry. You’ll survive. Rice isn’t even that bad. If you’re in Italy and are neither celiac nor gluten sensitive, try the homemade ravioli. It’s a special occasion, not a staple.
It’s easy to think “Oh, man, I’m going to Italy, the land of pasta and pizza and other pulverized grain-based foods. I can’t eat anything!’ Then you bring a separate suitcase full of Primal Fuel, coconut butter, beef jerky, nuts, and dried fruit and live off that the entire time. But that’s just sad. Don’t be the weirdo with a greasy jar of coconut butter asking the sommelier which red pairs best with Vanilla Primal Fuel. Instead, adapt to your surroundings. The creative Primal traveller can assemble delicious Primal meals anywhere.
Take Italy. Famous not only for pasta and pizza but for its cheeses, charcuterie, osso bucco, incredible seafood, fresh vegetables, and risotto. Or Germany, land of bread and beer but also sausage and sauerkraut. France has its baguettes, but it’s also got butter, brie (the real raw stuff), beef, buerre blanc, and a tendency to use rich bone broths in almost every dish. The Mediterranean and Levant? Seafood, lamb skewers, sheep cheese, yogurt, the best tomatoes and cucumbers you’ll ever have. Pacific Island nations/states? Fish, sweet potatoes, fresh fruit, coconut, and local meat is better and often cheaper than the imported food. Even in Asian countries the mountains of rice we all imagine actually obscure some of the most nutrient-dense meat and vegetable dishes available on this planet.
12. Keep a stash
That said, keeping a stash of trusty Primal fare (Primal Fuel, coconut butter, chocolate almond bars, beef jerky, nuts, dried fruit, canned sardines, etc) on hand is a good idea. Just in case.
13. Choose walking-friendly destinations
The best part about vacation is exploration on foot of entirely new areas. It’s the best way to explore and learn an area. The smells. The sounds. From a car or tour bus or taxi, you’re whizzing by. You miss the old tea shop down the side alley full of old men playing backgammon. You miss the smells and the sounds. You miss the opportunity to say hello to folks in the native tongue and trod upon centuries-old ground. Most of you guys reading this are from the US. We’re a young country. And yeah, we’ve crammed a lot of history into those few hundred years, but it’s not the same as walking across the same stone streets where Roman soldiers marched.
Also, walking 10+ miles a day is the best kind of “exercise.” It’s why everyone loses weight abroad despite “eating everything.”
14. Practice the language
If you’re heading to a foreign land, learning at least a bit of the language will increase your enjoyment of the trip, facilitate immersion, and open up entirely new horizons and possibilities.
Check Duolingo, a free app and website using gamification to help you learn language. It’s great for jogging memory of languages you’ve previously studied.
Don’t be afraid of looking and sounding ridiculous. You’re trying to make complicated mouth noises that you’ve probably never made before. You’re going to mess up. You’re going to get the accent wrong. You’re going to mix up gendered pronouns and verb conjugation. It’s okay. That you’re trying at all—and willing to laugh at yourself—makes all the difference.
15. Train briefly
You’re not on vaction to go squat, deadlift, and press three times a week. But you still need to stay fit. Keep it short, keep it intense. 10 minute-long full-body workouts twice a week (plus lots of walking, right?) should be plenty. Maybe with a sprint once a week, preferably up a hill to make it even shorter and more intense (in which case Amsterdam won’t work).
16. Luxury is okay
Going on a Primal vacation needn’t mean backpacking barefoot through rainforests and fishing with fire-hardened spears you whittled with your own flint knife. You can renegade camp on beaches hidden along the Hana Highway, get an AirBNB in Kihei, or stay at the Four Seasons in Wailea. They all work. They all allow you to swim, snorkel, surf, shop the local farmer’s markets, hike through a rainforest, and see an incredible sunset. I like the finer things in life, so when I go on vacation with my family I’ll stay in a nice rental property and go on adventures. I’ll tromp through a jungle in search of a waterfall in the morning and make it back in time for a five course dinner and soft down pillows. It’s not one or the other. You can do either or both.
That’s about it, folks. Follow these general tips, or at least give them careful consideration, and you should be well on your way to a fantastic Primal vacation.
What did I miss? What are your Primal travel tips?
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About the Author
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.