How to Wander With Purpose

Travel takes many forms and styles –from low-budget to luxury, short-term to no-end, solo wandering to group tours, and little planning to overbooked itinerary.

Meaningful Lostness works best for a vagabonding style of travel that skews toward an open time-frame and low-budget. Rolf Pott’s in his book Vagabonding describes it as such:

“Vagabonding is an attitude—a friendly interest in people, places, and things that makes a person an explorer in the truest, most vivid sense of the word. Vagabonding is not a lifestyle, nor is it a trend. It’s just an uncommon way of looking at life—a value adjustment from which action naturally follows. And, as much as anything, vagabonding is about time—our only real commodity—and how we choose to use it.”

In an earlier post we explored this idea of Meaningful Lostness, of allowing meaning to emerge within the dynamic tension between Structure and Spontaneity. In this post we will explore some ways to do it. For the sake of using capital letters and grand names, lets call it The Art of Purposeful Wandering.

Below are 5 ways to practice that art.


1. Draw Realistically

Art can be intimidating but our goal is not to be Chuck Close, rather it’s to develop our ability to see.

The goal is “the refinement of perception” according to John Ruskin in his book The Elements of Drawing. He writes:

“For I am nearly convinced, that when once we see keenly enough, there is very little difficult in drawing what we see; but, even supposing that this difficulty be still great, I believe that the sight is a more important thing than the drawing.


…if you wish to learn drawing that you may be able to set down clearly, and usefully, records of such things as cannot be described in words, either to assist your own memory of them, or to convey distinct ideas of them to other people; if you wish to obtain quicker perceptions of the beauty of the natural world, and to preserve something like a true image of beautiful things that pass away, or which you must yourself leave (…) then I can help you, or, which is better, show you how to help yourself.”

The relationship between hand and eye has played a pivotal role in the development of human consciousness. Ergo, strengthening this hand-eye coordination through the practice of realistic drawing will help stimulate a deeper engagement with our surroundings, whatever those surroundings may be.

2. Breathe Deeply

Take a breath. Slow down.

It’s advice that is applicable to anywhere from the Zen monastery to the secular office to the open road. In all these environments, this practice can help to deepen the quality of our attention.

It also has a slew of other health benefits from releasing endorphins to increasing blood-flow to strengthening our lungs. In short, it’s good for us. But how do we do it when traveling?

Assuming a full-lotus position and chanting might not be the most practical thing when in a dorm room or crowded bus, but the sequence between is both portable and subtle — many might not even know we are doing it.

Breathe in 4:7:8. If surroundings are too loud, pop in some earplugs.

  1. Breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds
  2. Hold your breath for 7 seconds
  3. Breathe out through your mouth for 8 seconds
  4. Repeat

3. Journal in Detail

Journaling can help to center ourselves by unloading mind-clutter and sharpen our perceptions by paying attention to detail. When traveling, two journaling tasks can be defined:

  1. Exterior description
  2. Interior description

 Exterior description sharpens one’s perception of what is around them.

To do this, take incredibly detailed notes. Focus on creating little vignettes of a scene with a Date stamp, a Time stamp, and a detailed and accurate description – “there are 37 moldy bricks at the corner of street A and street B in City X at 8:30 AM on January 23, 2015.”

Set aside 15-20 minutes to stare at one particular thing in one particular place at one particular time and write all you can about it – what does it look like? feel like? smell like? taste like (perhaps, but licking bricks might have unforeseen repercussions)? sound like?

The notebooks of Charles Darwin and Alexander von Humboldt are prime examples of this.

Interior description helps to unload mind-clutter so we can better center ourselves in the place we are.

Travel can be an incredibly stressful situation, an overwhelming flow of sensory-sensual impressions that end up suffocating each other because they have no where to go. Mitigating some of that stress can be done by writing out what some of those stresses are.

One should strive toward a similar amount of detail as the vignettes, but rather than outward buildings it’s the inward stuff so although it can be a bit more difficult, try to focus on: What fears came up for the day? What annoyances? What happy moments? What uncertainties? What quirky or absurd bits?

Cleaning and preening our thoughts is one way to re-calibrate ourselves and regain some stability in an ever-changing environment.

4. Mneumonic Techniques

A lot of these practices outline above work toward sharpening our perceptions. Once they are sharpened, however, the limits of memory still hold sway. Is there some way to mitigate this?

Francis Yates in her book The Art of Memory explores how people from Greek orators to Giodarno Bruno were able to recall vast stores of information through the creation of “memory palaces” and other techniques. As Laura Miller writes in her article on Francis Yates:

“A memory palace, or “method of loci,” was at first mainly used to memorize speeches (the most important part of a Greek or Roman citizen’s public life). To make one, you picture a multiroomed building (it’s easiest if it’s somewhere familiar, like your family home), and place symbols of each point you want to make in each room. If you want to start out talking about crop yields, you might imagine bags of grain in the foyer, then a fierce bandit in the next room if you want to move on from there to declaim on law and order.”


5. Write “In Someone Else’s Shoes”

How do we get inside the mind of another and how do we contact another’s mind are two perennial challenges. Both are fraught with misunderstanding and projection, but they’re worth the risk. 


One way that fiction authors do it is through writing. By imagining “what it’s like” to be another person — to eat, sleep, talk, and dress as they do. Those who wish to practice Purposeful Wandering can adopt this approach.

Sit in a park and people watch for a while. Tune in to the gesture’s that people make, how they hold their bodies, and the cadence of their speech and make up a story of why they behave as they do. We can do this alone or with friends, let the stories sit in our brains or write them out.

To help side-step the Danger of a Single Story as Chimamanda Adichie, we should think up multiple stories to help explain why people behave the way they do.


Through practicing some of the techniques described above, we can travel within the mind-state of Meaningful Lostness wherever we are.