The lights will slow you down. Photo by Paul Stevenson. Feature photo by David Silverline.

Why is a traffic circle safer than a traffic light, and what does the answer mean for adventure travelers?

Yesterday I attended a workshop by Tom Leahy, a guru in the field of adventure training. A big part of Tom’s workshop was about the importance of choice, especially for people who want to grow through an adventure travel experience.

I took some insights from Tom’s discussion of choice and control, and I want to share them with you here.

Photo by Shikeroku.

First, consider the difference between traffic lights and traffic circles (round-a-bouts).

Traffic lights, like the ones used at countless American crossroads, impose strict controls on driver behavior:

Red = Stop. Green = Go. Yellow = Caution.

Traffic circles, on the other hand, do not require drivers to stop. Instead, a driver has to make a series of complicated observations, evaluations and decisions in order to safely merge with moving traffic.

Guess which type of intersection is safer?

The traffic circle.

The traffic circle is safer because it forces drivers to stay alert and think for themselves. Drivers are not externally controlled, and retain the ability to make lots of choices.

Traffic Lights and Travelers

One lesson for travelers who seek a life-changing experience is to avoid the metaphorical traffic lights.

Photo by laverrue.

Think of a traffic light as a firm external control over your travel experience.

For example, you might have a rigid itinerary imposed by a tour company.

Or you might have overly strong expectations of how the trip will be.

By limiting your options, you’ve given up the ability to make decisions and adjustments while you travel. You can’t go with the flow, and you probably won’t make any profound discoveries along the path.

A travel experience is safer, more empowering, and more rewarding when you retain the ability to adjust on the fly, to stay another day in a place that tugs your heartstrings, to seek out and follow whatever makes you feel most connected and alive.

What’s so sad to me is that the vast majority of Westerners travel as if there were traffic lights strung up all over the world. We plan too much. We expect too much. We book cruises.

Photo from the Mekong Semester.

We trade independence for comfort and reassurance.

So, travelers, I encourage you to protect your freedoms.

Be brave. Dream big. Take control of your own experience by choosing to travel independent of expectations and rigid itineraries.

Go abroad as if the world were full of possibility.

Community Connection

At Matador, we’re inspired by individuals who travel with open minds.

Unplug your television.

Quit your day job.

And embrace the simple joys of free travel.