Most travel books or guides describe destinations that matter to the bulk of travelers, like the Roman Colosseum, the Eiffel Tower, the Great Wall, the Sistine Chapel.
Such books offer specifics about hostels and hotels, plenty about the where, the what, the when, and the how much.
But “Hidden Travel: the Way to More,” penned by Auburn author Steve Brock, is not one of those books.
It does not talk about great deals on airfare, or spill much ink on destinations, though it does talk about a few of the latter. Instead, it teaches you how to discover what really matters to you so you can have those peak experiences that make a trip a transcendent experience.
In that sense, it’s about much more than traveling.
“It’s not really just about having a better trip,. The book is really about how to live a better life,” Brock said. “It’s about how to take the principles you learn on a trip and apply them to your life at home, so that every day at home becomes more like a great adventure.”
“You don’t have to go around the world. You can apply a lot of these things, even during COVID,” Brock added.
Over the course of 296 pages, beautifully illustrated by Brock’s black-and-white photographs and divided into 14 chapters with titles like “Just a Bite,” which is about daring to try new things, and “Secret Desinations,” “Ways to See,” “Make Plans” and “Be Your Best Self,” you learn how a trip can become an amazing, learning laboratory, where you can try on new personas, pick up new habits, new interests, new hobbies — and put them into practice back home.
Each chapter is broken up into eight-to-10 sections one to two pages long with helpful information everywhere, making it the sort of book you can open at any page and find something that speaks to you.
In the chapter “Anticipation,” for instance, Brock shares research that shows that anticipation is the happiest part of anyone’s trip, and that to fully maximize one’s happiness, the traveler should consider taking a number of trips and space them apart to have more of that anticipatory time.
Brock has scattered exercises throughout the book to help people discover what’s meaningful to them, and to discover what they love most and how they can take the interests of home and practice them on a trip.
For instance, while you can’t plant gardens on a trip, you can visit gardens and nurseries and forests.
Dig mechanical things? Well, why not meet car enthusiasts and visit factories overseas or here in the United States?
Into making beer? Visit some of the great breweries that make legendary suds.
Brock said the book is the product of an insight he had on a trip he took 14 years ago with his wife, their two sons and his parents, as the little party, bound for a Mediterranean cruise, was driving from Venice through Tuscany to catch a plane in Rome.
“I had worked several years before this with World Vision, and I had been to some of the toughest places in the world, places you don’t go on a vacation. To me, the idea of taking a cruise was like, ‘How meaningful can this be? This is just going to be like a floating bit of America, just going everywhere, and how can you really have a deep, insightful, cultural experience doing that,” Brock recalls thinking.
Instead, that trip turned out to one of the best he had ever taken. Because he realized that he had been looking at his travels the wrong way, for him at least. By looking at them strictly from a cultural standpoint, he said, he’d been missing out on the idea that a person can find deep meaning even in a family experience, for instance, by learning about families in these cultures, not just about the cultures themselves.
“And as we’re driving, I remember thinking … how come there are all these books out there that advertise themselves as a new, irreverent guide to Hong Kong, or to New York or wherever? Why isn’t there a reverent guide? How come nothing focuses on the goodness of travel, and the wonderful people that you meet and these amazing experiences when you have these moments that really stand out, that really touch and even change you?”
Thus, the book.
Here are a few of the lessons Brock’s adventures in 55 countries have taught him:
• You really have a better experience by slowing down, and even though you see less in terms of quantity, you see more in terms of quality. That is, it’s one thing to know a thing, quite another to practice it, to have “that visceral understanding that there is something really deep out there.” As St. Augustine wrote: “For it is one thing to see the Land of Peace from a wooded ridge, and yet another to walk the road that leads to it.”
• Another lesson: by preparing thoroughly, you free your mind and consciousness of those niggling little worries and anxieties that can spoil the experience, allowing you to give your whole attention to the adventure unfolding in front of you.
A great part of the work is based on interviews Brock conducted with dozens of travelers who live in the Seattle area, among them: Gabriel Campanario, Seattle Sketcher for The Seattle Times and founder of the Urban Sketching movement; Ludovic Morlot, former music director and now Conductor Emeritus for the Seattle Symphony; and Ethan Stowell, chef and restauranteur who heads up all the Ethan Stowell restaurants throughout Seattle.
Brock explained why he did not include any listing of hotels or hostels.
“The book doesn’t get into specifics because those tend to change so much that a book will not be one’s best tool for a listing of places,” Brock said.
Instead, there’s a chapter called “Make Plans,” which presents a series of steps to take to determine whether a hostel will be your best option, or an Airbnb, or a hotel, or a traditional bed and breakfast. The idea is to find the types of places that will matter to you, and how to fit that into the planning process.
The idea behind all the mental and physical planning and prep work may be illustrated by answering this question: should a botanist and a layman go into a forest at the same time, who will see the most, get the most out of the experience?
“Most people treat travel as an end in itself,” Brock said. “You know, I do it, and then I come back to my life here. The book is really about how to treat travel as a means to an end. It’s a tool you can use to really explore those things that mean the most to you, and to do it in a way you can’t do at home, because at home, you are so blinded by routine and habits that you aren’t able to see things the way you do when you are taken out of your comfort zone.”
When he’s not writing books, Brock, who works in marketing, is busy with branding work for Fortune 500 companies and nonprofits.
“Hidden Travel: How to Discover More,” sells for $15.99 for the paperback edition and $8 for Kindle. It is available on Amazon and on other main sites, and hopefully, in the near future, at local bookstores.