This year, I had the astounding privilege of going on an academic exchange in Singapore. I was able to live by myself for the first time in my life, make many new friends, and, most importantly, travel a part of the world about which I knew close to nothing. Even though my journey was cut short due to the global pandemic, I had the best two months of my life, and I attribute part of that success to my knowledge of the Agile mindset. Wait what? What does a software development methodology have to do with travelling? Continue reading to find out. 😉
The Agile Manifesto
The Agile Manifesto is an agreement signed in February 2001 by seventeen experts in the field of software development who were “sympathetic to the need for an alternative to documentation driven, heavyweight software development processes convened.” However, it turned out that the 4 values and 12 principles defined in this treaty could be used to improve many other professional disciplines such as marketing and human resources — and now, travelling.
Value 1: Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
This value is the one that resonates with me the most. I’m a strong believer that in life, and especially when travelling, what makes an experience memorable is not where you were or what you did, but who you were with during these moments. On the one hand, there are the people you meet during these trips. This includes the locals who serve you their favourite dish on the streets and the other backpackers with whom you share a room that love to list the differences between their culture and your own. It can even be the tourist you cross in the streets of Hanoi, who happens to be wearing a hoodie from Western University the same day you’re wearing your uOttawa hoodie, sparking a smile on your face as you feel at home for a moment — yes, this really happened! Meeting these individuals is enough to get you to leave the bubble you live in back home and to learn about different cultures, while sometimes making you appreciate more what you’ve been taking for granted for so long. On the other hand, there are those with whom you are travelling. This can include your family, but in my case, it was my friends. For me, being around this group of people is important because they make you feel more comfortable trying new experiences by giving you a sense of security and trying new things is what travelling is all about. But the most valuable aspect of travelling with people is that there is always someone to push you to do something when sometimes all you want to do is sleep in after a night out. In short, the interactions you have when exploring the world and who you share your journey with play a much bigger part in making your trip a success than the tools you use when doing so.
Value 2: Working software over comprehensive document
This value requires some thinking outside the box to understand how it applies to travel, but once you live by it, your experience becomes much more fulfilling. One of the most important concepts in Agile development is the idea of the MVP (minimum viable product) consisting of sufficient features to satisfy early adopters. When it comes to travelling, I like to think of my MVP as having somewhere to stay at night and food to eat during the day, but none of the luxe that often comes with it. You might think that living that way is simply being “cheap” and not enjoying the pleasures of life, but I think of it as a removal of all distractions. One of my favourite moments from my exchange was staying in a hostel in the Philippines, even though it did not have drinking water, was infested with bugs, and lacked serious cleanliness. The reason I liked staying there that much was that I never wanted to be there! This pushed me to stay out late at night, wake up the next morning to chase the sunrise on my scooter and to explore hidden waterfalls during the day — all things I probably would not have done had I stayed in a five-star hotel. Travelling minimally also allows you to save money that you can then use to travel some more or to pay for more expensive attractions once in a while. The other part of the value in the Agile manifesto is comprehensive documentation. While I can admit I take a lot of pictures, I also make sure I leave my phone behind to just enjoy the site that I am visiting. Too often did I see people spend all their time taking pictures and videos and not pausing a moment to appreciate where they were. It’s true, working software beats comprehensive documentation all day, every day.
Value 3: Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
When you invest your time and money in exploring the world, believe it or not, you are your customer. Everything you do is for yourself and to ensure you have the most enjoyable and meaningful time possible. Consequently, you must take some time once in a while to reflect on your experience and to find ways to improve your trip. Some backpackers like to keep a journal, which is great, but I found that asking myself some questions before going to bed was what worked best. What was the highlight of my day? What frustrated me the most? Is there something that I will regret not doing? I then used these answers the next day to decide what I was going to do. When I was in Bali, I was staying with a couple of friends at a great party hostel. I was having a blast and met so many people but I realized I hadn’t done much of what Bali had to offer. I immediately booked a tour with a local who would drive my friends and me to the five most popular attractions in the West of the island. Just by taking the time to reflect on my day, I was able to transform what was a fun trip to an extraordinary one. As for contract negotiation, sometimes you spend hours trying to find the best place to stay and to get the best deal possible. It’s just not worth it. One time, I was very disappointed with an Airbnb at which I was staying and I spent close to an hour arguing with the owner trying to get a refund for the second night. That’s when my friend came to get me and told me it wasn’t worth wasting precious time and putting myself in a bad mood for pennies on the dollar and that we should just keep moving. I then moved on to have a great day and I don’t regret for a moment having lost that money — thanks Adrien! Remember, sometimes you are your customer, so treat yourself well.
Value 4: Responding to change over following a plan
I hold this fourth and final value close to my heart as it took me so long to accept it. I’ve always been the type of person to plan his entire trip before leaving and not diverging from that plan, but I could not have been more wrong. I now realize that the true pleasure of travelling comes from not knowing what the next day will look like and being able to adapt to the circumstances for all the reasons outlined above. First, your interactions with the other tourists and, more importantly, the locals should have a strong influence on what you decide to do. They are the best people to tell you where to eat and where to go during the day, not Google. Second, a lot of those minimal places to live cannot be found online and come from talking with your cab driver or walking down the street. Finally, because it is so important to reflect on your days and to interact with the customer that you are, how can you effectively plan an entire trip? The last excursion of my exchange was 10 days in the Philippines. I left Singapore at night with no more than a flight there and back, a hostel for the first night and some islands pinned on Google Maps. Each morning, I would wake up and my friends and I would decide what we wanted to do that day and when we wanted to leave for another island. Just writing that causes my stress levels to go up but I say with confidence that living that way was what enabled me to have the best 10 days of my life. Leave the plan behind, you don’t need it.
Never in my life would I have thought of writing 1,500 words comparing a software development methodology to the pleasure of travelling, but here I am and I could not be happier. Living by the four values above for two months has had a great impact on my life and I’m confident it can do the same for you. Now, I can’t wait for life to come back to normal so that I can go back to my Agile travelling.