I once came across this quote on a travel forum: "Not planning is a good way to miss things you wanted to see." That may be true, but it misses the point of travel completely.
It's not hard to compile a list of must-visit sights and attractions before you travel. Every guidebook will have a page dedicated to the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty and the Taj Mahal. Many travelers feel like they absolutely can't miss these touristy sites.
The problem is, if you only focus your trip only on these types of places, you'll miss some of the most important travel experiences out there: the ones that are born of spontaneity and happenstance. Personally, I've been to New York without taking the boat to the Statue of Liberty. I've been to Paris without going up the Eiffel Tower. And while I did visit the Taj Mahal when I was in Agra, what I mostly remember is the crowds and the rain.
On the other hand, when I visited Egypt, I did something outside most tourists' comfort zone and rented a bicycle to explore the Valley of the Kings, which is lined with the tombs of ancient royalty. It was so hot on the way back that we had to stop into a few shops and pretend we wanted to buy souvenirs just to get some tea. This was a memorable experience that we never would have had if we'd done a "normal" tour.
The "must see" travel lists are great for boring guidebooks and listicle-driven magazines, but at Triposo we feel that they fail to capture what travel is really about.
So what is it all about?
I came across some other comments on travel forums that I think capture the real spirit of travel:
One traveler said that, "For me, stumbling across a free open-air opera at dusk in a church courtyard in an old part of Rome -- listening to the singers while swallows zoomed overhead -- was pure European magic. I couldn't follow the plot at all, but it didn't matter."
Another explained that his favorite travel experience was, "Accidentally coming upon a tiny outdoor fox shrine that had a mysterious door into a hill in Arashimaya, Kyoto, after visiting a small moss temple."
A different traveler gushed about, "That peeled salted cucumber from the guy with the cucumber cart on a gorgeous April day in front of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. Holy shit that cucumber."
Of course, these types of experiences never make it onto a bucket list. No one sets out to have a transformative experience at a cucumber cart in Turkey or to discover a magical animal shrine. These are serendipitous experiences, the kind you simply can't plan for.
However, you can do a few things that will help you find yourself in more serendipitous situations. Here are our recommendations for traveling more spontaneously and uncovering the adventure in each place you visit:
That's number one, and while it may seem obvious, it's worth repeating because not enough people actually do it. Just go somewhere. Then look around you and see what there is to see. You don't have to be in Paris or Istanbul or anywhere exotic. It can be Pittsburgh. They may not have an Eiffel Tower, but the company that makes the paint for the Eiffel Tower is there, and maybe that's where your serendipitous experience is hiding out. Just pick a place, get on the road and go.
2. Get Lost
Is there any sight more pitiful than a tourist struggling with his map in the wind? Sometimes I think that travel companies ought to issue an "anti-GPS." One that tells you to turn left when what you're looking for is to the right. My dad had one of these, and they've been married happily for more than 40 years (har, har.) Anyway, the point is to let go of your need for control and just follow your nose. The good news is that there is so much to see in most cities that you are likely to find something amazing as soon as you put the map down and look around you. It's not to say that a good map can't come in handy now and again (and we happen to think that the skobbler-powered open-source maps in our mobile app are some of the best out there), but there's a lot to be said for just wandering and getting lost. And anyway, as a wise man once said, "Not all who wander are lost."
3. Talk to Locals
Most travelers get their advice and recommendations from guidebooks, websites and fellow travelers -- in other words, not locals. That's a big mistake. Locals have the best possible perspective on what makes their city an awesome place to be, because they choose to live there. While a typical Boston guide might send you to shop in touristy Faneuil Hall, trace the Freedom Trail or have a beer at Cheers, real Bostonians will tell you that the best way to experience the city is to go for a bike ride on Memorial Drive along the Charles, take the T out to Brookline or trek to East Boston to enjoy the best lobster roll around while you watch jets take off over the harbor. These are the kind of things you miss out on when you don't speak up and ask the locals what they love best about their city. Try to find someone who speaks your language or look up a simple phrase like, "Where do you recommend I have lunch?" Then take their advice; you won't be sorry.
4. Do Random Stuff
Someone might tell you to make sure you enjoy a croissant at a typical Parisien café. Well, there are about 100,000 of those. So how will you decide which one? You could consult Yelp and other review sites until you go cross-eyed, or you could just randomly pick one and give it a go. Maybe you won't get it right the first time, but that just gives you an excuse to have a second croissant, and a third. You won't get the same level of satisfaction out of enjoying a restaurant that everyone and their mother says is great online. Instead, try it for yourself. Give yourself permission to make a random decision and determine what you like based on your own preferences rather than someone else's (often arbitrary) tastes. At Triposo, we think that review sites have come to be more of a distraction than an aid for most travelers, and we strongly recommend that you just let go and try something new. It's the best way to make memories when you travel.
5. Be Distracted
Often we think of being distracted as a bad thing. But when you're traveling it can actually be a good thing. After all, you're on vacation. You're allowed to let your mind wander, and to follow your nose (or eyes or ears) toward anything that distracts you and grabs your attention. Do you hear music from a few streets over? Don't worry about getting to the museum on time -- go check it out! A great smell wafting from the restaurant you just passed? Skip your reservations and test that out instead. Relying on your own senses and intuition is a great way to happen upon the kind of serendipitous experiences that will make your trip more memorable and give you great stories to tell when you get home. Let go of your usual focused attention and allow yourself to be distracted. You never know what you might find.
To sum it all up, we're suggesting that you don't plan and don't use a travel guide. Wait... What? We make travel guides for a living. So if we believe all this, why do we think you need Triposo?
First of all, if you plan on getting lost, you should have the security of knowing that you'll be able to find your way again when it comes time. For example, you'll want some kind of map to get you back to your hotel. And it's good to have access to important phrases that will help you communicate with locals, especially in case of an emergency. In which case, you'll also want to be able to find a local pharmacy, hospital or embassy. Additionally, you want to have all the information you need to use local public transit, book hotels at the last minute and even discover spontaneous events like small festivals and impromptu concerts that aren't normally covered in guidebooks.
We want to help you travel more spontaneously. Help you get lost and distracted, be random, talk to locals and do it all without feeling stressed out. Not planning is a good way to miss the things you wanted to see, sure, but planning too much is a great way to miss the most important experiences -- the ones you can't plan for.
The same person who wrote the quote I opened with continued on to say, "It's easy to be distracted by the daily life around you... the taxis, the markets, the restaurants, the bars, the beach...and the street scene..."
To that we say: that's great! Get distracted. Wander into the market, sample the street food, have a drink at the local bar and sink your toes in the cool sand. Travel is all about soaking up the culture around you, and oftentimes the best way to do that is to put away the plans, grab your smartphone and get going. That's starting to sound like my credo...