There was a point in my life when I had succumbed to this cynicism. I thought that I had traveled so much that I had entirely lost that childhood sense of wonder, excitement, and expectation that precedes a trip. I had to simultaneously celebrate having gotten out and adventured and explored the world at a very young age, broadening my mind and shaping my character, but also had to mourn the corresponding loss of pleasure that comes from doing something new. I had seen and done too much, too fast.
Or so I thought.
A few years back I discovered the antidote to my cynicism; that is, letting myself be surprised by a place. I find that this happens most often by being open to spontaneity and, as I alluded to above, not having expectations. I try to not spend too much time planning or thinking about trips - I’ll be inspired by a conversation, an article, a photo, or a blog post - but then I’ll leave it at that. I book the flight, or I hop in the car, and I simply explore and let a place reveal itself to me. Sure, I’ll miss some amazing sights, or I might stay at a less-than-optimal hotel, but just as often, the opposite happens. Because I am flexible and I don’t have a set agenda, I find myself constantly talking to locals, asking for tips, and being pointed in the direction of something I wouldn’t have otherwise seen. I also don’t fall into the kind of thinking that “this is my only chance ever to see everything and it will really suck if I miss that super great something that everyone is always talking about.” I don’t feel that way at all. If a place is magical, it will often lure me back again and again, and each time it will reveal itself in new ways. Or, at the very least, there’s a sweet satisfaction in being able to think “ooh, next time I come back I want to do X and Y. I still have so much to see!” It’s a reminder that the world is enormous and there are surprises and new things around every corner. Truly. It’s not a simple equation, as I thought when I was younger, that the more we see and do, the less remains to be seen and done. It’s more like, the more we see and do, the more we realize the infinite possibilities of the world, and the more we can recognize the beauty and wonder and surprise in the small details we might have otherwise missed, had we allowed our expectations to dictate our experience of a place.
So that’s how I like to do things now. I don’t think it’s a monumental change in my approach to travel, as I was always what I considered a bit of a vagabond, or a wanderer, and generally always open to new experiences and adventures. Instead, what it is is a slight shift in thinking, or perhaps more importantly, a different way of experiencing myself in relation to a place.
This is all beginning to sound a bit new-agey isn’t it? Well, to get a little less fluffy and more concrete, I think what it boils down to is just a few simple points: (1) less planning; (2) more spontaneity; (3) lower expectations (see previous two points in reference to how to do that); (4) meeting locals; (5) real conversations; (6) not just “seeing” things - but experiencing them; (7) being fully present; and (8) appreciation.
Now that I think about it, those points might not just apply to travel, but life in general…