In my office there is a bronze sculpture we acquired in Madrid, Spain some 25 years ago. It is about a foot tall and depicts a young woman. She is barefoot and has long flowing hair. Dressed in a peasant blouse and long skirt, she stands with her hands on her hips looking down. At her feet is an open bag with a bedroll and a book sticking up out of it. There is a small satchel leaning against it. The title is “Esperando un Camino.” The artist is Joseph Bofill.
I don’t know where she’s going but I’ve always wanted to come along.
Indeed, I’ve had the good fortune to see a fair bit of the planet: Mexico, Canada, Ireland, Wales, England, Germany, Greece, Crete, Puerto Rico, Tahiti, Venezuela, Curacao, Scotland, Italy, Germany, Spain, Paris, India, Kashmir, Goa, Nepal, Zanzibar, Tanzania, Eleuthera, St. Thomas, St. Martin, Barbados, Antigua, Martinique, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Guatemala and most states across the USA. Pretty much in that order although I’ve visited some more than once. And I may have forgotten one or two.
I’ve traveled to and around those places by plane, train, bus, subway, taxi, hired car, motorcycle, bicycle, rickshaw, hitch-hiking, foot, horse, donkey and elephant. Not only traveled by elephant, but herded rhinoceros by elephant back in Nepal. I love saying that!
Many people, of course, don’t care much for traveling. It is a highly personal choice. However, I can’t help but think part of the problem is the way the Travel Industry approaches the whole business. Mainly: avoid the locals and their culture whilst cramming as much into as little time as possible so people can check off their list and say “Yep, I’ve been there, done that!”
But that doesn’t appeal or your experiences have been disappointing, maybe the way we do it might be of interest.
For our honeymoon we spent three weeks in Scotland. The most common comment was, “Three weeks in Scotland? What can you do for three weeks in Scotland?”
Followed closely by, “I’ve been to Europe and saw it all during my two week tour.” Ah, OK.
Rushing from place to place ticking off sights means you’ll spend most of your time in transit. Not fun, and a three hour layover in the Frankfurt airport doesn’t mean you’ve been to Germany.
Relax. Find a local cafe and waste an afternoon over a cup of coffee. Watch the locals drift by. Maybe even talk to a few.
Avoid the sights
Maybe not all of them, but choose just a few that really appeal to you. Learn to be comfortable leaving some stones unturned. Be sure that what you see you take the time to see well.
Linger in cafes and parks. Absorb the feel of the place. Breathe it in. Last year in New Orleans I found an isolated bench in Jackson Square. I sat for an hour with my eyes closed and just listened. Quiet your mind and let it it flow.
Talk to the locals
Lots of travelers complain that the people in such and such a place are unfriendly. Well, if you are flying past in a rush to your next sight you are not, candidly, a very attractive opportunity for them.
In Quito we stumbled on a little chocolate shop. Because we were leisurely poking around Ruth, the owner, took the time to chat. Before long she was insisting that we stay to try her special hot chocolate.
By the time we left we had met several of her friends, were guests in her home and her husband, a naturalist on the Galapagos, had invited us for a “behind the scenes” visit.
Of course, we didn’t see every church and museum in town.
If you can, spend some time. Even if you’ve only a week, pick a spot and focus on what’s there.
A few years back we took an apartment in Quito for the summer. By the time we left we knew all the local shop owners. One day we went to the little shop where we bought our eggs and milk. It was closed. On the walk back to the apartment we ran into the owner. We exchanged pleasantries and asked when he would reopen. He insisted on walking the two blocks back to his shop, opening it and selling us what we needed before closing again and going on his way.
We’ll remember that long after we’ve forgotten the museums.
Leave your camera at home
Too many people waste their time trying to record the trip rather than living it. Indeed, I’m convinced many see everything they see only thru the lens. Give it a rest. If you follow the advice above you’ll meet locals. They’ll have cameras and they’ll send you the pictures they took to remember your visit. As for scenery, use Google. You’ll find better shots of the Taj Mahal or Kilimanjaro there than you are likely to take yourself.
Do it now
Sad to say, the world is becoming a more crowded place. Back in the early 1970s I visited Arches National Park in Utah. Simply stunning and I had the entire place all to myself all day. Find the undiscovered and go now.
Do it while you are young
There is no question that travel involves some discomfort. Sitting in cramped airline seats for hours on end. Bouncing over rutted roads in antique local buses. “Delhi Belly.” Or…
As I feel the years build the time is coming where the hassle will outweigh the joy. But, thankfully, not yet. If you are going to do it, now is the time.