When Alli and I decided that now was the time to quit our jobs, leave everything behind and travel the world, we didn’t know exactly what it was going to be like…. But we did know what we didn’t want it to be like. We knew that this adventure was not going to be about visiting all the “must see” tourist attractions in every country we’d go to. There isn’t anything wrong with those awesome places (like of course, we will go see Machu Picchu when we are in Peru, the Eifel Tower in Paris, and other such marvels all around the world), but rather we knew that we wanted this journey to be about getting off the beaten path and exploring places and meeting people that don’t see swarms of travelers every day. Our goal was to become the kind of people who wander through busy city streets and become part of the crowd, who walk with no destination. Simply wanderers in search of experiences.
What we quickly discovered was that getting off the beaten path is nowhere near as difficult as we had made it out to be in our heads. It’s as simple as hopping on the bus to a town you’ve never heard of, or venturing a few blocks away from the prescribed part of town that Lonely Planet recommends going. In fact, one of the easiest ways to get off the beaten path is to just walk until your day becomes interesting.
The best part about travel is the uncertainty, the mystery of the unknown, the feeling of stepping outside of your guest house door not knowing what the day has in store for you. If we made our trip all about fulfilling expectations, then that would simply become the standard for what a successful travel experience means for us. As Rolf Potts (the travel guru and author of Vagabonding) puts it, if the standard for success in your travels is to fulfill your expectations then “basically you have won the title of the best consumer. You have made a plan, the plan has delivered, you get the gold star and you get to go home.” Whereas, if you set out with little to no plan, or bleed outside of the original plan “then suddenly you are getting the gift of what you had never dreamt was out there to begin with”. Suddenly, you are forced to solve problems, ask questions, and experience new things outside of your comfort zone and are no longer just fulfilling a consumer expectation.
4 Ideas To Help You Have Unique Experiences And Get The Most From Your Travels
Color Mapping (Psychogeography)
I picked this idea up from listening to an interview with the author I mentioned earlier, Rolf Potts, who uses this creative strategy with his students.
He starts by telling his students that on this day 12,000 tourists are going to walk to the Eifel Tower. 12,000 people just going from point A to point B (very simple). Instead, what he tells them to do is walk through the city and “collect” the color yellow. So, they take off simply wandering about the city searching for this color in every place that it may hide. Searching for yellow forces them to pay attention to their surroundings and seek out things that they would never have taken the time to notice otherwise. Eventually, they may get bored and go to a more obscure street trying to find more interesting iterations of yellow or evolve the exercise into something new altogether.
This idea is called Psychogeography, which basically means finding maps to a place that are counterintuitive. When we did it, we searched for all the Blue we could find in Old Town Phuket, Thailand.
One of the best examples of this idea that I can think of is skateboarding. Skateboarders see a city not by roads and intersections, but by landmarks and features that they can ride and use to perform certain tricks. In a sense, their skateboards are their eyes, for they only travel to the places that bring them the most enjoyment and challenges while on their board.
We can all use this method to break away from the prescribed way of seeing a city and surprise ourselves. In the end, it doesn’t even matter where you are going, just find a reason to go. Instead of simply seeing your surroundings, you can try to use a different sense, focus on the smells, or the sounds, or the way things feel.
If you want to break away from the predictable side of travel, then go seek out something that is not a place. Go seek out music that is being played, a certain type of smell or taste, or something that is purely your own imagination. The world is yours to explore in any way that you like.
Leave The Phones Behind
Traveling is so much easier now then it was ten years ago. We have books, apps, and friends (plus strangers) on Social Media telling us where the best places to eat, sleep, and drink are. We no longer need to navigate on our own when Maps.Me or Google Maps will give us step by step directions to wherever we want to go. And we can book a ticket to our next destination with the click of a button. So, it should come as no surprise that one of the best ways to have more fulfilling experiences and get off the beaten path when traveling is to leave those handy devices locked away in your room from time to time. You will be shocked by how different your day will play out. Asking for directions, recommendations, and navigating on your own will become mastered skills. You won’t be stopping to take a picture every ten minutes. Not to say taking pictures is a bad thing, we love photographing our adventures, but there is something rewarding about living in the moment and absorbing your surroundings rather than capturing them to share on Instagram later. Sure, it may be a little bit harder, but you will find that there are many joys to experience by leaving your phone at home.
Intentionally Get Lost
As I mentioned earlier, just walk until your day becomes interesting. What better way to get off the beaten path than to walk until you no longer know where you are. (***I do not endorse this tactic in places where getting lost might be dangerous). This is one of our favorite things to do when we arrive in a new place!
Leave The Money Behind (Or Bring Just The Bare Necessity)
It is truly amazing how resourceful the human mind can be when given certain restraints. Having few or no resources to pay for your day opens a whole new world of opportunities to those willing to seek them out. Sit down and chat up a group of people who look like they are having a good time, jump in on a pickup game of Soccer (pardon my American lingo), offer to tell a story or help around the kitchen in exchange for your lunch. The opportunities are endless, you will be pushed outside of your comfort zone, and forced to meet new people (if you want to have a good time that is). It can be a little scary at first, but just go for it! The worst that is going to happen is that you wind up grabbing some cash from your room later that day. And no, this does not mean mooch for the day! There are many ways other than money to provide value to other people.
If you are interested in learning more about how to discover and experience the world on your own terms, venture off the beaten path, and enjoy new experiences one adventure at a time then I highly recommend that you read Vagabonding by veteran travel writer Rolf Potts. This handbook is one every traveler should read at least once. And, if you’re looking for a fun and informative podcast about some of these ideas and how you can achieve the dream of long-term world travel then check out Ari Shaffir’s episode where he chats with Rolf Potts (heads up this is a long one… 4.5 hrs).
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