“The purpose of life, after all, is to live it,
to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly
and without fear for newer and richer experiences.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt
[A colleague directed me to a fun article in on the website of Real Simple which provided perfect fodder for this post. I make no bones about borrowing heavily from that article, with my own additions and editing. Enjoy!]
When you have spent time and money selecting, planning, and getting to a new destination, it only makes sense that you should optimize your time there. I do not mean you should pack your days and evenings to overflowing with carefully choreographed activities. On the contrary, you should intentionally leave space for things you might fail to do otherwise, but which can add immeasurably to your experience and memories. Please consider adding these unofficial plans to your next trip.
Savor your first few hours intentionally. First impressions can be powerful and insightful. Pay attention to them. Write them down. You think you will remember every moment of this important trip. But if you keep a diary and look back at it later you will be surprised at what had dropped out of your memories. Fortunately you have the diary to remind you.
Embrace being a Tourist. A few years ago it was fashionable to claim you were a “traveler”, not a tourist. (Professional travelers challenged that easy assertion.) If there are things one must not miss in Rome, then see them! They are why the city is famous. Everyone has a first trip to any place. Don’t let others’ up-turned noses keep you away. Any don’t be shy about asking directions of the locals. They will probably be very happy to help you out.
Run an errand for a friend. This can take you to neighborhoods you would not find otherwise and give you unique experiences with the locals. In Germany I shopped for Springerli molds for the friend who was taking care of our cat. They were the only thing she wanted to remind her of her college days in Heidelberg and I was delighted to bring home the prize.
Take in a performance or a sporting event. I don’t normally go to sporting events, but given a chance to see Real Madrid in action I would be there! It would be a mistake to pass up a chance to see tango in Buenos Aires, to hear fado in Lisbon or jazz in New Orleans. Even if it is only an amateur performance, a local interpretation of unique art or sport is something you should take advantage of.
Check out a bookstore or grocery store. Did you know you can buy an entire loaf of toast in Mexico? Coffee in Colombia is packaged by the half kilo, not the kilo. Are there translations of American authors in foreign bookstores? I bought Hemingway’s compact El Viejo y El Mar in Bogota. (I used to teach The Old Man and the Sea to high school sophomores.) What are the topics of significant local interest? How do those topics compare with stores at home?
Read the local newspaper. If you can read the local language, this can be a very enlightening introduction into the local view of world matters. Or a microcosm of local preoccupations. Even an English newspaper in a non-English country will give you valuable insights – and relief from Fox news. (Try to gauge whether you have picked up the equivalent of the Times or the Tattler.)
Eat at McDonald’s. Who knew that they have peanut butter packets available as condiments in Canada? And vinegar for your fries (chips) in England? What you will find in this not quite universal brand will prove an intriguing mix of the strange and the familiar.
And finally, remember to Get Lost – in the nicest sense.
Boundaries divide. Travel unites.
31 July 2014