Many people create a list before they travel. A list of things to see, to do, and often, to buy. Such lists can provide focus to your trip, but an overcrowded itinerary can give you tunnel vision, preventing you from making new discoveries. Hurrying from one sight to the next can also leave you clueless when it comes to local culture and customs.
There is another approach to travel, however. It’s called plan less and take your time. The mission here is not about checking off sights, it’s about figuring out what makes a place tick. Instead of programming your trip before you arrive, create it as you go. The rewards – starting with the fact that your trip is instantly less stressful thanks to the lack of benchmarks – are many. Above all, slow travel allows you to go beyond the surface of your destination. It encourages you to open your eyes, interact, and learn.
While a trip that prioritizes spontaneity may seem like it is easy to organize, here are a few tips to make it easier still.
Limit the amount of places you visit. It’s hard to take your time when you plan on visiting 5 cities in two weeks. Consider picking one city and its surrounding area and exploring it deeply.
Choose your accommodation wisely. Hotels can be a bubble. They often exist as a miniature city in themselves. Instead of staying in a hotel, look at short-term apartment stays through sites like Airbnb or Roomorama, or better yet, search for a host on Couchsurfing, which provides both a means for cultural discovery – you stay with a local resident – and free accommodation.
Be a repeat visitor. Realize that you really like those dumplings that woman makes on the street corner a few blocks from your apartment? Go back and buy some more. Many travelers have a compulsion to constantly look for something new. But often you can learn more, and in this case, eat more delicious dumplings, if you frequent places you have already visited. After a few visits, you may find that you know a bit more about local food and culture.
Do things that locals do. As a traveler, you have to eat, drink, and house yourself somewhere. But there are parts of your normal routine that you may discard while on the road. Some of these things, like visiting the grocery store or getting a haircut, may be worthwhile even when you are traveling as they offer a further window into local culture and they can make for some interesting discoveries and stories.
Smile and say hello. Learn at least a few words in the local language and greet as many people as possible. Some people may be indifferent, but you’ll find that most appreciate the effort and that the simple act of saying hello could itself lead to an interesting conversation. And if you think there is a language barrier, then you haven’t traveled enough to know that there is always a way to communicate with another human being.
The above tips should help you get in a slow travel frame of mind. There is no one right way to travel and it’s up to you to find what works best for you. That said, many people overlook a slower approach to travel and as a result, they miss out on some discoveries they could have otherwise made.