I’ve had quite a few questions pop up in the past month from friends back home in Canada on the topic of travel. Mostly, they want to know what my recommendations are for this city or that—places I’ve visited or even been fortunate to have lived in over the past year. I don’t know if this is “normal” but I always feel a little pang of anxiety wash over me when I get approached about this. As ridiculous as it sounds, I feel like if I don’t procure a list that balances cultural experiences and laissez-faire ways to enjoy downtime, I will be doing a disservice to my friend. As if my list means that much to anyone…but me. We’re all so wrapped up in ourselves, aren’t we?
Before going further down that rabbit hole, what I mean to express is the fact that—stress as I might—I simply cannot create the perfect itinerary for anyone. As we all know, what makes a vacation beautiful and fulfilling for one, won’t translate for another. My family is the perfect example. On one hand, there’s my mother and I that relish visiting open-air food markets and bookstores, while on the other hand, there’s the rest of the family that pretty much avoids such scenarios at all costs.
So, this brings me to my main idea. Just like I can’t craft a list of places you’ll necessarily resonate with, neither can anyone—especially not a travel agency. Have you ever taken a moment to really look around at the masses of people in any major tourist spot? Have you looked at the expressions on their faces? They’re not generally filled with wonder or even appreciation. Most often you hear the rumblings of something like, “Okay, I’m good. I’ve seen all I need to see.” These experiences being built here are not necessarily wrong, but what they are is menacingly void of joy. And isn’t that the whole reason you’re traveling, to enjoy life?
The tourist industry encourages the visiting of historical and cultural landmarks, but it doesn’t generally immerse you in them. The big red bus picks large groups up, dumps them in front of buildings with a guide and, voila, the “exotic experience” you’ve been saving up for all year materializes. Instead of being fulfilling, it feels a little bit like being dragged along as a third grader on a dull school trip.
To avoid this, the best way to experience a new city is to pack your personality with you in your suitcase. What the heck do I mean? I mean, don’t forget who you are and what brings you joy. So in real terms – look for things to do in the city you’re traveling that would bring you pleasure at home, and then try it out there—or maybe you will try a version of what you love in this foreign setting. For instance, if you enjoy playing sports outdoors, why not explore Paris by taking your favourite sporting equipment and getting active in as many of the beautiful parks here as you can? Or if you’re into painting, why not seek out some community painting classes in the city you’re visiting? And yes, this means you don’t need to spend every minute of every day with your travel mates if you have different interests—although this would be a good time to explore something new if you do want to share in an activity that they love.
For me, a good travel experience actually does involve exploring art galleries—as may be stereotypical for a tourist, but that’s because I feel a sense of kinship with artists when I explore their work; in other words, I have a genuine, deep interest in art. If I was into, say, soccer instead, you can sure as heck bet I wouldn’t spend my precious travel time in a gallery when I could be staying true to what lights me up and combining that with my travels.
Alas, I’m not saying stay away from the Eiffel Tower or the Empire State Building if you truly want to experience these—maybe you really do get your kicks by checking places off your bucket list. I’m just saying that if you’re going to these spots because you feel like you must, maybe you should think about why you feel this sense of obligation. This is your chance to see the world; it’s your life. No one can tell you how it’s best to go about it.
Go out and get lost somewhere.