So you’ve only got a day/week/fortnight at your destination, and all the guide books have told you the same thing. You must go see this gallery! Your trip just isn’t complete without this boat ride! You can only really say you’ve arrived once you’ve been to this temple! It’s what everyone does, they assure you, and you shudder. There must be something else, some experience you can choose because you know you will like it, and not to check some kind of box. Well, you can – and here are a few suggestions on how to go about it.
This can be a little tricky. Have you ever seen a photograph of the area outside the leaning tower of Pisa? On just about any given day, it is packed with people doing that “pretend you’re holding up the tower” pose, with a camera-wielding friend nearby. And everyone’s doing it, like some weird location-specific ritual.
Here’s the thing: if you really want a photo of yourself that looks like you’re holding up the leaning tower of Pisa, then go right ahead. If you find yourself battling crowds and desperately trying to find a spare space in front of the tower so you can get that photo just because it’s what everyone else is doing – then please reconsider.
There will always be iconic spots, vistas and landmarks at a popular destination. There’s a reason they’re popular. But for the time you have to spend standing in line, the crowds you risk getting trampled by, you need to be sure that it is worth it. Pick somewhere that will give you a thrill. Do some research before you go, and you might be able to find something off the beaten track that will give you as much pleasure as the most famous historical monument you could find.
Shopping and Souvenirs
Much like the previous topic, I am not going to tell anyone that they shouldn’t buy souvenirs. Whether it’s some beautiful local artwork or a cheesy I-heart-insert-location-here shirt, what you buy is up to you. What you need to be sure of, again, is making sure that you actually want the thing. With overweight baggage prices being what they are, buyer’s remorse will not be worth it in this case.
The best piece of advice I can give is quite simple. Do your shopping two-thirds to three-quarters of the way through your trip. This may seem oddly specific; allow me to explain. On the first day in a new place, you will most likely be caught up in the excitement of your arrival, drinking in the pleasure of a new atmosphere and the thrill of adventure. Anything you buy at the beginning of your trip will be likewise wrapped up in excitement and thrills. Once purchased, the excitement and thrills may wear away, leaving you with a suitcase full of junk and a diminished sense of self-respect. You will also have no idea what the current going price is for such items, or if you may be able to negotiate with stallholders, etc.
Conversely, if you wait until the last day to begin your shopping, you might be in a hurry, stressed, and more likely to make regrettable impulse purchases. You will also be subject to wavy feelings of pre-reminiscence and sorrow at leaving your grand adventure. You may then be tempted to combat these feelings by buying every type of trinket you have seen over the course of your stay, to feel as though you will be “bringing your experiences back with you.”
Now, you may not be subject to any of these types of over-emotional purchases (Good for you.) For the rest of us, however, two-thirds to three-quarters of the way through the trip is the recommended shopping time. You can make an informed decision about what to buy, and even use the search for the perfect item as a chance to do some exploring.
Here’s a good question to ask yourself when it comes to holiday activities. If you could, would you do this at home? If the answer is “no”, the follow-up question should be “then why am I doing it now?” Say you refused to go bungee jumping at your local adventure park because you knew you would hate it. Why do think you will enjoy it just because you happen to be in a different country?
We often feel as though we have to prove that we are Adventurous and Brave, that we are Worthy Travellers, by joining in every activity we can find. But better than proving yourself Worthy, try proving yourself to be… well, yourself.
What do you like doing at home? Why do you like doing it? What is the most fun you can imagine having in any given day? Part of travelling is to discover new things, of course, and you shouldn’t turn something down just because it’s unfamiliar. But you shouldn’t be ashamed to be yourself, either. If you love cooking, perhaps you could take a local cooking class and learn to make dishes from the country you’re visiting. Hate going on the water? Skip that guided boat tour and try your own walking tour instead. Love sports? Find out what the most popular local sport is and whether there’s a game you could go to.
Do some in-depth research before you go. You might find something you’ve never even heard of before that you will absolutely love. Getting out of your comfort zone can be an amazing part of travel. However, discomfort for discomfort’s sake is rarely rewarding.
The problem we have with clichés is that they feel inauthentic. We feel cheated of intention and agency, knowing that we have had no impact on the experience or event. When it comes to travel, particularly if you are going somewhere that receives a lot of tourists, the only way out of this is to take control.
Always try to be mindful of your choices. Operating on automatic can waste the precious opportunities your travel gives you. You can use your time to explore and expand new parts of yourself – but you will still be yourself. You will still love what you love, and not what a million other people think that you should.