Expectations. Expectations from when you first fall in love with the idea of seeing distant lands, experiencing different cultures and envisioning your travels.
These expectations feed what I like to call the ‘holiday mentality.’
The holiday mentality is what turns a potentially extraordinary adventure into a systematic, buyable, square-shaped ‘experience.’
Go snorkeling here, skydiving there. Kayaking here, climbing there. All-inclusive ‘packages.’ 7 days, 6-night getaway retreats.
We’re so used to being goal-oriented in our daily lives that we have a huge list of ‘things to do when we go traveling.’ Temples to see, beaches to swim in, food to taste. And don’t get me wrong, all of these are worthy of experiencing; if they weren’t, why would they be popular?
But when we plan everything, even when we’re trying to ‘keep it loose,’ we start treating experiences like a commodity.
We see the Eiffel Tower or Mount Fuji. We party it up at the Thai Full Moon Party or Carnival, and we get that Instagram picture all while feeling like something was lacking.
These aren’t ‘bad experiences,’ and no one should feel bad about sharing their memories through pictures.
Some of my most cherished memories revolve around standing in awe in the town of Fuji, casually looking at a convenience store while Mount Fuji lay beautifully in the background.
If something is popular or ‘touristy,’ it shouldn’t immediately be avoided. The problem happens when you start building up a timeline or checklist and treating your travels like a job.
This behavior is absolutely understandable because our daily lives revolve around this type of planning, aversion. We want to make sure that our experience is perfect. Ironically, the imperfections canceled flights, and snap decisions make the adventure — yet we still keep the daily life mentality.
And look, It’s incredibly difficult to let it go.
To truly experience the adventure you’re looking for is to commit yourself to pursue the interesting when the opportunity presents itself.
Yes, you might be in a hotspot for temples and statues and sites. But that doesn’t mean you should blindly go ‘do them all’ because they’re there. The to-do list method doesn't promote adventure.
You’ll likely have a cooler adventure by going for a walk through some streets that aren’t touristy at all.
You might find a hole-in-the-wall cafe with an interesting character that gives you a priceless lesson about their culture. This happened to me in just about every major city I visited.
You might stumble upon some seasoned travelers that are going for a hike in some woodlands 2 hours away from where you’re based. You're on a potentially life-changing trip, why not just say "screw it" and go?
Hell, you might run into your future wife or husband.
Don’t be afraid to ditch the plan and pursue the interesting.
We’re social beings. The places we visit are the people we meet. And you're going to meet a lot of people, that's a guarantee.
The story you’ll get from visiting an empty temple set up for tourists’ site seeing is minuscule compared to a local place of worship with actual people praying and meditating.
Seasoned travelers will always preach this. To leave nearly all commitments behind. To reject the fear of missing out. To understand that what you experience doesn’t need to be put on display for it to be real. That’s the art of travel – And as an amateur, I wholeheartedly agree.
Last week I was in Old Town Bangkok, staying for a week, next to the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, and Wat Arun. Amazing structures, lit up at night looking phenomenal from my hostel’s rooftop. Yet I visited none.
I’m sure I would have liked it; I didn’t actively avoid it. There were just countless opportunities to do other things. So I did them instead.
I elected to go hunting down some amazing Thai food with a lovely Chef I met in the town to learn more about the cuisine.
I explored the back alleys of outer Bangkok with some hostel folk for a day, not knowing if the fried chicken I bought from a sweet old lady was going to make me sick.
I meditated with the locals at a temple that had very few if any, tourists. It was one of the most relaxing experiences I’ve had.
And of course, the classic tourist locations were visited too but only because we elected to go there when we felt like it at the time.
From sites to see and food to taste to activities and events worth attending. Be aware of them but understand that an open book is where the experiences get written, not a tourist guide.
Challenge yourself to meet people on the road and do as they do.
Next time you book your flights, don’t book accommodation—Walk-in town and shop for your temporary home. Avoid hotels and look at locally owned inns and hostels. A lot of these places aren’t listed on the Internet.
In a world of hyper-connectivity, we miss out on the most authentic connections. Travel is an opportunity to dial it back and take it all in.
And maybe you disagree; maybe you think it would be insane not to see the Coliseum when in Rome, even if an interesting opportunity presented itself. And that’s completely fair.
My ask from you is to maybe take your next trip as a bit of an experiment by keeping this perspective in mind. You’ll be surprised at the challenges and joy you might find on an ordinary day.
And who knows, the effect of this experiment may set you up with a different perspective in your day to day life. There’s only one way to find out.
This article was inspired by my own travels and a fantastic book called Vagabonding by Rolf Potts — I absolutely recommend it. It's a fantastic book to have handy while you're traveling. It's light, short, and valuable enough to warrant the extra space. And when you're done, hand it to another traveler; it'll serve them well too.