There is an ever-present, yet largely unspoken discussion that goes on with travellers. It’s the traveller vs. tourist mentality where a tourist is there to tick a box, read the guide book and follow other tourists, and the traveller is more up for adventurous, serendipitous experiences.
While these two types of people definitely exist, I think it’s a little pretentious to think one is better than the other (and I’m definitely talking to past me in this instance). Different people are just up for different types of experiences. Regardless, if you want to get away from the crowds and create your own unique experiences, let these ideas inspire your creativity.
Hop on an early train. Return late at night.
Trains are a great way to explore. Not only is the window a gateway to a countryside you might not otherwise see, it’s an easy way to make a day trip outside of a city. I know in England, trains are not only a great way get around the island nation, but there are sooooo many little villages you could explore just by picking a stop at random. And when I spent a weekend in Copenhagen, one of those days I caught a train to Sweden. I visited 3 little towns with no plan and had a fantastic time.
Ask a local like your barista or bartender where they like to hang out
When I travel I love finding cool places for coffee in the morning, and unique places for beer…later that morning. When it comes to finding places only locals know about, why not go straight to the source? Ask your order taker where they like to goof off and I have no doubt they’ll give you more than one.
Follow a local
I mean, be inconspicuous; don’t be weird about it. Just find someone that looks interesting, might be going somewhere interesting, and see where they end up.
And you know, if you really do want to up the ante, you can always still be weird about it.
Sleep in the suburbs
When you stay in a city, chances are that you won’t actually leave the city for exploration purposes unless there’s a specific reason. If you stay in the suburbs, not only will it be a bit cheaper, but you’ll likely experience the local transportation system and see a part of town you otherwise wouldn’t.
A perfect example is when I visited Amsterdam for about 4 days. I stayed about a 30-minute train ride from the city at (in my opinion) the best hostel in the world. It was set on a property near a lake which was fun to explore, and a short bike ride away was a town called Abcoude, quiet and quaint just waiting for me to explore.
I’ve personally never done this but I love the idea of it. No one is going to help you find awesome places better than a local who understands the traveller mindset. It’ll be an adventure in and of itself. You can find a couch in over 200 destinations, so even if you’re looking for a hotel in Mumbai, you have the opportunity of linking up with a local.
Hire a bike
Public transportation can be clunky and predictable, while walking can be too slow. But hiring a bike can give you the best balance between mobility and speed. We hired bikes in Miami Beach and had a blast exploring the beautiful art deco district. However, at one point we were forced to trek across sand…that wasn’t ideal.
Get off a train at a station you’ve never heard of
I mentioned it briefly, but if you don’t have a plan, why not keep it that way? Go where the wind takes you. Just remember what station it what so you know where to get back?
Throw out your map and guide book
I mean, maybe don’t physically throw it out, just maybe leave it in the hotel one day and hope for the best. I still read up on places I’m visiting and maps are definitely handy, but one sure-fire way to end up somewhere you didn’t plan is to not plan to end up anywhere.
Eat somewhere that looks like super dodgy
Risk the food poisoning for a good story. When it’s meal time the last thing I want is hawkers trying to get me into their restaurant to have lunch. I’ve eaten my fair share of questionable foods but there was one time I actually listened to hawker. It was in Negril, Jamaica. We’d spent 2 days looking at and walking along 7 Mile Beach so this time we walked along the road behind the resorts.
As we crossed back to the beach we passed through what looked like someone’s backyard and approached a small shack with cognac bottles strewn everywhere and a few locals looking a little worse for wear. Some guy asked is we were hungry and if we wanted lunch. I was really hungry so we just said “whatever” and sat down at a wooden table. The menu was verbal only and consisted of fish, beef or chicken, which was another red flag. But it actually ended up being the best meal I had on the island.
It definitely takes a certain type of person to travel on their own for an extended period of time. I spend 4 days in Copenhagen on my own and while I saw so much more than if I was with someone, I was in dire need of a conversation by the end of it because I don’t tend to meet people particularly well.
It’s also much easier to do something random when you don’t have to consider someone else’s agenda. It’ll make you more inclined to meet other people and learn from their experiences and local knowledge. This was the tale of when I became stranded in Brussels due to the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull Volcano. I met a couple of girls on a day trip to Luxembourg, I met a guy who took me around the red light district for some reason (maybe I just looked really lonely), and when the sky didn’t clear so I took a random train to Amsterdam until it did, where I met a bunch of crazy strangers at Lucky Lake Hostel.
It can be really easy to stick to what we read about in books, blogs and brochures, and keep to where we are comfortable, but building unique experiences through serendipitous travel are what have created some of my best memories to date. It’s not always how I travel, but it’s always fun when I do.
What have you discovered from leaving logic behind? Let me know in the comments below.
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