I love travel. I eat, breathe, sleep and consume every aspect of it. But what I hate, my friends, is the pressure of two things: travel itineraries and a companion who MUST stick by one. The crushing burden of ticking off a list and seeing this fountain, or that historical landmark on this day, at that particular time completely stresses me out!
The selection of a perfect travel partner who is like-minded is crucial to an enjoyable trip anywhere. It doesn’t matter if it’s five days at a beach resort, I don’t want to be dragged out on Tuesday at 2pm to play beach volleyball if I don’t want to. And this is where the guilt comes in. If you’re like me, you want to be considerate of your travel partner after all it’s their holiday too. But these expectations to cover as much as possible because you read about it online, or because you told that cute guy at work you’d definitely take his advice and climb that mountain at stupid-o’clock, adds so much stress to a holiday.
I know of people who see nothing of their trips because they’re too busy taking photos, to the point that they often don’t remember where they’ve been until they get home and upload them. What happened to stopping and just absorbing what is around you? Taking it all in – the sights, the smells, how it all makes you feel. Maybe it’s an unfair advantage being a writer. As such it’s somewhat your duty to soak up a destination so you can share it with others in the written form. But I’ve always had a loathing of being ferried into performances designed for tourists, or shops conveniently placed alongside a string of hotels.
Think about it. If you plan each day of a trip in minute detail you miss out on so much. There’s no spontaneity. Nothing that catches your eye because you’re too busy with your nose in the guidebook and your eyes on the clock. Travel isn’t about ticking off a destination or its famous attractions. It’s about expanding the world you live in and hopefully your mind, while learning about other cultures, and a world long gone, before you ever stepped foot on a ruin or walked in that ancient forest.
Once, with a very like-minded travel partner, when asking directions in Borneo, Malaysia, we met a lovely old man who invited us to his village the next day for dinner. He collected us from our rather humble hotel at that time in Kuching, and we were taken through a very rugged jungle path/road (I’m not certain which!) to his home. The entire village was there to greet us and while no one spoke English we were served an array of local delicacies, some unrecognisable, and others, like the boiled baby turtles, we accepted with grateful smiles while politely declining second serves. Our host, who spoke a little English, regaled of us stories of his village’s history as head-hunters, but assured us they don’t do that any more while laughing his huge laugh. All because we got a bit lost and asked for directions from a local.
In Macau some years ago I wandered down one of the many cobbled laneways in the old part of the city, and came across a street market, laid out on sheets on the ground. I found some of my most treasured possessions – authentic souvenirs if you like, made up of antique glass teapots and historic black and white original photographs. It was like discovering treasure! And no, you won’t find things like that in a guide book.
So I urge you, do your research before you take flight, but don’t incorporate a calendar, clock or even mention that horrible ‘itinerary’ word. Let your journey unfold as it will most certainly do. Make sure your partner feels the same and happy to wake up each day with a ‘so what do you feel like doing?’ question. It’s the only way to travel. Enjoy the flexibility of discovery and I guarantee you will have much better stories to tell that cute guy at work, other than ‘yes I went there too’.