I love to travel and usually travel solo. Going somewhere I’ve never been before means there are no guarantees, but there’s the potential for adventure, fear, expectation, and delight, ending in marvelous memories. I enjoy blending with the culture, people, food and traditions of each country and leave with the feeling of being rewarded, satisfied, and with a deep respect for the people and the country.
I am astonished at the vast differences and yet similarities between countries, and love to escape the tourist path. I allow extra time every day for getting lost, wrong turns, and spontaneity, and this results in a more memorable and gratifying trips. Before traveling to a new country, I like to read books from the Culture Shock series, as they give you a better understanding of the differences you might encounter when traveling to a country.
The mist hung low over a nearby vineyard, with streaks of sunlight penetrating down to the vines, which were hungry for its warmth.
One of my best memories I have is of a barge tour on my first visit to France. The barge docked each night at a small village, and because I am early riser, one morning I took advantage of the misty, peaceful morning. I walked to the village alone. The mist hung low over a nearby vineyard, with streaks of sunlight penetrating down to the vines, which were hungry for its warmth. The sleepy town began to wake. Around a corner of the main street, a truck pulled up. A man got out and raised the sides of the truck, and suddenly the truck was a butcher’s shop! Shutters on the buildings began popping open, people greeted him and gave their orders. Other trucks arrived with fruit and vegetables, and even a bakery truck. Such small, remote villages have limited shops, so this is how they get their produce.
Learning a bit of the language helps to initiate conversations with the locals. Once you speak their language, they may speak a little English. Learning a few useful phrases and numbers (especially for shopping) and understanding the exchange rates boosts my self-confidence while communicating and interacting. This makes it easy for me to ask for a restaurant recommendation or a place they know worth visiting, and usually ends with an enjoyable exchange of information. People from other countries are filled with curiosity about the United States and ask me questions I sometimes can’t answer. I’ve been stumped a few times! They want to learn about the US, the politics, and the culture as much I want to learn about theirs.
I used to rush to get things done, check places off my list, but I missed what was happening in front of me.
During a cruise to Malta, I hired a cab and driver instead of taking the cruise tour guide. He showed me sites that were on the cruise tours, but he also drove me to little unknown sites, such as St. Paul’s alleged shipwreck location. I watched the daily guard change, visited small shops where I received personal attention, and best of all was meeting the driver’s family and grandson, who had just finished a soccer game. We discussed his country, the language, the culture, how he became a cab driver, the US, Malta’s history, and restrictions on maintaining ancient housing! He ended my trip by dropping me off at a restaurant where he guaranteed I would have a good meal. I have a photo of us in front of his cab overlooking the Mediterranean. Remembering this trip always makes me smile and the warm memories.
I try not to plan too thoroughly, and visit sites during hours when there are fewer tourists, or during the low season. I prioritize sites I want to visit and place them in order of importance. Investigating side streets spurs my imagination of what places must have been like hundreds of years ago. I may even discover a quaint shop, an artist working, or a lovely place to rest and observe local life.
I used to rush to get things done, check places off my list, but I missed what was happening in front of me. I slow down now, enjoy, and immerse myself in every moment, try something new to eat or drink, be surprised by a neighborhood celebration or festival and always leave with fond memories. What I discover during these spontaneous adventures cannot be found in a guidebook.
Making Room for Spontaneity on Solo Travels