It’s my first day in Paris. I don’t know a lick of French but I still decide to sit at a street-side cafe, order an espresso, and basically just take in the architecture. It’s gorgeous.
I feel like I’m in heaven, and I start thinking I could probably spend the entire day here.
But I can’t. I have to see the sights, right?
Oh boy, if I only knew.
As fate would have it, someone sits down next to me with a dog a second before I’m about to leave. I have two choices..
Engage this person in conversation, or leave and go see the Louvre. I decided to engage that person in conversation, and we sat there and talked for three hours or so.
It was easily 100 times better than seeing a tourist sight.
Traveling Should Be About People
I’ve had a theory lately that road trips on a scooter or car are about 10,000 times more enjoyable than buying a tour with a big company.
No doubt there’s value in tours, but what if you want to go eat at a roadside stall from a Thai lady? What if you want to stop and see that waterfall the signs are pointing too?
One of my best travel memories happened when I was in Oregon. I was headed east to Montana — a full 14 hours of driving — and there was this waterfall the signs kept pointing too.
About 20 yards away from the exit, I jerked the steering wheel right and blasted off the freeway.
I ended up stumbling upon one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the USA — Multnomah falls.
I had no idea it was there. I had no idea what it looked like. Completely random.
This has nothing to do with people, I get that, but my point remains that when you give yourself leeway to explore possibilities while traveling, that can lead you to BOTH people and places you really like.
And in order to meet more people, it’s crucial to give yourself leeway.
There’s only so much you can gather about a culture from a tourist sight — there’s infinitely more you can gather from talking to a local who’s lived here their whole life.
Don’t Plan Anything
One of my other more extreme travel tips is to not plan a single damn thing. I have no idea what there is to do in Paris, and I’m currently staying here.
Someone told me to go up the street to see the Sacré-Coeur — I had no idea what it was.
Lo and behold it completely blew my socks off. It was the most beautiful church I had ever been in by a long shot.
You see, this is what traveling should be. You should be surprised. It shouldn’t be planned. It should revolve more around asking people what to do and getting their perspective, first and foremost.
Who do you think the “travel guide” who wrote that one article about Paris talked to about where to eat and what to see?
He talked to the locals! Do the same.
I’m not saying you should just be lazy all day — I’m currently looking for things to do right now — but you can figure that out when you get here, not 3 months before you get on the plane.
Taking It Easy Pays Off Big Time
I’ve spent pretty much the last 12 months NOT living in my own country. I’ve bounced from place to place to place and I’ve always found my best memories come from where I least expect them.
They don’t come from plans or tours or “milking every last second” out of my day.. they come when I chill the heck out and get a grip on how the locals live their everyday life.
The locals in Paris do not go to the Louvre. They sit at cafes and meet friends, for one. I had that experience when I was here, and I loved every second of it.
It took me a while to realize it’s these experiences that make traveling super fun and enjoyable, not the experiences where we’re running around like chickens with our heads cut off trying to see everything.
When you travel to a certain place, your goal should be too “feel” that place. No doubt certain tourists sites can do that, but don’t forget to take time every now and then to relax and do as the locals do. Traveling isn’t a race, it’s an experience, after all.
That’s not to say we should never see the Louvre. There’s tons of things I must SEE in many countries, but if I would’ve been in a hurry, I probably would’ve left without a word.
Don’t Let Traveling Trap You
Planned travel can actually trap you. It can leave us feeling strangled for time, or a breath, or sleep.
No, no, no, no, no.
Real traveling, the kind that makes us feel more refreshed when we come back home from it, is the kind where we free ourselves from expectations and tours.
Listen to your body. Sit in a park for 3 hours if that’s what you want to do. Traveling should first and foremost be about YOU, not what everybody thinks you should do.