Don’t take it personally, but yes, I do want you to get lost.
When you travel.
Some of my best experiences have happened when I’ve tried to get lost. Yes, I try to get lost. By this I mean we head out in a specific direction and take side streets, turns, etc., with no goal in mind other than to discover whatever we run into.
Obviously, if I look down an alleyway and the hair rises on the back of my neck, we aren’t taking that detour. But generally picking random streets leads to some wonderful finds.
For instance, in Hanoi we tried to get lost and ended up finding a restaurant where I had one of the best dishes I’ve eaten in Vietnam so far. In addition to that surprising and wonderful find, we found a very small temple. The caretaker was standing outside smoking. When he spotted us, he grabbed Tigger by the hand and drew him inside. “I match you!” he said excitedly as he led him past the courtyard. I smiled at my son who understandably appeared a bit anxious. I followed behind closely and tried to look reassuring to my confused child as I wondered what this matching was going to entail.
The man sat down at a table and guided Tigger to the chair on the opposite side. Wooden puzzle pieces lay on top of the table. The man opened a book and stabbed his finger at the image of a heart. Smiling he next pointed to the wooden pieces, sat down, and casually lit another cigarette.
My son’s relieved blue eyes looked up at me for guidance, and I explained he was supposed to arrange the oddly shaped pieces into the shape of a heart.
He set to it, and it ended up being a wonderful cultural interchange.
It isn’t everyday you get to say you played a puzzle game while sitting in a Chinese temple in Vietnam.
We’ve also found absolutely wonderful parks this way. Simply wandering with no goal can be absolutely amazing.
I generally detest touristy areas, but some of them are worthwhile. Like the Eiffel Tower, Versailles Palace, La Alhambra, and so on. Sometimes you just have to see some of the touristy spots. However, it doesn’t mean you have to spend your entire time there.
Often you can escape the throngs of tourists by simply walking a few minutes away.
The tourist areas and eateries generally just don’t give you an experience of what the local culture is really like. When you spend most of your time there, you’re cheating yourself.
- Pick a direction and just walk.
- Take public transportation and get off at a random stop.
- Don’t have a set destination.
- Follow your senses. Do you see an interesting building in the distance? Head for it! Do you hear loud music? You might stumble onto something really fun and interesting. Obviously, following your nose can also reward you with a fabulous meal.
- Lose yourself in the moment. Don’t focus on anything but your surroundings. Look for interesting angles or objects to photograph. Some people feel they lose a sense of being present when they’re behind the lens, but I find it makes me focus on things I may miss otherwise since I need to focus on shadows, light, colors, perspective, textures, etc.
This is even more fun when you have children with you. Some of our best conversations have occurred while we were just walking aimlessly. When kids are in the open, they often feel more free to talk about things and share. It’s so much less intimidating for them.
Getting away from the crowds also means your kiddo can jump, skip, hop, bounce, and so on. You get to experience your children in a fun light. We often run into animals that are safe to pet, and it’s so enjoyable to watch my son gush over the latest cute cat or dog. If their human is around, it’s also a great icebreaker. Who can resist watching a child giggle while playing with a kitty or pup?
We’ve had some tremendous interactions with locals because we were away from the tourists and in a neighborhood that visitors often don’t pass through. Sure, the stares can get a little unnerving, but I find a smile and a nod or wave does wonders.
And it’s been these interactions that have helped me fall in love with a place.
Make sure to bring a business card from wherever you’re staying, or have the address written down or in your smartphone. This way you can grab a taxi or something and head back if you did a tremendous job of getting lost.
If taking public transportation, make sure you remember which stop you’ll want to return to. I know that sounds obvious, but I have managed to forget to make note of that sometimes. It might become a bit more of an adventure than you were hoping to have.
But I don’t have a lot of time!
It’s even more important to just get lost then. If you don’t have a lot of time to experience a place, having no destination will open up things for you that the tourist area just can’t. Even if you only have a couple of hours, you might be amazed at what you find.
Did you ever get lost on purpose? What was your favorite experience?