It’s such a temptation. Pick a place for your next vacation, plan out every detail, and follow that plan no matter what. Be safe, be certain, be advised, go to the recommended places on Trip Advisor and Yelp, see all of the great tourist sites. There’s nothing bad or wrong about heading to popular travel sites or UNESCO heritage spots — there’s a reason those places are on bucket lists. But how about finding another reason to travel besides checking off a list?
What if you just went with the flow? Decided to head in a direction and see where it led you? What if you just gave yourself permission to get lost on purpose?
Now we’re talking about a vacation that might not be disappointing, that might be genuinely interesting and memorable. So how do you help yourself get lost on purpose?
- Ask the neighbors
I’ll never forget when we traveled to Mindo, Ecuador, to do some birdwatching. Mindo is regarded as a great place to go birding, and the tiny town is located in the middle of some gorgeous country, complete with hiking trails and waterfalls.
Although we saw quite a few birds, we were a bit disappointed in that we didn’t see more unusual types of birds. And then we ran into some locals at a shop, who suggested we go to a tiny hotel in town and ask the innkeeper if we could see his backyard.
Yep, you guessed it: seemingly millions of unusual birds! The innkeeper, who was a birding guide, had spent the last 12 years of his life creating a habitat to draw in his beloved birds. A phenomenal place, right under our noses — and he let us sit on the porch and watch them for hours.
You never know until you ask.
- Ditch the GPS
Mapping apps for smartphones are designed to show you the quickest way to get from point A to point B. In my opinion, travel should never just be about “getting there.”
Read up on neighborhoods and how they relate to each other, look at a well-worn paper map, or just chat with your hostel host for recommendations. Is there a route that could take you through a market, along a quiet shore, or into a valley at the foot of a mountain?
Give yourself permission to wander intentionally off-course.
- Talk to strangers
Fellow travelers are glad to give you recommendations on tour guides for the Cajas, hostels in Vilcabamba, and scuba instructors in the Galapagos.
Ask where the locals go on vacation and you might be surprised. If you’re willing to stray a little off popular courses, you might just create memories that aren’t rote or formulaic.
So don’t cross off any destination prematurely. Besides, the availability of online information means if you really dislike where you are, you can change it pretty quickly.
What could be so bad?
- Take a ride
There is no better way to get a quick peek into the local culture than riding the bus or taking a taxi or tram. And it’s a great way to listen to some of the vernacular, to get the everyday speak and feel of the place you’re visiting.
Head straight to Cuenca’s El Centro or opt to get off a few stops away from the heart of downtown and explore some of the city’s architecture while you walk. Check out the smells and handicrafts of the street vendors and artists.
Soak up the environment.
- Be open to the journey
It is guaranteed that getting lost will make you uncomfortable sometimes. That’s part of the reason why you should do it.
I’m not talking about being reckless or unsafe; this is about choosing a path that isn’t so common or popular that it has lost its sparkle or allure. This is about the true spirit of travel: the spirit of exploration.
Travel can be planned or spontaneous. If you can, allow the intention of doing something differently to pervade your being.
If you travel this way, even once, it will transform you. Taking the road less traveled — by getting lost on purpose — will, in the words of Robert Frost, make all of the difference.
Half the fun of travel is the aesthetic of lostness.