As I let my backpack fall to the floor by a corner table, I scanned the room for my usual target. And there he was, across the room from me. White haired, a hat poised jauntily on his head. Here was my ticket to this place – the shriveled and aged local who knew exactly where I could find what I was looking for. I ordered an espresso and when it arrived I sipped thoughtfully. Could he speak English, or was I once again about to launch into a conversation made up of hopefully culturally similar gestures to make up for our lack of a common language.
It was time to strike, and so, leaving behind all the belongs I had carried on my back for the last few weeks, I strolled over to his table.
His gaze lifted to my face, a wrinkled smile growing across his own. “Bom dia.”
“Peço desculpa, mas… Um… Sir, I don’t really speak Portuguese. I was hoping you might speak English?”
“Some… yes.” He said. And what commenced was a conversation of exactly the caliber I had been hoping for. I was enlightened by his wisdom about the city of Porto, their many bridges, and where to find what the locals eat, as well as where they sing and dance. This was the life of the place I was looking for – this is what I wanted to experience.
You see – I hate being a tourist. I hate being told by various travel websites what I must see. I hate being one of the many hoards going to only a small selection of destinations in a city so vibrant and full of life. So when given the opportunity, I am not a tourist. I travel without a plan and ask for advice from the locals I can find when I arrive. I seek out opportunities to walk in their shoes, that I might better taste a place as it truly lives.
Travelling without a plan let’s me in on the secrets of the places I visit, without being forced to buy into what everyone else sees on their own more planned adventures if I don’t want to. I recently went on a trip with some wonderfully whacky family members of mine and I experienced my first extremely structured vacation. Although I enjoyed everywhere we went and the adventure of experiencing it with my loved ones, I missed the freedom and spontaneity of my usual methods of travel.
I also find that this way of moving forward tends to apply to life more generally. It is sometimes good to have a plan, but often you may miss unique opportunities if you decide you must stay steadfast to that agenda. Taking some risks may lead to memories that you will not soon forget and new paths you never imagined you’d take. My way of seeing somewhere new is simple: to meet the people who will show me to the spirit of the place. And if you try this sometime, make sure to pause and not walk so quickly (as we are apt to do in the good old USA) such that you miss a lovely alley down which the best pub or quirky craft shop you’ve ever wandered into might be hiding.
So on your next getaway, take a page from my book and see where it leads you. That little old man in the coffee shop might just give you a tip on the best view in the area, the best food you’ve ever eaten, or simply where not to bother going. It’s worth taking the moment to see if someone is willing to share these nuggets of wisdom with you – for me, it’s the only way to go.
Photo Source: timesofmalta.com