Why serendipitous travel is becoming a thing of the past - and why that's a bad thing
How often do we find ourselves somewhere we know almost nothing about, with no room booked and no-one to meet us and very little knowledge about the place we have just landed in. Not often, is probably becoming the most common answer to that question.
I'm starting to feel more and more that travelling without much of a plan is becoming a rarified thing, that we are planning and researching ourselves into a blinkered experience every time we strike out to a new place. It takes a concerted effort to travel without connectedness these days, to lose ourselves alone or otherwise in an entirely new place and embrace uncertainty. And that's a damn shame. Because how can we have meaningful interactions with people around the world if we are on such a tight schedule, if we have our transfers arranged, our hotel rooms booked and our activities researched and planned. What is the point of visiting somewhere if we're too busy “making the most of a place” to actually just experience that place, to fully engage with the people that will inevitably make it all the more interesting? By knowing the best and worst places to visit, to eat, to stay - aren't we just cornering ourselves into a bland experience that pulls the shutters down on all those eye opening, sometimes dangerous, thrilling and engaging experiences, those gems that can never be foreseen but are almost always the most memorable?
It isn't just having access to endless blogs and forums and general advice online about anywhere we may choose to go that's the problem. I think the reason we reach for those sites in the first place stems from a relatively recent, misplaced yearning to avoid that uncomfortable feeling of being “out of place”, that if we do enough reading and online research before we arrive we can avoid it. Because if you're heading out in search of an experience beyond relaxing on a beach for a week because you're just plain exhausted by life, it's exactly that “out of place” feeling we should all be aiming for. To feel foreign in a new place, which can only heighten every sense we have, and illicit a thrill rarely felt in our everyday lives. For once we are forced to focus entirely on the present.
Back before there was a plethora of information on any given town, beach or backwater at the drop of a Google search, travellers would often have little else to go on but a Lonely Planet and word of mouth. This inevitably meant everyone gravitated towards the same routes, the same towns and areas, true enough - but it also meant a whole wealth of unknowns that is inconceivable today. Even the simple act of going out to eat in a new place, which can often be the perfect time to strike up a conversation with a stranger or try new and exotic food, our venues are now researched, evaluated and planned. Tripadvisor has led us into a tunnel vision version of the world (and ironically online advice can often be bad, and far from the sure bet we expect).
Thinking that everything was “better before the internet came along” only goes to prove my age somewhat, but knowing less about a place until arriving was definitely less stressful. Being somewhere and going where the mood takes you when you're on the ground is just more enjoyable than planning 10 sites to see and “must try” restaurants and a culturally significant experience that everyone has to do. I find myself yearning with rose tinted specs fully on, for that time when we would strike out alone or otherwise, and just arrive and let serendipity take over. Whether that be a weekend in Paris or a month in India, the 'pin in a map and work it out when you get there' way of travelling that can leave us open to the very best and worst of the world. The whole kit and caboodle.
Because knowing somewhere through the lens of the internet isn't the same as experiencing it, and it's only when we let go of the reviews and advice and conveniences of a trip too tightly planned that we get the chance to really be there, to just live a place for a short while. Which should always be on the itinerary.