Is exploration dead? As someone who curates travel itineraries, we go through great pains to understand what our guests want when they travel. We have had people saying,” Why do you ask so many questions? I just want a holiday package?”
Now, that is exactly what we educate our guests about. A holiday package we cannot give you. A holiday experience we can help build. However, to build, I will require a foundation. The foundation is based on the answers you give me.
In today’s age of technology, with mobile apps, maps and ready information, everyone is consulting what everyone does on social media platforms. The comfort of having someone do the exact same things that you like….it is a trap, as far as I am concerned. I do not deny that technology makes travel simpler. It also makes it boring. If you can write everything down in Evernote before you leave your house, and then slavishly follow the itinerary/social media recommendations, are you missing out on the serendipity of travel and life? Imagine telling your friends upon your return, “Oh yes, our holiday went exactly as planned, nothing we didn’t expect.” They’d look at you like you were a project manager, not someone on vacation. Memories are made by unexpected stories, not from flawless checklist itineraries.
I have a lot of “Hey, let us check out something there” moments in my travel. As a result, there have been many unexpected moments that have led to lasting beautiful memories. Like the time, I decided to venture further into a souk in Alexandria, Egypt. This was my first solo trip and those few steps rewarded me with souvenirs I could not have bought on the streets of Cairo and heard stories told by the couple who hand – made those lovely pieces. Or the time I went walking all over Birmingham and discovered a quaint little second-hand book shop, where I found some old books on golf, which I know would have been difficult to find anywhere else. This is besides having tea & sandwiches with the book store owner, who was fascinated that an Indian woman, wandering by herself, would pick up old golf books.
Sure, sometimes you just want to chill out and read on the beach. But we travel to travel, to see new things, get out of our routines and expand our brains. Little more than a century ago, only the rich travelled, and normal people like me flocked to World’s Fairs, which brought the Earth’s rare charms to your doorstep. It was a zoo like atmosphere, but all of us who went to the World Fairs, were craving the unfamiliar sights from around the world. Your inheritance of that spirit should not end in you buying a ticket to a theme park safari. To meet people who aren’t expecting to see an Indian today is a rare joy, an authentic moment when two cultures share and grow.
When we talk about exploration travel, we typically conjure up an image of a cave in Belize or a Himalayan peak. But equally important, if not more, is the boat salesman in Bangkok who knows just enough English to tell you about his niece wanting to visit India and asks a lot of charmingly uninformed questions, and you provide the kind of guidance to save him money and his niece embarrassment. Or the waiter in Keren, Eritrea, who complains about paying his local “king” rent, kicking off a long conversation about cultural differences and why it’s hard to get a business off the ground under those rules.
If you’re just doing what everyone else is doing, then you might as well stay home. Even Mount Everest has been truly ruined by the crowd.
This is not to say that all exploratory travel is great. You will have experiences of soggy, bland food being served or a shower where water just trickled, enough for you to wash your face, rather than clean yourself up or a non-communicative inn owner who answered in mono syllables. You can wander away and walk around for miles without getting to familiar spots of crowds or malls or a Pizza Hut. But, then, that is what life is all about. Some not so good experiences, yet, some great, out of the world experiences. A surprise – free, uneventful travel is the gift of the internet. Why should I walk two blocks away to sit at a small roadside café and watch a sport on the large TV the owner has placed outside, when I see a Starbucks in front of me where I will get my chai latte exactly as I want it? Of course, the small roadside café may not be listed on Zomato or have reviews up on the internet. These ratings influence me leading to the expected. Serendipity in travel is a “social glue,” bringing us together by common, accidental experiences.
Remember, it does not have to be esoteric or exotic all the time. Just understanding and accepting that going by your instinct and gut feel will lead you to more fun times is good enough. You may not succeed two out of three times. But, the one hit you will have, will be worth everything on that vacation.
Even today, most discoveries are a combination of serendipity and searching.