What a great time to be alive. Thanks to the internet, it’s never been that simple to travel. How far away is the time when we had to go to a travel agency, ask for the plane ticket prices, pay on the spot, then go buy a guidebook to know what to do there, where to eat, where to stay, etc… Now it’s easy and accessible. With an internet connection, on a computer or even a smartphone, you can quietly check from home the plane ticket prices, buy them, check what to do read the reviews from other people, admire the pictures of other travelers, getting inspired reading vacation travel quotes, etc…
It’s not a bad thing, it’s actually quite the opposite. Unlike the good old times, you know exactly what to expect once you get to your destination, and you avoid any bad surprises. But over time and as I met people on the road, I feel like this ease of access to information had a collateral damage. Yeah, this overflow of information somewhat destroyed one of the most wonderful aspects of travel : the joy of going to an adventure and the surprise of discovery, either the discovery of a new place or a new culture.
Indeed, this access to information from your couch thanks to the internet helped us a lot. It’s a lot easier to plan your trip, we get feedback from other travelers and we benefit from their experience, we avoid risky situations but also travel scams. It’s really a good thing, I never said the contrary.
But as a traveler, we’re also looking for adventure, the uncertainty, the unknown. Theoretically, traveling allows us to have a break from our daily routine and live different experiences. We get in a new place, in some cases we hear an unknown language around us, we realize the restaurants only serve food we’ve never heard of, and we have no choice but taste it. Everything is new, we don’t have our usual points of reference, we don’t know much about the customs of the locals, and we have our eyes wide open, like a little kid discovering the world. It’s exciting!
Moreover, we all heard about those philosophical sentences about the comfort zone that we have to leave in order to live your life to the fullest. “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone“, or “Great things never come from comfort zones“, and even “Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new“.
That’s in principle. I know people who post those kind of quotes on their social media channels, but are unable to apply to themselves the quotes they’re praising. Why then…? Maybe for their image… In fact, when traveling and reading travel forums online, I realized that even the so-called adventurers are not that adventurous. They only go to the restaurants listed in the travel guides, the places recommended by other travelers, and go hiking for the nice view they’ve already seen on instagram.
I try to have leave some room for the discovery and the unknown when traveling. For instance, I spent a few days in Shymkent, Kazakhstan. There’s not much to do there but I had a great time. There’s not much info online about this city (I actually didn’t search for information), and I had time. I walked a lot and I went where the wind took me. I talked with locals who wanted to get a picture with me (and who were smelling alcohol at 3pm), I saw a very beautiful park, a big bazaar…
That’s one of the last times when I really felt like I was discovering an unknown place, and it did feel good! I actually felt this way when traveling in Central Asia : less information online about this area, nothing about traveling while black there. I discovered the area on the spot! I remember feeling the same way when I went to New York in 2007!
I had been there before, but it was my first time as an adult. I just had a paper map, a guidebook, and a few recommendations from friends. No social media at the time. It’s not that long ago, and we’re talking about NYC, not an unknown city like Shymkent. But to me, it felt like a real adventure!
That’s one of the reasons why I respect a lot the travelers from the 1980s and before, they were real adventurers, men like women “Let’s just go there, we’ll see how it goes”. It’s a thing of the past, an era that no longer exists. Cause yeah I’m also guilty of doing a thorough research on the internet before going somewhere, check what’s unmissable, etc… I already knew I wouldn’t like Kuta before getting there, after reading articles on the internet. I went anyway cause I followed a girl.
I already knew getting a nice picture of Angkor Wat at sunrise would be almost impossible because of the crowd. I already knew what I was about to see at Halong Bay (even though it rained when I was there). Consequently, and it’s a shame, I noticed it becomes harder to be in awe when traveling. We already know what to expect. Moreover, nowadays people have a list of sights to tick off, and only go to instagrammable places, looking for likes. That’s sad…
I try to have that feeling of discovering the unknown, and being surprised when I travel. Going to an adventure, that sometimes means eating in a restaurant serving not so great food, spending a night in a hotel where the cleanliness is questionable, and sometimes falling for common travel scams! But it also means finding hidden gems like well-hidden restaurants, delicious and cheap, with no tourists!
I was happy when I found a nice restaurant in Chiang Mai, serving succulent food. I was the only foreigner and I paid the meal (soup + dish + drink) 30 baht only (0.75€)! Even when you’re going through hard times, with hindsight, you laugh about it! A stressful experience becomes funny and even instructive. When you leave room for the unknown, you don’t always win but nothing ventured nothing gained, that’s part of the game and I accepted to play!
But many people refuse to play and feel better when everything is planned. I met a girl who “visited” Lebanon in five days, Iran in one week… She admitted not leaving room for improvisation and spontaneity, she planned every single hour of her trip. To each their own but I think it’s sad.
There’s this other girl who was checking the planning during out cruise every 10 minutes “Now we’re gonna do this. In one hour we’re gonna do that, etc…” There’s also this guy who spent the whole ride from Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai (more than 3 hours!) on his phone, checking that the driver was going the right way. He was stressing out when the driver was taking another route than the one recommended on his phone. Needless to say, we arrived safe and sound…
And I don’t even talk about what I read sometimes on travel forums or Facebook groups about travel in general “What’s the weather like in Thailand in November?” “Is it easy to use the subway in London?” “I heard life is expensive in San Francisco. Are there hostels there at least?” Nothing wrong with asking those questions, even though for two of them, you can get an answer with a quick research on Google… But most importantly, those people all defined themselves as adventurers, who like to leave their comfort zone, blablabla… I hardly believe it!
So i decided to focus less on the things to do when getting somewhere, but to live the present moment. I broadly check what to do, and I leave room for the unknown and being surprised. I discovered Pai wandering around. I followed locals I talked to in Khorog, Tajikistan. We went to a bar and we spent a fun evening there. It would have been impossible without a little bit of spontaneity.
I think we need to stop to be always looking for the perfect experience, especially if it’s only in order to make your friends jealous when going home. It’s better to follow your instinct, live the present moment, and let the experiences come to us. They’ll be better this way. Before anything else, we travel to relax, not to stress over a list of places you must see!
It’s hard but it’s not impossible. The joy of discovery a new place is still here when you don’t spend too much time planning everything beforehand. True, there are almost no places unexplored by humankind. But there are still numerous places you still have to explore. Now I don’t spend hours planning a trip when going somewhere (except for sensitive countries like Turkmenistan). I leave room for the joy of discovering a new place.
What do you think? Have you also noticed it’s getting harder to enjoy the discovery of a place, with all the information available on the internet? Let me know in the comments!
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