by Marc Escanuelas
As I’ve said before, when travel stops being a vacation and becomes a way of life the world becomes a much more exciting place. Whereas before everything felt incomprehensibly far away, suddenly it dawns on you that distance is only a concept. In a dozen hours, you can be in Tokyo or Sydney or Sao Paulo.
You can’t help but form expectations about the places you’re journeying to, baseless opinions cobbled together from frenzied newspaper headlines and movie stereotypes. Sometimes a place fails to meet your expectations and other times it surpasses them. Personally, I’ve grown to love that moment when a place ceases to be a fantasy and instead leaps forth in sharp detail. I was disappointed the first time I noticed this disconnect between fantasy and reality but now I realize it’s just part of the experience. Nowhere can live up to the hype. Every place surprises you, often in unexpected ways.
So what do you do when you get to a place and you’re instantly disappointed? Stop. Take a deep breath. Find a café. Get a cup of coffee (or tea or beer). Sit down. Relax. Watch the world go by for a bit. Remember that you spent a lot of time or money or both to get here and that there was a reason that initially drew you to this place. Reflect on that. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
Sometimes how you’re feeling has nothing to do with the place. Maybe the place you’re sleeping in is terrible or your first meal was bland. Any of these things cling to your awareness of a place and without being identified can unfairly drag down your opinion. Don’t let it. Give everywhere a chance. Don’t sweat the small stuff and instead embrace the greater experience.
If you find that you really just can’t identify with a place, then get lost. Depending on where you are in the world, there’s gotta be somewhere else nearby that interests you. If you’re on a long trip, you can simply move on. If you’re on a short vacation or have prepaid everything, see if there are any day trips you can take or an activity you can partake in. You’re not going to love every place you visit but you can try to make the best of it!
Some places take a moment to open up to you. If you’re traveling alone, reach out to someone. If you’re at a hostel, start up a conversation with someone to get their impressions and suggestions. Sometimes you’re just lonely and need to socialize. Even if you don’t need somewhere to sleep for the evening, Couchsurfing is great for finding locals who might be willing to either act as tour guide or at least give you some tips.
The best way to get a good idea of a place is of course to do your research. Start with one of those ubiquitous top 10 lists. I also like to google for the best cup of coffee. I look up what dishes the city or country is famous for and then check for people’s suggestions on Chowhound.
My first day anywhere I like to get my bearings by either walking around in a big loop or finding somewhere I can climb to get a good vantage point. I often skip the most touristy things in favor of seeking out the best food, street art or offbeat things most people might skip. I decided long ago that checking things off the same list as everyone else didn’t feel like engagement but instead felt like I was living someone else’s definition. It felt like I would only gain the most superficial understanding of a place and I really wanted to scratch a bit deeper. It’s arrogant to think you can understand a city or country in the space of a few days, but it’s worth the effort to try.
You’re always where you need to be.