You know the dreamy, starry-eyed and wanderlust-stricken kind of traveller? We all know at least one. And then there is the practical, goal-oriented kind of traveller. And then there’s that kind who thinks travel is such an intrinsic part of life, it is synonymous to breathing, so why glorify it at all? In essence, everyone has a reason for why they travel. So as the end of the year draws near, as we look back at the memories made, update our lists and make mental notes for future travel, I urge you to add one frequently-skipped essential element – Street exploring.
They say “Travel teaches us as much about ourselves as it does about the world”. And yes, this is what I’m actually talking about – saying goodbye to the traditional wholesale travel packages and go solo (or grab a friend) and go street exploring! And I’m not talking about shopping. I’m talking about getting lost. Intentionally. There is a certain unexplainable beauty in simply walking around from lane to lane, as you soak in the voices, accents, cultural courtesies and architecture around you, not forgetting to stop by to sample some of the gastronomical delights.
If you’re a city person, then I highly recommend going and loosing yourself in the city! Because that’s exactly what I did in the one-of-a-kind Study tour for Translators that we took to Paris earlier this August – first by chance, and then by choice.
What’s the brouhaha all about?
Travel articles everywhere talk about solo travelling. I always wondered what the fuss was about. Even my friend Sonali would always rave about how “solo travelling ruined regular travelling” for her. So amidst the client meetings and brainstorming sessions, as part of our “cultural immersion” sessions we would grab a metro and head to various destinations, far from other team members.
Being random, spontaneous and impulsive was a pre-requisite and a part of the plan. Right from picking the day’s destination to launching into conversations with the locals, to trying out macarons, crêpes and other authentic delights, all your sense organs are constantly open and picking up on all kinds of signals around you, thereby giving you the best experience of discovering a culture.
Ditch the clichés
The one thing I was clear on, was that I did not want to just take a bunch of selfies with the Eiffel tower, or eat croissants, or stare at the Mona Lisa only to realise Google has better versions of it. Too mainstream. And quite pointless, if you ask me. All my pre-travel research told me that Paris was a city best explored on foot. So off I went with my backpack and camera, picking the furthest destinations possible, and in that process, I fell in love with the cobblestone paths, winding alleys, gothic façades and the pretty exquisite windows that adorned the streets of Paris.
Explore till you drop!
The very essence of travel is in the exploring. Agreed that travel means different things to different people, humans are after all nomads by nature. And I shall quote Interstellar here, regardless of the context: “Mankind was born on earth. It was never meant to die here.”
So whether it’s just that streak of adventure that gets you going, or whether you have an unexplainable connect with a city’s architecture to the point that it tells you stories; or whether you’re simply following the sun, chasing the Northern lights, immersing yourself in a culture to get a slice of what it feels like to live in a native’s shoes, or shopping in the local markets because you want to take a bit of your trip back home; there is nothing as exotic as getting yourself lost. Ask any wanderlust-stricken soul and you will get the same answer – you haven’t really travelled if you haven’t gotten yourself lost at least once.
Walk, walk, walk away!
The numero uno advice to anyone travelling to Europe – carry a pair of comfortable shoes! Another thing to invest in, is spending a significant amount of time in research, to be able to truly get a feel of the charm of the extravagant avenues and pathways of Paris.
How else would you know of the Rue des Barres with its picturesque path slopes with gargoyles of the St-Gervais-et-St-Protais Church, or Montmartre covered with wisteria in spring, a lazy winding street that encapsulates the rustic throwback charm that it is known for, or tracing the footsteps of the likes of Picasso, Renoir, and Degas if that’s what you’re into. My personal favourite, was Rue Montorgueil, a charming, bustling street that offered an exciting slice of local life as you nibble your way through all things French and tasty, while you still had room to try out cuisines from every corner of the world!
And we conclude with…
Walking around is not as aimless or passive as it seems. To some, it could mean spending time with yourself, away from the chaos of the city, or to some others, it could mean sorting out your scrambled thoughts. The creative lot think of it as a different mode you go into – a different mind setting where you find answers to things you didn’t even know you were looking for.
Apart from you taking complete charge, travelling by yourself also gives you the opportunity to interact with people around you, or with people you would have never connected with, otherwise. When in a new place, always get yourself to ask more questions. And of course, travel in general requires a certain amount of courage because it means leaving your comfort zone behind. So as part of this year’s resolutions, say goodbye to your lethargic modern-tourism habits, tacky gift shops and take lesser selfies with extremely clichéd landscapes. Travel must not limited to simply ticking off places on a bucket list, go for the nourish-your-soul approach – soak in the culture, in the true sense.