How to get the most out of any travel experience.
Travel for Experience, Screw the Bucket List
In my first trip with my family when I was young, it seemed like the only thing we did was go from one guidebook spot to the next. Granted, the two biggest trips I remember were Washington DC and Disneyland and both places are perfect examples of tourist hotspots. As I grew older and watched WAY too much of The Travel Channel and their various hosts, I realized that all I wanted to do was travel, but not in the way I had seen it depicted. I didn’t want to hop from one spot to the next in future travels, just to check things off a list either I made or that was provided by a guidebook.
The first time I ever went abroad was in 2005. I went with a tour group of 30-ish people who were just about to enter college like myself. We spent one month traveling via tour bus from London to Nice, hitting England, France, Switzerland, Italy, and Monaco, and honestly, that was a life-altering trip. I made a scrapbook of that trip and the first page is the Itinerary, our month-long checklist, broken down into days. Despite absolutely adoring that travel experience, I remember telling myself, never again. I never wanted my days in any place to be dictated by what was put on a checklist again. From that point on, I made a very simple goal for each and every place I travel- leave feeling like I could call that place home. And I’ve stuck to that. And every subsequent trip has left me feeling like I could carve out a place for myself in more cities than I can count.
I think the best example of sticking to this philosophy is from 2016 when I took a long sabbatical from corporate America to travel around Europe for roughly 7 months. One of my first stops was to visit an American friend living in the Amsterdam neighborhood close to the Rijksmuseum. I timed my travels so that I would arrive just in time for the tulips to be in bloom and so that I could experience King’s Night and have a little over a week to explore the city. I spent the first few days in their rented canal front apartment recovering from the long haul flight from America to Turkey and then Turkey to the Netherlands.
My friend had a job so I was left to my own devices most of the time which didn’t bother me in the slightest. In fact, that’s another thing I love. I love experiencing travel solo so I can explore on my own- no one to slow me down or have input that I need to consider. I say, for this reason, I’m brutally independent, although others at times construe it as selfish. But the sense of independence allowed me to go when and where I wanted. It forced me to rely on my own navigation skills as well as what little Dutch I remembered from college (to be completely honest, it wasn’t much.. BUT by the time I left, it was infinitely better).
When my friend wasn’t working or when King’s Day came around and they, like the rest of the Dutch population had a holiday, they’d show me their favorite places, like their bar that was literally less than a block away. They knew all the bartenders, introduced me, and in no time, I had my little family in Amsterdam. That little family made me eat smoked eel, like ALL dutch do (supposedly), and drink all the beers. And while my inebriation may inhibit my actual memories of those experiences, the photos bring it right back!
And in Amsterdam, like all the other places I’ve gone, I had no list! I simply got off the plane, took the train into the city, met my friend, and spent 10 days running around the city like I owned the place! I took suggestions from the locals, some of them turned out better than others (Thanks Paul for forgetting to mention that the Drindlepoint requires a 2-mile hike only after a 2+ hour train and bus ride, but totally worth it to stand in three countries at once)…
But that’s my thing, I’d rather have memories based on suggestions, obscure and infuriating as they might be. I don’t have a bucket list and I don’t want one. I have enough lists of things I need to do in life or for work that adding another, especially to something that I love as much as traveling, would just feel like a major buzzkill! And most important of all, I want memories that envelope that city or town or country. I want to remember a place not for what I checked off on some arbitrary list but for the things like making friends because of a Dutch National Holiday or having a great meal with friends based on a locals’ recommendation.
I want to take away stories, not check things off a list.