When planning a trip abroad, it’s always a good idea to buy the appropriate travel guides to read up and become familiar with your destination. Understanding how to say your “please” and “thank you’s” in the native language, knowing the current exchange rate and the likelihood of falling into a classic tourist trap are important tools to have when you’re on the road.
However, a point of caution to those who love to soak in the local culture, develop a real sense of the native community and have a completely unique experience; to genuinely enjoy your trip and come home with a lifetime of great memories, there is one thing you must absolutely avoid and it is sometimes known as: THE TOP TEN’S.
Top ten’s can be defined by the following; repetitive, clichéd, crowded and virtually over-done. Whether it’s Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid or the New York Statue of Liberty, top ten’s come in all shapes, colors and sizes. That’s not to say that these attractions can’t be enjoyed at all. But to Google “top ten things to do in London” and plan your entire itinerary solely around those sites, would be a complete letdown.
The lure behind a majority of the top ten’s is based on recycled hype. Reading about The Reclining Buddha covered in gold leaf in Bangkok and experiencing it first-hand with 200 other sweaty, rushed and cranky tourists are two completely different things. These types of attractions are lackluster upon first-hand experience because of the sheer volume of people who had the exact same idea as you.
You know when someone see’s a gift and exclaims “this has so and so’s name ALL over it”? Well, I believe that in order to truly enjoy your travels abroad, you should organize your itinerary and points of interest to have your name all over them. Planning a trip that caters specifically to your hobbies or curiosities is a rewarding, enjoyable and extraordinary adventure. Having the opportunity to travel is a gift, so why not make it all about you and not the other millions who are embarking on their own endeavors.
Here are some rules of thumb to successfully accomplish the art of ”˜interest traveling’.
Figure out what you like to do at home
Wherever your interests lay, focus on what makes you tick and what activities of yours can be applied abroad.
What are your interests, hobbies and past-times? Are you a talented rock climber, architectural aficionado, wild-animal devotee or baked goods connoisseur? Wherever your interests lay, focus on what makes you tick and what activities of yours can be applied abroad. If you claim to be a Canadian luge addict, maybe that isn’t the most applicable special interest to pursue abroad, but more general ventures are the way to go. For example, if you love graffiti, try to find out where the best neighborhood is for local street art and maybe even catch some writers in the act.
Get the scoop from travel guides, Internet forums and even ex-parts living in the areas
Talk to the local people to get a good sense of in what neighborhoods you can find your points of interests, the costs attached, the level of safety and if they can put you in touch with anyone specific. Local magazines are sometimes even published in English, and those directories will often provide the exclusive on local happenings in the area on a week-to-week basis. The more research you do and the better prepared you are, the more rewarding your experience will be.
Don’t be afraid to try something new
As a total indie-music head, I fancy myself as an expert in the music scene. Yet, when I am traveling abroad and visiting a new city, I always push my boundaries and buy tickets to see a local indie band play, even if it might be disastrous.
Allowing yourself to indulge in a foreign atmosphere while doing something you would do at home is an incredible experience, even if it means shaking things up a bit. Likewise, when traveling in South Korea, however beautiful the temples where, it seemed to be getting a tad déjÃ -vu. On my second day, instead of visiting another place of worship, I opted to go second-hand shopping and check out local Korean vintage wear, something I would have done with friends back in Toronto.
Savor it while you can
Even though you are making a conscious effort to avoid the top ten’s of a new place, don’t avoid taking in the new sights, smells and tastes all together. Walking around, tasting the local delicacies, grabbing a drink at a local bar and even get into a friendly debate with some of the locals, are genuinely gratifying experiences. When doing things you love to do in foreign environments, you are bound to expand your social circle of friends and maybe even spark a travel romance, so who knows how these people will shape and influence you in the long run.
In essence, when I write cater to your interests, I don’t mean to stay inside your hostel and watch MTV for the entire duration of your trip. It’s all about finding a perfect harmony between the foreign and the familiar.
As Ernest Hemingway once wrote with such eloquence:
If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.
Make your trip a moveable feast by exploring every corner of the culture so that later in life, you’ll look back on your adventure and glow with satisfaction. Just as you would put thought into how you want to spend your weekend, take time to figure out how you want to spend your time abroad.
Don’t rely on the tourist books to plan the perfect itinerary for you, but take matters into your own hands and create the ideal plan that like-minded friends would drool over. Mastering the art of special interest traveling may take time, but be sure to record and track what tools helped to make a trip very successful and what to avoid for the next time around.
Traveling is about expanding new horizons while learning more about yourself. Absorb everything around you, stimulate your senses but most importantly do so while holding onto your core “self”.