If you had to pick a word to describe the kind of traveller you are, what would it be? Spontaneous, nervous, restless, organised, solitary, inquisitive, confident, relaxed, outgoing, interested, adventurous, accident-prone – or none of these? (If it’s accident-prone – tell me it’s not accident-prone – may I suggest adequate travel insurance.)
Anyhow, you’ve probably got a travelling style, though you may not know it, and figuring it out can help with your future trips because you may be missing out, unintentionally, on all sorts of experiences.
If you’re nervous about travelling alone and tend to stay close to home, then joining an organised tour might be the way to visit more distant, adventurous places. If you always keep yourself to yourself, there are fascinating people in fascinating places who you’re never going to meet. If you always move on quickly from one place to another, chasing excitement and adrenalin, perhaps it’s time to pause a while and let the charms of your next destination grow on you more slowly. Who knows what you might discover, that you might otherwise have missed?
I write as someone who has changed their travelling style over the years, and I didn’t really notice until I started putting the pieces together for my new book, ‘Takoradi to the stars (via Huddersfield)’ which charts the story of my travelling life.
For years I was a Rough Guide travel writer, which meant lots of research trips to lots of places on a tight budget and timescale. Which meant lots of planning, and lots of whistlestop tours through places that ordinarily I wouldn’t either have bothered visiting at all or conversely would rather have stayed a whole lot longer than my allotted few hours or single night. There wasn’t much scope for serendipity in all this, and experiences and adventures were largely organised in advance and ticked off my writing schedule. I did get to visit many astounding places, but I often had to get back on the bus or train to the next stop when everything and everyone was shouting at me to stick around for a while and see what happened next.
So that made me an organised, interested, confident, solitary traveller, which is all well and good for writing guidebooks but not so hot for slowing down and seeing the world beyond the page.
Here’s an example of that travelling style that, at some point in the trip, annoys almost anyone else that I travel with. I love looking for restaurants, and will gladly walk down as many back streets and through as many out-of-the-way neighbourhoods as possible in search of a great meal. Working as a travel writer, I’d be equipped with a long list of ‘possibles’ and ‘maybes’ and tick them off as I went, and even when I thought I had found the perfect place, I could always persuade myself that there was a better restaurant just around the corner, if only I would go and see. How fantastic it would be if there was an even better place, and how pleased would the readers be that I had found it for them! And so off I would go, and occasionally there would be a better place, but often there wouldn’t, and then I’d have to traipse back to the previous restaurant – now full of laughing, eating, happy people, with no tables available for hours – and settle for dinner instead someplace else that wasn’t really that great or atmospheric.
And I can tell you from experience, if you try this sort of thing with a travel companion when you’re on holiday, and not working, then you can expect a Frosty Exchange of Views. This sort of thing.
Frosty person: “We could have eaten in that really nice restaurant. Instead of here [indicating dismal nature of current establishment with sweep of hand]”.
Me: “I know, but it was the first one we looked at”.
Frosty person: “So? They were all eating nice food and having a nice time [indicating truth of statement with gesture at un-nice food and un-nice time in current establishment]”.
Me: “But you can’t just go into the first restaurant you come across. There might be a better one somewhere else?”
Frosty person” “Are you mad?”.
Consequently, I’ve had to change my travelling style to avoid exchanges like this, and it’s been good for me. Sometimes – it turns out – the first restaurant is the best one; sometimes it’s good to stay for a week in a place I thought was only worth a night; and sometimes it makes perfect sense just to jump on the first bus that comes along and see where it goes. Not everything has to be planned and ticked off a list.
It’s been difficult to let go of some of my old travel habits, but when I reviewed the stories that feature in my book I realised that some of the best experiences were those that went against the grain – that challenged my preconceptions of what travel was about and for. A beach in Norfolk full of wild seals, a bike ride in Budapest, a walk through the suburban hills of Portland, Oregon – I learned to be inquisitive when it would have been easier to plan a different kind of day, and my travel memories are all the better for it.
I’m still way too organised, but I’ve added relaxed and spontaneous to my travel kit of emotions, and I’m enjoying the ride. So work out your travelling style and then mix it up a little – pick an adjective and see where it takes you.
And if you’d like to hear me talking about my travelling style, there’s more in my latest video.
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Featured image: Marco Nurnburger, Going Home, via Flickr, CC BY 2.0