Wanderlust. A word that means discovering oneself through travel. But it also implies that you can’t do that unless you aimlessly walk around. As in “on the next street corner I will surely find something awesome and start my magical trip with no effort”. That sounds truly great. But it only happens to the lucky few. The others usually miss out on half the iconic places, fight over getting lost every single day, fall for tourist traps and never go in that thrifty jewelry store because it’s not on the “shopping boulevard”. And the only thing this type of wandering helps you discover about yourself is that blisters on your feet and bad food turn you into a “bridezilla” without the “bride” part.
This, however, is my way – the way of the traveler with a plan. Let’s see if I can at least tempt you, by walking you through my prepping process.
I’m going to skip the part about the airplane tickets, because this seems to be something most of us would agree upon. So let’s go straight ahead to the accommodations. I never go for the historic center and big hotels. Instead, I research the close-by neighborhoods, full of charm and local feel, and find a nice room on airbnb. That way, I can always ask for tips from my host, shop at the local market, have brunch downstairs at a quirky café and fantasize about living there.
Now that I have a place to stay, the real fun begins. Here it would probably be the perfect moment to mention that I sometimes enjoy planning trips almost as much as taking them. I start with the lesser known attractions, neighborhoods, things to do. Because we all know the top ten places to see in Barcelona. They’re in every movie, magazine and pinterest list. So I rely on travel bloggers, locals or trip advisor more. And since I’m an art buff, I always also look for urban art, murals, small galleries and art fairs.
When I’m done with those, I look for places to eat. Remember the tourist traps I mentioned before? A sure way to stay clear of them is by choosing the stingy looking family owned side street bistros, packed with locals. I ate in a three tables wooden greasy fish “restaurant” in Barcelona, a family owned Turkish restaurant in the middle of the Bazaar of Istanbul, in a local market, from a fishing boat and I never got food poisoning or paid 50 Euro for dried chicken breast. Also, I never had to eat at McDonalds.
Last but not least, to make sure I enjoy all my discoveries and don’t get lost and robbed on an alley, I also research local transportation. The key to a romantic getaway? No swollen feet after walking what looked like a mile on the map, but were three, in fact.
“Ok, ok, I hear what you’re saying and that sounds good, but where is the adventure, where are the stories?” I hear you asking. Trust me, they’re still there. You will still get lost, thereby discovering all by yourself that small quirky café that wasn’t on tripadvisor. You will still miss a train or bus and get to know a nice local while waiting for the next one. But instead of swearing because it happened three days in a row, having a fight with your spouse/friend about who should have checked the map, you will laugh and enjoy that moment of adventure because it only happened once. Ok, twice.
So go ahead, dare to “wander” with a plan. A map, a backpack with an extra sweater, water, snacks, band-aid, an extra pair of comfortable shoes, a raincoat. Be prepared. Because the world will take you by surprise nonetheless.