I’ve traveled (a lot) to many different countries for many years now. My travel agendas and habits have evolved so much compared to when I first started. While a significant part of my trips are work related, I do spend my a bulk of my free days going overseas on holidays as well. Holiday traveling is special to me because I long for them, get highly excited and save up tons of money for.
When I first started traveling, in order to get the most out of my travels, I’ll read up on the culture and places to visit so that I’ll know where I need to go, to do or to eat. I’ll prepare for my holidays by making a detailed schedule of which attractions I want to see, advance reservations for where I want to eat, and work out what night activities I will squeeze in. Even though I was never interested in a guided tour, my itinerary isn’t that much different and I’ll stop by the top-ranked places of the country I’m visiting, rushing to one after another in a rather tight time-schedule. The motto of my trips can be summed up in 3 words “GO! GO! GO!”. Once, I climbed up a volcano starting the hike at midnight to catch the sunrise at the summit only to return to the base for lunch before heading for my whitewater rafting excursion. If that wasn’t crazy enough, I stopped by for a forest adventure climb on the way back to the hotel in that same evening. My traveling companion left me to my own devices because he couldn’t keep up to my mad schedule. Till this day, he still gives me flak for it.
I’m not sure exactly when it happened but it didn’t take too long before my holiday planning and trips became geared towards the total opposite end of the spectrum. Some days I’ll plan holidays on a whim and close friends can attest to how unpredictable I can be; dropping quick texts on group chats to inform my close pals and family that I’ve just bought a ticket to Paris or that I’m currently on the way to the airport because an opening of work free days just opened up for me. Even if the holidays were planned in advance, I no longer have any fix schedule. Basically my plan is to just go out and get lost. I drop any sort of control once I board my plane and basically follow my gut and my senses.
My day job is relatively intensive on my intellect and analytical skills so when I’m on a holiday, I just want to switch off my brain from processing chunks of data and to let my body and soul have fun. Unplanned holidays are just so much more charming. Just like that unplanned gorgeous afternoon I enjoyed in Sweden where I just linger on the square of a small town, bask in the mild summer warmth, having one of the most delicious truffle pasta, and just watch the people pass by. There was no way I could have planned for a better day.
To many travelers, what I’m suggesting sounds absolutely scandalous and inconceivable. What? No plans? What if I miss out on seeing the best sights or eating the best foods?
The thing is with sensual or slow traveling, you will never feel like you miss out on anything because you are doing whatever your soul needs most at any given point of time on your holiday. You might not finish covering the top 10 sights of the country but you will fall in love with the people, food and heart of the country in unexpected ways.
Many times just like these series of photos taken in Taiwan (where a random walk in the nearby park led me to delicious porridge at a charity fundraising event run by friendly old ladies), I’ll walk out of my AirBnB or hotel and surrender to my senses. Just wander around. Sit on a bench in the shade if I feel like it. If I pass by a restaurant that smells good, I’ll go and try it out. Take the train and get off at a random stop. Indulge, for indulgence is the oil that smooths my senses.
For those who are keen to give my slow travel method a try, here are some tips to use your 5 wonderful, glorious senses to help you harness the vitality of the place you are travelling to.
1. Choose the sights to give you the most joy when you travel.
If the Eiffel tower warms your heart, by all means, go for it. If you rather take a lazy walk to catch the lovely sight of people carrying baguettes from the bakery, you would have still captured the quintessential beauty of Paris. Not everything is on must see lists you find in guide books or on google. Take the road less traveled and explore the local culture or the natural countryside. Find that place where all is quiet and you can see soft fields until the horizon. Watch the ocean and the waves coming and going. Or watch people, vibrant, colorful people that are making their way home in that exotic place they belong to.
2. Listen to the sounds of the place you are in
Take those earbuds out of your ears, don’t be glued talking or texting or facebooking on your phone. Take the effort to really listen to your surroundings. Listen to the hustle-bustle of busy city or the quiet stillness of nature. Hear the tones of the people in their foreign language. When you pay full attention, you can almost make out what they are trying to say or express yourself to them in your own language. In many occasions you can learn a new language by feeling it and listening carefully. I love checking out local music too. The live bands at the local pub, the buskers on the street or in many places in Europe, where random strangers come together on public musical instruments like pianos to share the joy of music. You can join in and clap to the beat or sway your body even if you can’t sing or play an instrument.
3. Seeing with touch
When possible, I like to be mindful when I experience textures. The smoothness of the grains of sands that run through my fingers when I’m in Maldives or the dampness of the earth when I’m hiking through rainforests in Brunei. The structure of the beautiful fabrics I’ve come across while browsing in Dubai or the bark of a 1000 year old tree in New Zealand. These touches lend an extra dimension to your traveling experience. If you are traveling with a partner or a close friend, those moments when you hold hands, hug or even grab protectively in a crowded trains are memorable. Other ways to experience more through touching includes getting a massage or swimming in the lake or even soaking in a hot spring.
4. Eating and Tasting
One of the best way to know the local culture is to actually eat your way through. Be curious. Be open. Try out whatever smells good to you, and buy random food from street vendors. Of course, you still have to weigh your decisions according to your stomach tolerance for various hygiene levels. One method I use is to pay attention to the locals to see where they like to go for dinner, what are they buying and how they are enjoying their food. Don’t traveling to a far destination to find yourself just eating fast food or trying to find the kind of food you normally eat in your home country. There have been so many times I’ve travelled with people that want to eat chinese food everyday in Europe when there are are myriad of other local choices. In my recent travel, one of my close friends was determined to have “Hai Di Lao” mala hotpot every other day while we were in Japan, the land of fresh sashimi, sushi and ramen. While I understand that familiar foods are comforting I feel that one should use the opportunity to discover the specialties of the region. If possible, learn about the creation and history of those foods in the country such as Kobe beef in Japan, Heineken beer brewing in Denmark, Ratatouille in France or Pho in Vietnam.
5. Taking a deep breath
Follow your nose while you wander around a foreign city, and don’t be afraid to see what your gut tells you about these smells. Take deep breaths and pay true attention to what smells and information linger in the air. What spices do you recognize when you walk through the souks of Arabia; how fresh is the air by the lake side; can you smell the sea before you see the beach, what interesting smells are the street food giving off. Take it slow and and be grateful for having this experience. Bring your senses together into your travel experience and truly have the location you are visiting sink into every single pore of your body.
I hope sharing my traveling experience can help to enhance yours. This week I haven’t shared a lot of my travel photos but I’ll look forward to sharing more visuals the next time round. Have a good week as I daydream about my next destination.