Planned Spontaneity: Ideas to Kick-Start the Natural Traveler in You
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Every day can be busy, filled with making plans and perpetual prioritizing or categorizing—but what about nurturing a bit of spontaneity? Stop the routine for a moment and just be. Better yet, alter the course just slightly and give a new wave of opportunities a chance.
You don’t always have to go far, but you’ll have to suspend your disbelief and embrace a little mystery because there is something liberating about not knowing every step of the journey. There’s something scary about it too, but set that to the side and harness a fraction of that energy stashed behind the fear. Embrace a sudden impulse and see where it takes you. Writer, avid traveler, and sailor, Bob Bitchin gives us some wise words to consider:
Change it up and give spontaneity a go. Here is how you can kick-start your spontaneous flair and the natural traveler in you.
You Don’t Know a Mile Until You’ve Walked It
No matter where you decide to stay or be, whether it’s for a long time or a little while, walk your surroundings. Exploring on foot allows you to see real life in the making. It gives a person an opportunity to slow down and notice the seemingly insignificant things that make our world irreplaceable.
This idea hearkens back to what French poet and philosopher, Charles Baudelaire, posited when he coined the term flâneur – a passionate observer, a person who intently focuses on strolling through the city in order to experience it.
“The crowd is his element, as the air is that of birds and water of fishes. His passion and his profession are to become one flesh with the crowd. For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite. To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world, to be at the centre of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world—such are a few of the slightest pleasures of those independent, passionate, impartial natures which the tongue can but clumsily define.”
Give yourself a chance to disconnect, but in the same breath, re-connect with the organic experiences around you. Instead of hopping from one destination or tourist attraction to the next, get out and take a stroll. Better yet, take the sentiment at the heart of the flâneur and go. This is where your story starts.
If You’re in a Metropolitan Space:
- Absorb the electrifying energy of the city and people-watch to your heart’s content – you’ll see versatility in people, movements, and fashion options (or fashion emergencies).
- Peek in the windows of specialty shops and let your imagination go back or forward in time.
- Listen to the chimes and rings of transportation and perpetual motion. Close your eyes and listen to the soundtrack of the city.
If You’re in the Countryside:
- Take a gander at how the blades of grass dance and what kind of a whisper or a swoosh they make in the breeze.
- Notice the hues and harmonies the local birds sport. What do their conversations sound like?
If You’re on the Coast:
- Watch the finer ripples of the water and the way the body of the oceans moves.
- Eavesdrop on the waves that crash and massage their way into the ocean floor.
- Fill your lungs full of the ever-turning coastal breeze.
If You’re Somewhere in Between or Somewhere That Feels Like Nowhere at All:
- Amidst your stroll, take 30 seconds. Be silent and just observe the life or elements around you—colors, contours, shapes, and patterns.
- Change your path somewhat. Take a different way home. Take a new route; perhaps walk along a street parallel to the street you previously walked on.
You never know, you may discover a new scene to stash in your Rolodex of memories. You could very well stumble across a little shop that sells something so personal and unique, you’ll remember that walk or moment for a long time to come. You may encounter a wide variety of scenes to catapult your creativity and imagination for the world outside of yourself. Like the flâneur, you’ll feel more alive. The great thing about experience is that in the future, you can return to a moment any time you close your eyes and transport yourself back.
Give Spontaneous Conversation a Chance
John Lennon urged to “Give Peace a Chance,” and while that’s still a relevant hope, it’s also not outdated to give conversation a chance. It’s become a global phenomenon that when people find themselves among strangers, they resort to an alienating habit: straight to a phone like a baby to its pacifier or an ostrich burying its head in the sand.
We are missing out!
Sometimes people you don’t know have some of the best stories, facial expressions, or anecdotes. Sometimes the puzzle pieces of humanity and human experience come out in a few moments at a random meeting. Embrace the silence and then don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with a random person at the airport, near a bus stop, in an elevator, in a line waiting for something, or when the moment hits you and feels right. Besides, we can all benefit from taking a moment to notice those around us and relish in the small details.
Instead of sinking our eyes into our screens and avoiding people who stand in our midst, look up and make eye contact with fellow human beings. Perhaps give a friendly smile, which is always international and has no linguistic boundaries. If you initiate a verbal exchange, something genuine and simple like, “Hi … How’s your day?” will do just fine.
Allow for spontaneity to take over, so that you connect with another person rather than using a phone as a crutch in a moment of silence around other people. Resist the urge to bury your eyes, thoughts, and face in an electronic device because you never know, you might actually start a conversation that leads to something—something enlightening, something that adds perspective to your life, or even something you can just laugh at in the moment.
But what if you want to sidestep “Hi, how’s your day?” but you’re not sure how. Here are two initial prompts that work well for a friendly chat.
- Notice something the person is wearing and offer a genuine compliment: “I like your scarf” or “Great hat.”
I used this specific line once at a train station in Germany. I said it to a group of middle-aged German men who were dressed in traditional Lederhosen with accompanying forest green Robin Hood style hats (yes, feathers were included too). They were actually part of a band and seemed to appreciate my compliment. We had a short chat and then the group played a catchy tune for me and the other random groups of people who made their way through the train station. You never know when a simple compliment will result in a free mini-concert.
- Cool shirt. Where did you get that? There’s bound to be a story that follows.
- Depending on what day of the week it is: Any exciting plans for today / the weekend?
Maybe this will give you some ideas of what you should (or shouldn’t) be doing on your weekday or weekend.
You never know where the conversation may lead you. You may simply enjoy the serendipitous act of engaging with that particular person on that particular day, in that particular moment. Who knows, if you’re traveling in some part of the world, this small chat may lead to an invitation to join other travelers, or for whatever reason (and depending on what the other person says), this chat may ironically serve as a reason to boost your overall “gee-whiz” collection.
As American novelist, Edith Wharton, notes: “One of the great things about travel is that you find out how many good, kind people there are.”
Sometimes it’s really not the destination, but the people you meet along the way. In fact, that’s often the case.
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Public Transportation is Your Own Hop-On, Hop-Off Experience
Rather than paying for a touristy hop-on, hop off bus, create your own by hopping on a local transportation line. Remember, major cities are loaded with public transportation options and smaller towns usually have a bus system, so there’s bound to be something memorable. Dublin’s a great place for this. Not only is there free Wi-Fi on most city buses, it’s a treat to sit and look at the varying architecture, bustling city streets, impressive monuments, inviting local shops, perfectly positioned cathedrals, and peaceful public parks. You may even see a charming pub you’d like to visit. That could be the start of a new adventure too.
Or, just stay on the bus and observe. Look out the window and see where the ride takes you. You’re guaranteed to get more of a ‘local’ feel and you’ll be surprised what you can discover along the way. You’ll get an idea of what the area actually has to offer and what real people do in that place. You’ll avoid quite a few innate tourist traps and instead have more of an authentic, spontaneous travel experience. At any point, you can exit at a stop, go to the other side of the street, and return to your point of origin.
Give Yourself Time to be Flexible
It’s not bad to have travel plans but avoid booking your trip down to the minute or the hour. Don’t jam-pack your schedule with so many travel to-do’s and must see’s that you can’t seize an opportunity when it’s presented. While you’re doing one activity, you may hear or see something else that piques your interest. If that’s the case, allow yourself to take a detour, or give yourself wiggle room to explore something you couldn’t possibly have planned.
You may be in a country like Sardinia walking over a jagged stone pathway in the old town of Cagliari on your way to a museum when suddenly, you hear a violin being played from a window above you. It would be such a shame to not have time to stop and look up. Follow the sound of that eloquent violin!
If you pack your schedule too tight, you’ll forego the chance to just take a seat where you are, look up between the tightly layered flats, and enrich your soul with the sweet strings of this unexpected, seemingly personalized concert. Give yourself time to be flexible. Sit down next to the wall and just listen. Let the moment arrest your soul. Nothing else will matter in that moment except the melodic glide of the bow. Let the music’s story build and let your imagination run.
It’s nice when you have the luxury of time and are not rushing from one activity to the next on an ultra-planned holiday. Instead, give yourself leave from life and let the pieces fall into place. Maybe you don’t speak the language of where you are, but it’s not important. Each musical note, each piece of the melody collapses any idea of borders, language constructs, or anything that might separate any of us: music is the ultimate unifier and spontaneity plus flexibility are the ultimate forerunners of adventures, large and small.
Sometimes, the moment is just right, and you can’t always plan for that, but you can plan to make room for these opportunities when they cross your path.
Challenge Yourself: Try Something Slightly Out of Your Comfort Zone
Mix it up and don’t do the same thing or something that feels incredibly routine. Rather, leave yourself open to a new experience. After all, isn’t this part of the reason we travel—to broaden our scope and experience something new?
If we remain comfortable in a normalized routine or environment, we wouldn’t learn or grow. Each person has their own limitations and don’t ignore common sense or genuine safety concerns, but slightly going out of your comfort zone can expand your horizon and outlook.
You may be tempted to return to the same restaurant again and again because you know you like the menu, but give another establishment a go. I once saw a sign outside of a pub that read, “ … because no good story ever started with a salad.” I wasn’t familiar with that place, but the sign made me laugh and I changed my direction. I passed the sign, and then made a quick impulsive turn and stepped right in.
Or, do you find yourself looking at someone else thinking, “I wish I would be brave enough to try that.” Well, every day is a new opportunity to challenge yourself. Tell apprehension or self-doubt to take a hike. Then go, do, and be.
Maybe it’s about throwing the cards to the wind and letting someone else decide where you’ll go like Pack Up + Go whose slogan is, “Be adventurous. Be spontaneous. Embrace the unknown. Let us plan your 3-day weekend. The catch? Your destination is a surprise.”
You don’t have to try all of these tips or any of these suggestions, but the point is, do something different and leave a little to spontaneity and chance. You’re never too old or too young to try something new: you’ll be surprised at how much you can grow.
“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” Eleanor Roosevelt
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