Have you ever been planning a trip somewhere, and one of the first things you do is type into Google: “Top 10 things to do in …”? We definitely have. Have you looked up your future destination on Instagram to spark some excitement? We also do this all the time! Planning a trip to a new place can be overwhelming, and sometimes there is no better place to start than looking up the most visited sites, the top restaurants, or the best bars. Especially if one doesn’t know anyone who has ever visited this place, the best resource one has is the internet! However, sometimes too often, holding ourselves to that list can leave us feeling like we missed out on something. Certainly, we do not advise against drawing inspiration from other blogs and social media. But we do feel that planning travelling activities right to the minute might prevent us from truly connecting with the place we visit. In fact, we refer to this touring way of traveling as checklist travel, and in this post; we will share some alternatives that go beyond those checklists.
Let’s start by describing those elements that characterize checklist travel. Take, for example, when buying a package vacation or a select tour that promises to show you around the can’t-miss sites in Paris. You would normally get a package tour that takes you around the city and includes entrance to the most iconic spots, such as Eiffel Tower, Sacré Coeur, the Louvre and more. It includes a private van, a tour guide, pickup and drop off from your hotel, and sometimes even meals! No surprise, this is a multi-billion-dollar industry built around the idea of making tourism easier. Other times, checklist travel can look more like a list of ‘can’t-miss’ activities and packed itineraries.
Indeed, there are so many reasons why this way of traveling can be very beneficial. For one, it makes travel more accessible to people who would have a difficult time doing those things on their own, for example the elderly or people living with disabilities. For another, it creates jobs for millions of people who can share their home, language, and culture with visitors. Often times, doing checklist travel is a safe, seamless, and easy way of getting around those places that can be overwhelming to visit.
Photo: Galicia, Spain
We believe that drawing inspiration from blogs that provide guidebooks can be a great place to start researching your next destination. However, there is the risk that those checklists become the focus your travel, thereby only letting you enjoy a pre-defined version of the whole story. We have a slightly different way of approaching a visit to a new place. We look over those lists sure, and we try to see if there is really REALLY anything we can’t miss. But, we are not the type of people that like to make a ton of set plans before we travel – the only thing we really need is a ticket there and a ticket home (and sometimes not even that!). It is much more exciting to show up in a place and start asking around which places or sites we just can’t miss. After all, locals always know best. They may recommend a restaurant that wasn’t even on your radar, or some other hidden gem that many travelers haven’t come across.
We have spent a lot of time trying to figure out what it is about ‘checklist travel’ that leaves us feeling so unfulfilled. Maybe it takes away that part that makes us feel like we are truly discovering something new, like the adventurers in old legends. Between Instagram, Pinterest, and blog posts, we sometimes feel like we’ve seen everything there is to see about a place before we even go. One of our all-time favorite travel podcasts, Zero-to-Travel, did a great episode on this topic. Therefore, we think that, when travelling, it is important to take a step back and leave room to be (often pleasantly) surprised by the places one visits.
Photo: Aura Salsa experience, Mexico City.
To go beyond checklist travel, we often do the next three things. Firstly, we make a conscious effort to visit those places that often fly under the radar for most travelers. In this way, we have found the best food like the tastiest falafels in Tunisia or the ‘unknown’ Petra, which is a mini-Petra behind the ‘real’ Petra, which only a local can take you to. From there, you can appreciate the most breathtaking sunrises in Jordan. Secondly, we embrace staying with local people and asking them questions about the best places to visit. Lastly, trying to capture less and enjoy more. We all love to capture those places we visit with our mobile phones, and that is great! However, we think that there is a lot of value in just being mindful of the moment and putting down our devices, thereby connecting deeper with the places and communities.
To sum up, if you pre-plan everything you are going to do and see, you miss the chance to change it up if you get new ideas along the way, or to incorporate other options as they come up. Like we discussed in one of our previous posts, exercising adaptability is one of the most important things travelers can do. If everything about your trip is planned before you go, you just might miss that opportunity. Next time you plan a trip, leave some room for spontaneous adventure opportunities, talk to the local communities, and enjoy the ride.