Enjoy your present! I know this sounds like fortune cookie advice, but you would be surprised how often we forget to do this. If you're like me, practical and always planning the next trip, you can probably relate to craving a bit more spontaneity, a little taste of the unexpected. I like to call it calculated chaos. I always try to reach the balance between being prepared for a trip and being open to new experiences in the moment.
"Things never happen the way you would expect."
I had a friend who recently traveled abroad. It was her first trip alone, and she had the whole thing mapped out. Some of this was due to first time traveler anxiety, and I wish I had warned her about the unpredictable nature. Things never happen the way you expect. After a few unforeseen events, she was left so nervous that she lost a whole day of travel. As an anxious person myself, I can relate to the calm brought on by preparation and stability, but traveling abroad has allowed me to see the beauty in mistakes. In accidents. I spent so many weekends dreaming about all the places I wanted to go; trying to create budgets and rearrange schedules. It was too late when I realized if I had just stopped overthinking it and hopped a bus to the nearby train station, I would've had the capability to go to dozens of places for under 5 Euros per train ticket. You can imagine how disappointed I was (and still am, considering I continue to think about it). You know how I realized this? A failed trip to Florence towards the end of my stay opened my eyes to all the small Italian towns just a couple of hours away.
Had I made that mistake earlier, I may have gotten a glimpse of parts of the country that are so beautiful you can hardly believe exist. My greatest advice to you as a traveler is to make mistakes. Go off the beaten path. Stray from the planned schedule you've created. And most of all, never underestimate the value of a "staycation."
I know, that last part might throw you for a loop. "I thought this was all about travel." If that's the thought that just crossed your mind, don't count my story out just yet. The reality is I can't always afford the long-distance trips that I would like. I can't even tell you how many times I leave a place and realize I spent so much time travelling outside the boundaries, that I never got a chance to fully appreciate where I was staying. I lived in Rome for 4 months. I know that doesn't seem like a staycation in the traditional sense, but when you live somewhere for more than a couple months, it starts to feel like a home rather than a trip. When I stopped focusing on planning long trips far from Rome I got a chance to truly appreciate my temporary home apart from the Coliseum and the Pantheon and the other obligatory touristy things you visit in Rome. My fondest memories were made when I finally decided to get lost in the local scene.
My fondest memories were made when I finally decided to get lost in the local scene.
My roommate and I lived in the Trastevere area right on the tram line on Via Cesare Pascarella. If you've never spent extensive time in Rome, you can trust me when I say it was prime real estate. Trastevere is a funky little bohemian paradise that boasts a colorful population and a myriad of fun activities if you know where to look. Every Saturday night, I would leave the balcony door to my bedroom open in anticipation. As the sun rose the next morning, so did the voice of the elderly matron who lived a few apartments over. Her voice wasn't what the music industry would consider technically proficient, but the emotion dripping from every Italian syllable was captivating. I never understood the words, but her raspy tenor tugged me out of my bed and into the morning. As I stepped out onto the cool concrete slowly warming as the sunlight crept across my toes, I listened. In the distance, I could hear the locals start to gather for the weekly flea market in the square down the street. All the traffic shut down for this magnificent affair. Vendors selling trinkets and fresh produce laughed and joked in Italian; their smiles so intoxicating, you couldn't help but want to be a part of it. Walking through those stalls gave me something I couldn't have found on a quick weekend getaway: an understanding of what it was like to truly connect with a place.
I’ve learned to accept that not all trips can be 4 months long. Now I try to see everything I can where I’m at, just in case I never get a chance to go back. If you take anything from this story, I urge you to try focusing on experiencing one place, staying purely and deliciously in the moment. It could be walking down a street that isn't on your tourist map or stopping into a small pub for some local gossip. Cherish those spontaneous moments and use chaos as an opportunity to live in your present.