I’m well aware of what a pretentious, liberal arts school, bookworm-y C U Next Tuesday I sound like when I say this, but — I regularly get SUPER anxious thinking about how big the world is. As such, I’ve done a lot of traveling in the past 10 years. Granted, it’s been through Europe and not like, backpacking through the smoggy side streets of Southeast Asia, but a large chunk has been solo, so it’s taught me incredible things I had no chance of learning in any classroom.
I obviously love to travel because it’s an easy way to buy time and avoid responsibility. It’s also a great excuse to smoke (not a Juul to be found in the EU, angels!), eat absurdly fattening baked goods, and label my Adderall-induced walks “sightseeing” and “exploring” rather than “disturbing neurosis” and “amphetamine side effect.”
But after digging a little deeper, I realized those are just accoutrements. What keeps me packing year after year is that as a lone traveler, I finally do not feel alone.
Instead, I become a combination of invisible fly on the wall and active participant; completely anonymous and bizarrely magnetic to eyes everywhere. Boundaries disappear. And because no one — and everyone — is watching, I finally get to be whoever I want to be, ripe with different shades and contradictions. A completely different person, sometimes. Trips are fresh starts, and yet I always come home having learned even more about the dark lairs and deep desires that fundamentally make me me.
Everyone has different ways of absorbing new destinations — some look, some taste, some simply prefer to feel. Some do all of it and entirely exhaust themselves in the process (hi!). But the feeling component is perhaps the most important. Ultimately, the point of traveling is to expand your idea of humanity, right? So interrogate: what’s the value system here? How do these people view life? Where do they gather? What seems to make them happy? Big picture questions, but I’ve got some tools to help you along the way…
Excellent guidebooks are Lost In & Wallpaper; City Secrets is the BIBLE. Monocle is indie but pretentious, and I’ve heard pretty good things about A Hedonist’s Guide. Occasionally Reddit will have a scoop. Devising a certain amount of plans is necessary, especially if you’re short on time or someone with specialized interests (contemporary art, local whiskey, the sex trade, whatever). However, I’ve found that it’s easy to get so caught up in completing a checklist that you don’t actually absorb anything you accomplish. Make sure to just enjoy being away from any real responsibility.
ASK LOCALS FOR ADVICE. They don’t have rabies, you American idiot.
Hanging in crowded places like bars and clubs, especially the grimier ones, gives you the most authentic look into a population. By day (because we’re not complete sociopaths) linger in local, inexpensive cafes where the coffee is strong and the customers aren’t too existential-looking.
The snack food aisles of supermarkets are portals into local culture; I spend hours in them reading and translating labels. You could also grab a few bars of chocolate, and then get on with your day like a normal person.
Overpackers, unite…but also, get it together. In the age of #content #creation, I agree that outfits are important. That said, if you’re hitting more than 1 destination on a trip, lugging an overweight bag around is the single biggest downer (besides getting abducted). Pack basics with some fire accessories, realizing that A. you will likely end up avoiding anything skintight and B. it gives you a legit excuse to shop.
Fuck the gym while traveling. I’m SO serious - fuck it up the ass! Unless you’re staying in a hotel/hostel that has a fitness center and it’s genuinely in your nature to run on the treadmill before breakfast (freak), do as the locals do: walk or bike everywhere. It kills two birds with one stone: you’ll see a more complete version of the city and hit well over 10,000 steps. And on that note…
Kill Your Diet
Totally understand your need to maintain some degree of health, or at least a delusion of it (I wrote about it HERE). Hands down, the easiest way to feel okay is daily green juice and intermittent fasting. Both sound counterintuitive to everything I’ve been saying, but bottled greens can be found at pretty much any grocery store and are surprisingly inexpensive. As for the fasting — it just means eating all your meals for the day within 8 hours. Giving your body adequate time to digest/rest means more croissants with (wayyyy) less side effects. I stan.
Fraternize With ‘The Help’
…when you’re trying to get inside knowledge (and always). During a particularly alcoholic period, my BFF and I left impressive footprints on London and Edinburgh’s craft cocktail scenes by asking ‘mixologists’ where they liked to hang out with their own friends after hours. In that case, we figured ‘the longer the beard, the closer to God’. If you’re looking for, say, vintage, a good bet would be to ask girls working the stores where they themselves like to shop. Approaching stylish people in hipster neighborhoods who speak the native language is generally a great move. Intimidating, sure, but a little flattery goes a long way.
Go Out At Night
The cure-all. I mean it! Even if - especially if - you’re solo! It’ll get you a feel for a city’s youth culture, a serotonin hit, picked up by a hot local (or a serial killer!) — the opportunities are endless. Plus, the reality is that if you’re under 30, your squad at home does NOT wanna hear about that Rothko exhibit. They wanna know if you got fucked up! The techno/electronic scene across the EU is notorious, so take advantage. I owe Resident Advisor my first-born child.
What can you get/do at this destination that you can’t at home? Get/do that. End of discussion.