“The sightseeing tourist will visit all the attractions but the explorer will discover their own”
At the risk of appearing the laziest traveller on the planet I’m going to confess my fondness for doing nothing. In reality it’s doing nothing in particular, in other words exploring a destination without a particular plan. This suits my philosophy of travelling, preferring to explore rather than follow a strict itinerary of landmarks and museums or activities that must be experienced.
It is also the antithesis of a media trip which due to the promotional nature of the visit require an activity packed itinerary. Clients need to show attending media as much as possible therefore starting early and finishing late is the order of the day. Time is of the essence and little time is to be wasted.
Those that are require every detail of their trip to be planned and blaze around a destination like a blur with guidebook in hand will not understand ‘ambling sightseeing’. Their intention is not to miss a single worthwhile sight and often follow a strict timetable like in National Lampoon’s Family Vacation. There is minimal time to waste as the next attraction needs to be ticked off. In fact little matter, they probably haven’t the time to read up to this point.
Readers with an open mind and a freedom of spirit however maybe prepared to experience sightseeing differently and tempted to read further. Hopefully few are genuinely enslaved to guidebooks but most probably use them to research or help them navigate around a destination. Try ditching them altogether for a change, it is a surprisingly liberating experience.
Here are a few tips for travelling without a plan:
Visit a destination which is unfamiliar
Book a long weekend in a city or destination that is completely unfamiliar. The shorter the period of time between booking and departing the better, leaving less time to be tempted to research. If the destination is one which the visitor is unaware of then the attractions will also be unknown. Travelling without any preconceptions, on totally unfamiliar ground will require some exploring to find something worthwhile to do.
Don’t do any research
This will only work if the destination remains unknown, avoid doing any research prior to leaving or even during the trip. Don’t buy or use a guidebook or visit the tourism office. Purchase a map just in case but keep it out of site in the bottom of the pack, only to be used when absolutely necessary. Avoid anything which may provide any clues, don’t even peek at postcards.
This is a little more difficult especially if staying in a hostel where people are often friendly, open and willing to chat with other travellers. Hotels are typically less personal so it is easier to remain anonymous. The best way to get round being totally anti-social is to start any conversation by explaining the motives behind the trip, this will avoid any helpful suggestions of places to visit.
Take a random public transport ride
Before boarding a tram, bus or local train flip a coin to choose the direction and then pick a number lower than 10. This will decide the stop at which to disembark; randomly. I can hear the thoughts of the avid planners now “but I won’t know where I am then”…… exactly! A good sense of direction is useful and being confident in location finding with the aid of a map is essential.
Take a walk along a river or canal
Most large cities are dissected by a waterway, it is possibly the reason the conurbation was built in the first place. Take a stroll through the city it shouldn’t be too hard to find some water then follow the river or canal. Often there will be a number of worthwhile stopping off points along it’s path. Pubs and shops,, maybe a museum, a little further out small villages and even farms can be found.
An attitude for adventure can take a traveller a long way, give these recommendations a try and really explore a destination. Be prepared to walk, take some wrong turns being required to double back but it is all part of the excitement of not knowing what lies ahead. It is one of the few ways to experience exploring in the modern era. Use the same attitude when dining out, don’t seek recommendations other than the popularity of a restaurant. Plenty of diners usually signifies good food.
Be prepared to waste sometime, not every path will lead to something exciting, maybe not even every city has much to see, this is the risk of course. An open mind, good observation and inquisitive nature will normally mean that most trips will not be wasted and a variety of places of interest will be discovered.
This manner of sightseeing in a city or destination will not suit every traveller, it requires letting go of any hang-ups and just wandering without any a specific aim.
The final tip for those that would be kicking themselves if once home discovered the ‘must visit’ attraction had been missed. After spending a couple of days ambling sightseeing purchase a map or guidebook and spend the last day ticking off any attractions which were missed.
*All these images were taken during several days of ambling sightseeing in Northern Germany. Randomly visiting the cities of the Rhine.