I just booked a trip to go to Tokyo and Kyoto, Japan with my boyfriend and a couple of our friends. I couldn’t be more excited to be starting off 2020 with an excursion on the books! I have loved adventuring overseas ever since my first fling with traveling, hostels, and #backpackerstyle, as a study abroad student in Dublin. Admittedly, this trip will be a bit more glamorous – we’ll be swapping out the 10-person hostel dorms for hotels, and the budget flights on Ryanair for airlines that don’t charge you when you miss the plane.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.” To me, this quote embodies how I first started out as a traveler (on a budget, curious about people, hungry to experience new cultures) and reminds me that beauty comes from the presence of immersing oneself in a new experience.
It’s easy to get sidetracked from this spirit of adventure nowadays. With overtourism spreading to more and more places, and the rise of instagram influencers, it’s become harder to enjoy the iconic cities and landmarks on our bucket lists. I even see this in my own backyard here in DC. Last spring, during peak bloom week of Cherry Blossom season, the tidal basin was more crowded than I had ever experienced. Throngs of tourists snapped pictures of the blossoms at all hours of the day, and photographers and instagrammers carefully staged shots at the crack of dawn and at dusk.
These scenes make me long for the way travel used to be: intently focused on the present, rather than perfecting an image of the present to look at later. The former type of exploring both expands the mind and makes the world accessible and friendly. When living in France teaching, I would book a solo train ticket with my carte jeune and find myself in a hostel surrounded young people who were doing the same thing – English teachers, study abroad students, and people doing gap years at all stages of life. It was easy enough to befriend the people I met in my hostel’s kitchen and end up at an impromptu dinner at a brasserie by the Eiffel Tower.
These are the specific type of adventures you can have when you’re young, unattached, and lacking in life experience and heartbreak. They’re the experiences that show you that life could be anything; it could turn out like any one of the people you meet at the hostels, the teachers at your school, or the commuting professionals typing on their laptops on the train into Paris.
But how do you keep that sense of wonder and possibility at the forefront of mind when traveling to a new land? How do you maintain that state of wanderlust? As you get older – even by a little – it gets harder. So, listen, be curious, and ask questions. Remain open to veering off the beaten path or the day’s itinerary. Know that when things don’t go exactly according to plan they often become the most vivid memories. The best stories to tell later are always the ones we were making up as we went.