Being able to travel and visit different places is a privilege. When I travel, I have it in the back of my mind that I have to soak as much up as possible. No hour can go to waste. Yet, I’ve recently started to wonder if visiting somewhere with a long checklist of places to see is truly the best way to go about this. Does planning months in advance ruin the element of being able to ‘get lost’ in your destination? On my recent trip to Rome, I decided to surprise myself and ditch the never-ending checklist, and I can safely say this was the main reason why my trip was as enjoyable as it was.
When I visited Amsterdam a couple of years ago, I was determined to see everything. If I wasn’t on a canal boat cruise, I was in a museum. If I wasn’t looking at Van Gogh painting or some raunchy exhibit at the Sex Museum, I was hopping between coffee shops. The Bulldog? Check. 1e Hulp? Check. Prix d’Ami? Check.
On top of it all, I wanted to try as much food as I could. To be fair, this didn’t consist of sampling lots of eateries. Instead, it mainly consisted of downing 1 litre bottles of Chocomel with so much vigour I now look back and cringe at my greedy past self. So, to make a serious point, although I had an amazing time I came back exhausted (and heavier than when I left). In hindsight, I should have cut the places I visited down by at least a third and just chilled out.
I boarded the plane feeling that the whole experience was surreal because I hadn’t over-thought it
Therefore, with my trip to Rome this November, I did just that. I bought a travel guide but only flicked through it the night before our flight in the morning. I had a vague idea of places I wanted to go, which mainly consisted of a few ‘must-see’ sites such as the Colosseum and Trevi Fountain. Other than that, I felt it best to decide the rest at the time. I boarded the plane feeling that the whole experience was surreal because I hadn’t over-thought it and couldn’t believe how quickly the date had come around.
When you have a checklist in mind and you become attached to the idea of visiting all those places you’ve jotted down, using local transport seems an efficient and quicker way to tick off each one. In Rome, we decided to only go on the metro once for the experience and walk everywhere else. Although I couldn’t cram in a few more sights, I felt that this way I saw a lot more of the city itself, which was the whole point of going there.
Travelling is not about seeing all the sites, it’s about getting a collective feel for the place. So, walking around allowed me to pace myself and avoid lapsing into rapid sight-seeing mode. Not to mention how gorgeous it felt to have an afternoon nap in the hotel room to rest from hours of walking.
You don’t want all of your memories to be clouded by your determination to get to a specific place at a particular time
What’s more, travelling with a schedule in mind can lead to thinking that the act of travelling within the country is a means to an end. However, moving about a city should be an end in itself. It should not be a chore or an inconvenience. Ultimately, you don’t want all of your memories to be clouded by your determination to get to a specific place at a particular time.
With Rome, although getting to see sites like the Colosseum was incredible, it was the places I stumbled upon and things that happened to me by chance that will stick with me in years to come. If we ask ourselves, ‘what is Rome?’, it isn’t just the Spanish Steps or the streets of designer shops. The places we visit are much bigger than the checklist of sights we limit ourselves to.
On another note, it’s good to leave a place without visiting everything as it gives you an excuse to go back. In Rome, we didn’t have the time to explore Vatican City. Instead of kicking ourselves on the flight home, we know that we can always return. Plus, how much can you absorb during a long weekend? No matter how long you stay in a place, you can never truly know it.
Making sure you’re living in the present is the key to making the most out of your travels
Ricky Gervais once made a joke about how his mum questioned all his travelling abroad with the response, ‘there are parts of Reading you haven’t seen’. So, there is no point in trying to cram everything into four days, because you don’t have time on your side. People-watching, eating, walking around, and having fun with the people you’re with are the best ways to experience wherever you end up.
Overall, making sure you’re living in the present is the key to making the most out of your travels. Put bluntly, this is only your experience. The places you visit aren’t going anywhere, so don’t rush. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day.