How to Travel More Spontaneously

The Roman Colosseum at sunsetThe Roman Colosseum at sunset
Courtesy StanBike/myBudgetTravel

While a visit to Rome wouldn't be complete without a trip to the Colosseum, sticking to the dinner plate method can lead to a more authentic trip experience.

By Douwe & Richard Osinga, CEOs of travel app, Triposo

Travel planning. Those two words are together so often, you might start to think they're inseparable. We beg to differ! If you're looking to have a unique and memorable vacation, spontaneity is where it's at. Of course, that's easier said than done, especially for the Type A among us. But don't worry—with 100+ countries under our belts—we're here to tell you that anyone can be a spontaneous traveler (and it doesn't have to break the bank). It just takes a little bit of practice. Here's our advice for how to become more spontaneous when you travel:

Avoid review sites
With millions of reviews for nearly every restaurant and tourist attraction on earth, it's easy to see the appeal of sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor. But it's important to remember that experiences are necessarily subjective, and basing your trip on what someone else (who may or may not be a reliable judge) liked or didn't like about a place is a recipe for confusion, frustration and—let's be honest—blandness. Instead, use your intuition and be adventurous. You never know when you might discover a hidden neighborhood gem, and it will be that much more satisfying if you find it on your own.

Go off the beaten path
Many travelers stick to a small radius around their hotels, usually near the major tourist attractions. While this can be efficient, it leaves a lot of the real character and flavor out. Instead of choosing a hotel in the most popular tourist district, pick a more residential area, one where you're more likely to rub shoulders with the locals than with fellow fanny-packers. You can still visit the major sites, but you'll get a more "real" taste of the city. It's also a good idea to get out of the big cities. Explore the tiny towns and unspoiled hamlets that most tourists overlook. You'll be guaranteed to have an authentic experience, and the locals will probably welcome your curiosity rather than seeing you as yet another obstacle in their daily commute.

Use the dinner plate method
While we suggest avoiding tourist traps, it's true that there are certain sites that are "unmissable." A trip to Rome probably wouldn't be complete without a visit to the Colosseum, and you certainly don't want to venture to Giza without having a gander at the pyramids. So try out the "dinner plate" method. Each day, choose a "main dish" from a list of must-sees (the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Macchu Pichu in Peru, the Opera House in Sydney). Then choose two side dishes that have a more local flavor. Perhaps you could visit the open-air market or have a picnic in a park. For dessert, inject some cultural flavor into your travels by attending a concert, popping into an art gallery or visiting a famous writer's favorite haunt. You might even sneak in an "amuse-bouche," or appetizer, of an impromptu street fair or a local band's concert. If you use this method, you'll be sure to see the most important places while avoiding a cookie-cutter vacation.

Use all five senses
Not sure where to start when it comes to traveling spontaneously and discovering authentic experiences? Use your senses. Follow your nose for the best local cuisine. Use your ears to figure out where the locals are hanging out. Keep your eyes peeled for anything unusual or surprising. When you are attuned to your surroundings, you're much more likely to happen upon the kind of serendipitous events that will leave you with unique travel memories—and a great story to tell.

Ask a local
Still not sure what to do? Strike up a conversation with a local! Ask them about their favorite restaurants. Find out which neighborhoods they consider hip. Get recommendations for hidden gems and find out which mega-attractions are worthy of the hype. If you're not comfortable chatting up a stranger on the street, visit the local pub and buy someone a beer. You're likely to learn something and maybe even make a new friend.

Do something you'd do at home
This might sound totally counterintuitive. Aren't you in a foreign country so you can step outside your comfort zone and try things that are completely new? Of course, but often the best way to really learn about a new culture is to check out the things you'd see if you actually lived in a place. For example, visit the public library. Browse the shelves and check out the architecture. Go for a jog on a local hiking trail, take a yoga class, or grab a cup of coffee and people-watch for a while. Hop on a bus and ride it around the city to get a feel for what it's like to live and work there. You might be surprised at what you discover when you try a familiar activity in an unfamiliar place.

We want to know: what are you favorite ways to travel more spontaneously?

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