With my last trip to Thailand, I have ticked the eleventh country off my travel map. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing but a little travel is lethal, and the only panacea is more travel, which in turn is addictive. Someone like me, who has traveled only a little bit can get exceedingly excited when it comes to plan their next trip unlike those, who have exhausted their travel list quite a few times and the next thing that might excite them can only be their journey to the moon. 

I get consumed with my attempts to know as much as possible about my destination; geography, demography, history, culture, economy, human rights and current affairs, through as many sources as possible. Afterwards, I compile a list of things worth seeing and doing in my head. In doing so, I take guidance from the travel guide books, online forums, local groups and word of mouth because I do not want to miss anything. That’s a nerd for you but with all this homework done, I want to go and explore everything based on my own intuition and openness. My love for books surpasses my love for all other material possessions but I do not want to carry any travel guide during my journey for all the good reasons explained here.

Travel Light

I believe in taking with me only what’s necessary; 3 kg of back pack and my camera. The hassle of checked-in baggage and then carrying it around can restrict your mobility and options in a way that cannot be overstated. I do not want to carry another 750g of a travel guide book which is solely designed for the purpose of arrested travelling. Some would argue that now we have its online version which does not weigh much, that’s exactly my point…the whole concept does not carry much weight.

Find a New Way

If you are obliged to take the bus that you are told by the book, stroll the streets advised by the book, to the hostel recommended by the book, then you might as well stay at home and browse the street view images of your hostel. But if you are daring enough to follow your curiosity, sociable enough to ask the locals for directions and excited enough to experience a new place then walk around the city, you will be absorbed in an entirely unique experience of discovering social, economic and cultural aspects of its street life that no book could possibly have explained better. You will find a new way by getting lost.

Use Your Brain

Wouldn’t it be considered plagiarism if you write your story by reiterating what’s written in the guide book? But using it only as a reference and engaging your brain will make you feel liberated. There are more places for staying and eating than mentioned in any book. Do not be scared of making decisions, try a new restaurant or hostel instead of the established ones. Pay them a compliment, write a good review if you like them. Promote small, family run businesses. Spend your money where it will leave a greater impact. Look at the sun to get a sense of direction and make some effort to remember names and places. 

Try New Things

Let the local wisdom be your guide, spend your evenings where they spend their evenings. These places might not be as glamorous as touristy areas but these will be as real as it can get. Eat what they eat, that might not be entirely up to your taste but you will get to taste some change. I do not understand why you would look for your regional food in a different region which you might never visit again. Go to the restaurants, parks, libraries, universities, museums and bazaars where locals go.

Meet the Locals

The fallacy of meeting like minded people in touristy places during your travels is beyond statistical reasoning. The people you live with and work with are probably more like you than anyone else you would ever meet in a touristy bar, hostel or coffee shop. This fallacy, I reckon, is to keep your mental comfort zone intact even if you are physically out of it. Start a conversation with locals and you will be amazed at how communication takes place even if people don’t know each other’s languages.

By all means, learn from the experiences of other travelers but to distinguish the travelers from the tourists is not easy.

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Arooma Gul

Arooma holds a master’s degree in human rights and democratisation from the University of Sydney. She is a traveller, photographer and learner of the ideas, the people and the cultures.