Wandering in a New Place: The Value of Traveling Without a Plan

Exploring a new place without an agenda can allow you to more deeply understand it and create the possibility of unexpected surprises.

When we first began traveling, we planned our trips a bit too tightly. We were often too ambitious about what activities and sights we would try to fit into a day, we were rushing from place to place, anxious about getting to a destination on time, going through it quickly, then on to the next activity.  We've speed walked though museums, parks, castles, and other sites, trying to maximize the return on our investment in a trip.


That approach can be fine when you have a limited number of days in a location, and want to pack in the most experiences during your trip. We covered a lot of ground, and came away generally happy with what we did and saw.


But as we've gotten older and have seen more places, we've consciously slowed our pace, added more days to each destination, reduced our agenda, and focused more on taking in the vibe of the place. In some cases, we've taken second and third trips back to places that we've visited before. We'd seen the main attractions already, so our agenda was open. We spent more time wandering around and taking in the local vibe. Travelers without a plan. Eliminating the stress of meeting a tight schedule, so we can be open to experiencing the place in more depth. Seeing the value of wandering around.


Sometimes you have the best experiences in a new location when you have no firm agenda. Days where you don’t plan your activities too tightly, and give yourself room to roam and do nothing in particular. Just a simple goal of walking 10 blocks through the city to get a coffee on a patio with an amazing view. Strolling through a park. Changing your route to a block or two off of the main street so you can walk through a neighborhood to get to your destination, instead of the main business street.


Wandering gives you the chance to discover things you might have missed if you were focusing on the main attractions in a guidebook or a tour. You might stumble upon some beautiful street art, a unique vista overlooking the city, an amazing café,  or an intimate view into local life. No plan makes you free to explore, and discover things that you might have otherwise overlooked.


Stopping at sidewalk cafes for a snack or a coffee isa great way to slow your pace. Some of our most memorable experiences are of having a lite breakfast in a café watching the morning bicycle commuters navigate an 5 way intersection in the town of Leiden in the Netherlands, having evening drinks in an outdoor square café in Lisbon, climbing the narrow stairways in old town Edinburgh, Scotland in search of a pub, or navigating the winding streets in old town Tallinn, Estonia trying to recall the location of a great coffee shop. Or a summer evening walk through Rose Garden park in Bern Switzerland, pausing to relax in the grass with the locals. And later that evening coming across plazas roped off for World Cup fans to watch the game, and joining in for a few beers. We didn't seek out these locations - they appeared around the corner by surprise, which made them seem a bit magical.


Wandering allows you to immerse yourself in the local culture. You can see how people live their lives, and what they value. This is especially true in a country where the culture is very different from what you're used to. Take time to soak up the local culture - you'll come away with a deeper appreciation and understanding of the place.


Wandering can also provide you with new perspectives and put you in a new place. Immersing yourself with the local people doing things or acting in ways that are different from what you know. Maybe they're more joyful, or calmer, or more animated, or more passionate. What's it like to be a person here, seeing the world this way? What new perspectives can you take home with you?  


Wandering gives you the chance to try new things. You can say 'yes' to new experiences and adventures that you might have been hesitant to try, step out of your comfort zone, and expand your horizons. Like trying new foods from a market, visiting a small museum or unique store that you come upon during your walk. Climbing the tower to experience the view from the top.


And wandering can be a great way to relax and recharge. Rushing from one attraction to the next can make you stressed and overwhelmed. But when you're wandering without a plan, you can take your time and enjoy the moment. You can sit on a bench and watch the world go by, find a quiet café and read a book, and become refreshed and energized.


So don't be afraid to drop that agenda and just wander around. Take the time to discover new things, immerse yourself in the local culture, try new experiences, and relax.  Stop at a bakery and get yourself a treat that you wouldn't get at home. That new taste or special treat that can help bring you more into the moment.  Take long, slow, aimless walks through the city to experience the vibe.  You may come away with a deeper appreciation and understanding of the place you're visiting and your own place in the world.

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Helping you thrive in your 50s and beyond. Advice, tools, and inspiration for navigating midlife and post-work life (with just a tiny bit of travel thrown in).