Anyone who has travelled abroad has their own preference on how to best absorb, explore, or immerse themselves within a new foreign locale. Some see the sights. Some sample food and drink. Some lock themselves in their hotel room with a 12 pack of Budweiser, a sack of Big Macs, and a 12-hour line-up of Kevin Costner movies to make sure they don’t accidentally get too much worldly juju in their American pie.
Me? I like to wander around aimlessly like every insufferable, asshole tourist you’ve ever rolled your eyes at and cursed under your breath.
I can’t help it. I’m not sorry. I will not change.
For my money (and not to spend my money), there is no better way to get your bearings and soak up local culture like getting yourself lost on foot. In most places, you’re bound to run into something interesting. And even if you don’t, you’ll likely at least run into a man whose legs bend backward at the knees, crab-walking down the street speaking in horrifying religious tongues (yes, this happened, and I can’t unsee it).
It all started when I first moved to San Francisco 4 years ago. I had no job, no responsibility, and no fucking clue how to navigate one of the busiest, confusing, and goddam hilly cities in the world. My jobless companion, Wes, and I had little better to do with our daytime hours than work our way to every nook and cranny of that 7 x 7 mile metropolis by way of jogging. And drinking. Mostly drinking but some jogging, too.
Run to Golden Gate Park? Sure! Run to Chinatown? Why not! Run to Dolores Park and drink straight rum out of a freshly machete’d coconut? Duh! We did this for about three weeks, by the end of which I knew how to navigate the city, its people, and its nuanced homeless underbelly with my eyes closed.
I hadn’t traveled to new cities often before Iza and I set out on our voyage. But, now that I have, I can say with confidence that walking, observing, and losing your sense of direction will not only better orient you with a new place, it will feel good to relinquish control of your experiences to the Gods of Directional Fortitude (I think they’re Norse).
So, next time you gear up to venture into unknown territory, try leaving the guide book behind. Walk. Explore. Discover. Don’t be afraid to turn the wrong way and get lost on the wrong side of the tracks. You’ll always eventually find your way home, and probably do so with a few good stories.
And that’s what going new places is all about, anyway.