Travelling is such a generic term. It strips down the whole smorgasbord of activities that embodies the entire travelling experience.
Here are some things that I like to do when I travel:
1. Eat and drink something new
Whether it’s eating cuy (guinea pig) in Peru, or slurping luminous green-coloured syrupy concoction (described to us as some kind of bean drink) in Cambodia, or savouring mystery gamey meat on skewers in Vietnam (which we later found out to be dog meat) or ordering in France the stinkiest sausage ever, it’s worth it to try to something new. Think of it as savouring a mouthful of surprise – good or bad!
Even if you are less food adventurous, trying new food doesn’t necessarily mean we stray from food that are familiar. A dish that is prepared from locally-available ingredients, like caught fish (if you visit say, a port-side town) or farm-grown plants and vegetables – and there are many variants of the type that we’re familiar with, prepared in the way most commonly done in the host town, to me is an interesting enough culinary adventure. Let your tongue and nose help you explore the places you are visiting!
2. Visit a morning market
For the same reason as point 1 above. Also, it’s a great way to experience the start of a new day and the morning buzz of the place you are visiting. Morning markets are usually great places to grab some breakfast too.
3. Take the bus/tram/train to the end of the route
Public transport is usually a good way to see an urbanised area. And taking the bus/tram/train to the end of the line is like taking a city tour without going on a tour-operated open-top bus.
Of course it doesn’t always pay off: many years ago, at the outskirts of Pilsen, Czech Republic, I did try to take the municipal bus to the route’s end with no destination in mind. However after sitting on the bus for half an hour, it got rather depressing during the cold winter after seeing blocks and blocks of homogeneous unappealing housing, remnants of a bygone regime; I just had to get off and backtrack to Pilsen.
Other times though, the experience proves rewarding. Taking the old double-decker trams in Hong Kong comes to mind: sitting on the upper deck provides a birds-eye view of the hustle and bustle of daily life and is a charming experience especially if it’s your first time. A lot of European cities have fixed fare systems (instead of distance-based fares) which makes it very economical in these expensive countries to just take that bus or tram right to the end of the line. In La Paz, I took a random bus and somehow ended up at the supposedly notorious (according to some guidebooks & forum) Cementerio site. But in broad day light, I was treated to a visual feast of a religious festival!
So if taking the public transport gives you a birds-eye overview, then walking magnifies the experience in teasing out the little details. I know this line is going to sound cheesy: Walking allows us to stop and smell the roses. Literally.
I like taking photograph of bugs, flowers and generally anything when the lighting is awesome. So exploration by foot allows me to stop, peer, position, point and shoot. Sometimes, walking is a necessity due to lack of public transport (or if you are a frugal traveller who refuses to take a taxi if she can help it). But it is by exploring on foot that you uncover the finer details which you would have missed if you were in a car speeding off to your next destination.
Also, walking is very egalitarian. You don’t need to have expensive equipments or a big budget. All you need are a pair of comfortable shoes and sturdy determination. Marvellous adventures don’t necessarily have to happen in somewhere far-flung or exotic. A walking adventure is totally do-able and promising, even in a small country like Singapore.
5. Listen to live music
I like listening to live music performances, though it’s not always easy to find (karaoke bars don’t count), much less find a good one. But keep your ears opened, you never know what you might come across.
Many years ago on one late afternoon, I went up to the Castelo de São Jorge in Lisbon when it was still opened for free to the public. As we soaked in the golden sunset hues, not far away was a middle-aged woman who stood alone facing the old city below, singing in her slightly worn, coarse but brilliant contralto voice which still echoes in the residual of my memory. It was the perfect ending to the day’s exploration of the city.
If music is not your thing, how about a theatre performance, or a sports game?
This is my habit. But it’s a solitary one so I tend to write less or not at all when I’m travelling with people. The greatest thing about writing comes after the trip: reading a journal is almost like looking back at photos, but with a lot more narrative and to the experience.
There are many more things to do on a trip, and all we have to do is open up our eyes and ears and ride to the rhythm of the place’s heartbeat.
What do you like to do while travelling?