“Knowledge is the antidote to fear.” R.W. Emerson
When people look at all the photos I took while on the trip they always ask one question, “Who did you book this trip through?” When I tell them I booked, and planned out the entire trip myself, they’re shocked, but also a little upset that there’s no clickable link where they can purchase a Groupon for it.
I don’t blame them though, it’s a daunting chore to find the truth and avoid being ripped off in an ultra-advertised society. People crave familiarity in their experiences and this leads to a massive market for corporations to exploit people’s fears with all inclusive cruises and lowest-bid tour groups.
While saving my points for this trip I was bombarded with emails and targeted ads showing beautiful pictures of beaches with people sipping cocktails, “$99 round trip to the Bahamas!”, “Winter getaway to Jamaica, use your points now before they expire!” “Just gotta get away? Click to see our exciting packages to Aruba!” These are what I call the “impulse aisle” of vacations and they prey on your sense of adventure when you’re sitting in your cubicle on a Monday morning. They give you the thing you crave most in that moment, something to look forward to.
Our society in America has become so overworked that even a vacation has started to feel like a chore, from requesting time off, to booking early to ensure a hotel room is available, to dealing with TSA at the airport, most people in America just don’t want the hassle of traveling anymore. I believe this is by design to keep us divided and we’ve invented the term ‘stay-cation’ to describe it.
There are two definitions of a stay-cation, and while I agree with the moral responsibility argument of traveling less to reduce your carbon footprint, I believe the term better describes fear, anxiety, and poverty in our culture. Travel gives birth to new ideas and compassion for other people, if we continue to retreat into our own bubbles of comfort and familiarity then we will stop growing as a connected society.
It’s this mentality that is leading to an increase in nationalism around the world, the closing of borders, and the expulsion of diplomats. Reducing our effect on the natural environment is a very noble cause, but it’s equally important that we unite and travel to experience other cultures, eat different foods, and find a way to communicate without the filter of domestic propaganda. Then together we can fight the global corporations, who are ultimately at fault for the destruction of the natural environment.
I know the raindrop never feels responsible for the storm, but my goal was to avoid this cruise-cliche and not be herded like cattle through the streets. Instead, I wanted to fill our days with modern and historical local customs in order to put us into situations where we’d be forced out of our comfort zones, this was the only way we’d truly learn about new cultures and have a more authentic experience. Unfortunately, the ‘spiritual enlightenment’ package on Expedia was non-existent, so I took matters into my own hands.
As I alluded to before, I am a digital hoarder and when I plan a new trip I subscribe to that communities subreddit and collect logs of popular weekend activities which the locals are interested in. I realized a long time ago that if the RVA subreddit exists and regularly posts tips from locals, then there must be an equivalent group for Paris, Florence, and Rome. Not to mention, others for Europe, the country of Italy, and the country of France. There are also an assortment of travel related subreddits, in addition to the “porn” subreddits. No not that kind of porn, I’m talking about communities of people who share stories and photos as they relate to something that interests them such as architecture, food, landscapes, art, or extreme sports, it’s like porn for the soul, rather than the body. One of the best ways to avoid tourist locations when traveling comes from rediscovering forgotten locations, which is how I discovered the Parisian Catacombs and Excalibur Sword in Chiusdino, Italy.
After booking your next trip, create a user account on Reddit.com and then unsubscribe from all the default subreddits designed to distract you, in favor of the locations, cultures, and activities that interest you. This way your advice is coming from people and not corporate interests and when you’re browsing your phone at night, mindlessly swiping through posts, you can record the comments and photos that emotionally move you. Whether that’s a glacier in Greenland or an island of bunnies in Japan, just be honest with yourself about the stories you want to be able to tell to your grandkids. Treat the device as a peephole into the world, and make it a priority to find out what’s on the other side of the door.
I’ve included a list of all the activities I collected for France and Italy over the course of a year browsing local subreddits, translating stories, and tracking down locations using comments and the metadata in photos. This is how I approach every new adventure and it reduces the stress of choosing activities on the fly, along with alleviating the pressure to book through a biased corporation.
The dates and times are listed in my itinerary and pieced together one activity at a time based on price, proximity, priority, and personality. I also created a running list of backup activities for when my itinerary inevitably fell apart.