The most obvious way to have a unique and authentic experience that’s not being had by a dozen other people at the same time is to separate from the pack. If you’re traveling with a group, this means going off on your own for a bit. Traveling with a friend or spouse? Excuse yourself for some “alone” time and head off on your own adventure, even if it’s just for an afternoon or an hour or two.
What you’re looking for is opportunities to interact with the local culture in ways that are impossible when you’re traveling with others. When you’re alone, you open yourself up to experiences differently than if you were comparing notes and conversation with a travel companion. Simply put—more things happen when you’re solo, and you’ll be more willing to make things happen that you might not otherwise, had you been with another traveler.
Once you’re by yourself here are some ways to have your very own unforgettable experiences, made just for you:
1. Think like a storyteller (writer).
If you had to come back from your little solo venture with a good story to tell, you’d start thinking like a writer and looking for the “angle” of the story. Whom can you meet to start a conversation with? What can you get yourself involved in—an event, an activity, a local scene—that would give you an inside track on what’s happening where you are? Where would you wander that’s not on the list of highlights provided by the hotel or tour company or guidebook? What questions could you ask of someone on the street or in a café about local lore, or a historical subject, or perhaps something a bit controversial? What questions and thoughts do you have in your head that you’re a little bit afraid to ask?
Not that every destination is going to be so seductive, but you get the idea. Write your own story. Create your own plot and develop your own characters. With you, starring in the middle, narrating the whole thing.
2. Take (measured) risks.
Here’s what I mean: You’ve been told you have to go to the Bayon (Angkor Wat) temples at sunrise. It’s the best time to go as the first rays of light are cast through the shadowy statues and monuments. The photography is amazing. The serenity and solitude is available to all—if you get there early. You could go with the driver and small tour leaving at 5 a.m. but instead you negotiate a ride on the back of a motorbike for $5 and leave at 4:30.
Sometimes you’ll have a good enough sense of a place to know that certain “adventures” are okay, that you’ll be reasonably safe and taken care of. I’m not saying to hop on some stranger’s motorbike and hope for the best (though frankly, those have been some of my best travel memories!), but I am saying, be willing to push beyond your own comfort level sometimes. Recognize those moments when you’re hesitating because it’s just not what you’re used to or what you’ve heard is the way things are supposed to be. Be bold. Get out there. It’s your own internal world where the risk usually takes place.
3. Keep it to yourself.
When you travel with others, there’s a natural tendency to share your thoughts, opinions, feelings, even off-handed remarks about things from “back home.” Sometimes it’s fun to share in the excitement of the new place, to learn from one another and laugh and grow together. But if you want to have experiences no one else is having (see number 1 and number 2), you also need to keep some of those experiences to yourself. As soon as you start talking about your travel moments with others, it is likely that others will chime in and add to (or take away from) your very personal travel experience.
Not everything needs to be shared. In fact, keeping some of those travel treasures to yourself will sustain you for years to come. Maybe you’ll share them, maybe you won’t. They’re yours to keep for the rest of your life. You just have to get out there and have them.
Have some interesting examples or ideas of how to have travel experiences no one else is having? Would love to read your comments!