As a person with a self-admitted control-freak nature, it goes against my grain to say that errors are often what make travelling fun.
Here’s a list of some of my more significant travel mishaps:
1) Getting Chicken Pox at the age of 8, and being misdiagnosed in Indonesia.
2) Car stranded in soft sand during a family vacation to Western Australia at the age of 11 (this was a time when mobile phones were not yet prevalent)
3) Broken clutch in the middle of Fraser Island (no mobile reception on the island) in 2003
4) Broken alternator in the middle of the night on the way to Bunya Mountains, 240km north-west of Brisbane. Again, no mobile reception
5) Robbed in Beijing in 2005
6) Flight mysteriously cancelled in 2006
The list goes on, and that’s ignoring the countless number of times I have gotten lost. The point is, despite these mishaps, I still find myself straying further and further from the well-touristed (safe) route, and venturing deeper and deeper into the off-beaten track.
No, I’m not a masochist, and neither am I advocating that the route I took was the best one. But, what I am saying however is that mistakes do not necessarily have to spoil an entire trip.
In most cases, the proverbial silver-lining of the clouds does appear. In examples 2, 3 and 4, I ended up being saved by unselfish passers-by. And, in fact, those occasions provided me with an opportunity to get to know the locals on a deeper and more meaningful level.
If you go on a trip, expecting your plan to fall into place, then chances are you will be disappointed, but if you open your mind to the possibility of misadventures, then you are allowing yourself to fully embrace a face of your host country that you otherwise wouldn’t have known existed.
On a recent trip to Kashgar, the westernmost city in China, I drew up a glowing plan which included travelling through the Irkeshtam Pass to neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, and also visiting the famed Karakul Lake. Unfortunately, as I later learnt upon arrival in Kashgar, the Irkeshtam Pass was closed during the winter months, and travel to Lake Karakul required a letter and permit, only obtainable through engaging a costly local travel agent.
The unforeseen changes resulted in my itinerary being changed to include a trip to Tashkurgan – a 4,000m high town, bordering Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Pakistan. Not only did I get to see a town of huge historical and political significance, and not forgetting to mention great scenery, I also got to visit Lake Karakul enroute (without a permit!).
Exotic as the locations might sound, you don’t actually have to travel far to find a ‘deep’ experience. Often times, you can explore deeper, simply by paying more attention to your surroundings. I like how one author once defined travelling as simply going somewhere you’ve never been before. A near-by park that you often pass by, but never stopped at could even constitute as a travel destination.
When I was doing my journalism degree in Australia, I would often in my free time, open up a driving atlas, calculate a distance I was prepared to travel to, draw a circumference to mark my boundaries, close my eyes, and point. That would be my destination. I didn’t care to find out what was at that locale, because it was what was at the end of that little voyage that excited me.
On another occasion, during a short getaway to Phuket, I rented a scooter and randomly made my way around the island. I brought along with me a map, which I planned to use to find my way back to the hotel. At Kata View Point, a famous tourist stop in Phuket, I discovered a tiny, hardly-used road heading down to the beach. Riding my scooter down some 400m, I discovered a lovely bar tucked within the foliage of the hill. And, connected to the bar, was a path that led down to a small private beach. The feeling I had then was as if I had struck gold!
Moral of the story – don’t be too quick to write off a place as being unworthy, just because of its proximity or its reputation for being a tourist hot-spot. It’s often at that little street next to the big attraction that you will find your little piece of paradise.