Holidays are something we long for, save tons of money for, and prepare for long in advance. We’ve always been told that, in order to get the most out of our travels, we need to read up on the culture and places to visit so that we really know where to go.
Maybe you prepare your holidays by making a schedule of which museum you want to see when, where you want to eat, and what night activities you will squeeze in. Or maybe you join a guided tour and stop by the top-ranked places of the country you are visiting, typically one after another in a rather tight time-schedule. Just take your snapshots and keep going!
I want to invite you to do the total opposite. Just go out and get lost. Leave your brain at home; follow your senses. Most of us knowledge-workers are already quite out of touch with our bodies, and if at a time of rest and relaxation such as our holidays, we still can’t let go of our intellect and throw in our body and soul, we are missing out on the fun.
You can’t plan for that gorgeous afternoon in Italy where you just linger on the square of a small town, bask in the sun, sip an espresso that sets you on fire, and just watch the people pass by.
I want to give you a scandalous, sensual invitation: Don’t prepare for your holidays. Just walk out of your hotel and surrender to your senses. Just wander around. Sit on a bench in the shade if you feel like it. If you pass by a restaurant that smells good, go and try it out. Take the metro and get off at a random stop. Indulge, for indulgence is the oil that smooths your senses.
Let’s break it down into our five wonderful, glorious senses and see how you can really feel the place where you are traveling to.
What brings you most joy when you travel to, say, France: taking the ubiquitous snapshot of you pushing against the Eiffel tower or taking in the lovely sight of people carrying baguettes from the bakery. Take the road less traveled and explore the countryside. Find that place where all is quiet and you can see soft fields until the horizon. Watch the ocean and the waves coming and going. Or watch people, vibrant, colorful people that are making their way home in that exotic place they belong to.
Take those earbuds out of your ears, switch off your volume, and listen to your holiday place. Is it a hustle-bustle, busy city in which people shout at each other in their foreign language? If you pay full attention, can you make sense of what they say? Can you learn a new language by feeling it?
What is the local music of the place that you are exploring? Can you walk into a pub at night and hear a local band play? Can you maybe even join a jam session in the street or on the beach? You don’t need to be able to play an instrument; as long as you can clap your hands, you can make music!
Get back to the roots, get back to mother nature, and simply reach out your hands to feel the earth, the trees, the fabrics, the grains, and everything you can lay your hands on. If you are traveling with a partner, take the time to hold him/her close and feel that spark of love when you touch him/her before pointing at a beautiful sight in the distance.
Experience a local tradition: go to a local massage parlor, swim in the lake or river, and try out the bathing/sauna culture (if there is any) where you are going.
It’s not a bad habit to eat your way through a country. Try out whatever smells good to you, and buy random food from street vendors. Pay attention to the locals – where do they seem to hang out for dinner, what are they buying from the grocery store? Traveling to a far place to find yourself landing into the local Subway or McDonald’s is just sad. Use the opportunity to discover the specialties of the region. If possible, go tasting wine/beer/liquor and learn about the local brewing history.
Follow your nose while you wander around a foreign city, and don’t be afraid to see what your gut tells you about these smells. Take deep breaths and pay true attention to what smells and information linger in the air. Can you distinguish the local spices? Can you smell the sea, even though you might be 20 minutes away from the beach?
Eat slowly and take enough time to admire your lovely exotic new foods, to smell them, and to be grateful for having this experience. Bring your senses together into your travel experience and truly have the location you are visiting sink into every single pore of your body.
If you ask me, sensual is the new slow travel. Enjoy!