One of those obvious truisms is that the person in the driver’s seat gets to know the landscape of a place more than the other folks along for the ride. Nothing too complicated about that notion. If you’re driving, you’re going to be working off some sort of mental map.
The same thing happens with travel to a new place. If you’re the one who researches the upcoming vacation, really gets in the weeds, you start to own that place. I think that’s why whenever I return to a spot my family and I visited , my memories of it are a bit vague if I wasn’t in on the planning.
Now I’m in the process of planning a trip to Italy. And I’ve decided to take that process to a deeper level — actually rank which spots are more important to me. I’m not doing it because I’m one of those anal folks who needs to know where he’s going to be at any given moment. But I’m starting to discover the power of being in the driver’s seat.
When I do get to that place, I like to improvise a bit — take time with a shopkeeper, find out how business is, maybe even pick their brain. I’ve found that going off script is where the cool stuff tends to happen. But in the back of my head I have an idea of which churches museums or photo locations could be of interest. And just that bit of in depth knowledge makes me more likely to have a travel experience that will have a bit of lasting value.
What I do goes beyond reading Rick Steves. I have a real respect for his travel approach. But this trip is for me. And I don’t really give a crap if everyone and his brother is going to the Louvre. I have to own what I do when I travel.
I need to get in the driver’s seat in terms of exploring my own sensibilities, figure out what gets my creative and personal juices going. For example, photography is a keep element in my experience of a place. If I can take time to breathe in that spot, watch the light, enjoy the people, then I can get a good photo. And in going through that process, that shooting location becomes an artistic experience.
If I’m on a tour and we have five minutes before we’re on to location #37, the chances of me getting good pictures (and enjoying the experience) are minimal. I might as well be taking pictures as we drive by.
And of course, when you travel, you never have as much time as you’d like. Hence, I do research beforehand. I look at the photos other folks have gotten at that spot. I read up on which artist has a painting in this church. I don’t make decisions about where to go yet. But I put all the background info into my creative brain and see what gets me stoked. And hopefully, when I get to that place, my experience is more multi-faceted.
So, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.