When you ask someone about their most rewarding vacations, they’re most likely to list exotic, unspoilt, far-off destinations.
In comparison, think about those destinations which resemble your everyday experience. They might be novel, at first, but as they start to resemble your daily routine they seem mundane, in comparison.
I’m generalising here, but you get the point.
A truly gratifying travel experience all comes down the element of the unfamiliar.
At a most basic level, immersing ourselves in unfamiliar sights, sounds and smells provides a sensory stimulus — it’s the novelty of the new that captivates us.
But on a deeper level, when we’re thrust into situations that test both our EQ and IQ, we need to work harder to solve the problems in front of us. This is particularly true when we found ourselves in unfamiliar environments — like when we travel.
When we do eventually overcome those obstacles, there’s a feeling of reward; an elusive hit of dopamine that comes with deciphering a challenge which in turn determines our travel fortunes.
I remember having to navigate the backroads of rural Goa in December 2016 on a scooter, and my girlfriend and I ending up in a third class carriage for 14 hours because we hadn’t managed to secure a first class cabin in time.
Compared to sojourns in other parts of the world, India required us to be flexible and fluid. For some parts of the trip we had no other option but to adopt a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach to travel. And we don’t regret a second of it.
The environment was unfamiliar enough to open my eyes to something new, but being flexible in that moment and solving those travel challenges allowed me an experience that I might not have had, had I pre-planned every single element.
More often than not, it’s often when things go bad that our travel experiences sour. In a sense, you could say this part of travel is akin to gambling. Take, for example, not being able to get a bus to your destination. It’s in those moments that travel goes from being a wild adrenaline rush, to being bewildering and confusing.
Now, I’m not saying all travellers are the same. Some plan meticulously with almost no room for tweaks and enjoy their trips perfectly fine.
Although I’m only three weeks into my stay in South Korea, the challenges have already come thick and fast. The language barrier is one that requires me to solve a series of micro-challenges on a daily basis. It’s an enriching, humbling and at times animated experience.
So when you plan out your next destination, go for one that scares you — even if it’s just a little.