Starting the day with guide maps to tourist destinations is often the routine for a traveler. Once we’ve been told where to find the best tapas, the most authentic wines and the cheapest souvenirs it is easy to steer away from side streets that house hidden boutiques or one of those wholesome delis that carries unique hams. The symptom of overplanning is something most travelers fall prey to because it is how most of us live our lives. We plan, then do. While on vacation it can be quite difficult to break out of this habit. That is why I will propose this challenge for your next trip.
Instead of ducking into the standard shops visited by most travelers, take a moment to pause and look up. Look up? Yes. Stop and point your nose to the sky. Check out the signs that are posted for locals. Read billboards that are meant for the citizens. And if it is in another language use the pictures to guess- what’s going on?
A few years ago, while living in Korean, I happened to be walking towards my favorite kimbap store for a snack of tuna and rice wrapped in seaweed. The ladies knew my order and would prepare it as soon as they saw me walking in their direction. On this particular day, Spring was just beginning, so it was sunny but still a bit windy. As I squinted away the unexpected rays, my eyes caught a glimpse of the colorful lanterns, swaying above my head. I couldn’t help but to stand under them in great adoration of their colors as they danced in the air. My kimbap waited as I took time to enjoy the view.
The ladies waved me towards the door to let me know my roll was ready. I reached for the bag.
“Birthday” she said.
“No, it’s not my birthday.” I said
“Bul” She chuckled and pointed to lanterns outside her store.
“Bul?” I said
“No, hair.” She chuckled again and gestured with her hands in a shaving motion.
“Ah, Buddha!” I said “his birthday?”
“okay, okay!” she said. We both agreed
The random act of looking up led to a day of festivities for me in downtown Seoul that included a parade, outdoor dining and live music. At that time, I had lived in Korea for only a few months and was loosing my nose for exploration. Now, when I am traveling and feel complacent or uninspired by tourist activities, I like to take a moment to look up, because it is there where we find inspiration for continued exploration.