Have you ever been so spontaneous that you literally just left? No planning, no packing. Just leaving. Have you ever done that?
I have. By accident. We were in Russia and wanted to take a weekend trip to Estonia, but upon arriving at the bus station learned that there was only one bus leaving in 10 minutes, or we couldn’t go at all. Guess what? In a very unlike me way, I went for it and we hopped on the bus and spent 3 days in Estonia. Here’s what I learned:
- You don’t need stuff. Seriously, all that stuff you think you need– you don’t need it.
- But, an extra pair of underwear is nice.
- And so is a toothbrush.
- But, you can buy both of these things at a gas station. Even at midnight. Even in Estonia.
- Carry your passport with you. Who knows when you’ll have a chance to hop on a bus or a plane and travel somewhere amazing. (Editor’s note: Actually, this is probably only a good idea if you carry it in a money belt, flat against your skin. Probably not the most comfortable thing at work– so the better idea would be to carry your passport in a money belt when you’re traveling, even domestically, and know EXACTLY where it is at home- so that you could pull it out in 5 minutes or less).
- If it’s winter, always have a hat and gloves with you. My dad always told me this growing up– he was worried that the car would breakdown in mid-winter Minnesota and I would freeze. Turns out this is good advice for traveling too.
- If you didn’t have your hat and gloves with you– you can get these extremely cheap (and often quite unique looking) at a thrift store. Even in Estonia.
- You don’t need a guidebook. You may have a guidebook for this exact place you’re visiting- and you may have left it sitting on your bed– but you don’t need one. In fact, things may be more interesting without the guidebook. And if you really think you just might die without a guidebook, you can go to a local bookstore when you reach your destination and flip through a few.
- Grocery stores are your best friend. Cheap food. Local booze. An entire rotisserie chicken for under $2.
- Packed restaurants or cafeterias near universities have cheap good food.
- If you can’t read the menu- just point to something and hope for the best. And hope it’s not Head Cheese.
- Always carry a camera. Or else you might miss the picture of the squirrel holding a partially unwrapped, king size Butterfinger in its mouth.
- Sit in the local park. Great entertainment from the locals who will often realize you are a tourist and may even try to talk to you in broken and/or drunken English.
- McDonald’s bathrooms are the most reliable thing on planet earth and should not be taken for granted. I’m not a big fan of Mickey D’s, but when it’s 2 am and after sitting (and drinking) in the local park and you really really have to pee- a McDonald’s bathroom will be there for you.
- Wherever you go- there you are. Yes, it’s cheesy (and not like head cheese cheesy) but it’s true. When you are someplace, that’s where you are and you should make the very best of it.
- If you find someone crazy enough to go on a spontaneous journey with you and you have an amazing weekend without a fight– this is someone you should hold close for life. They are an incredible friend that you don’t want to lose.
- You really don’t need stuff. And you really really don’t need a plan. Some of life’s greatest moments actually occur when you just pick up and go. Remember it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission.
If you are wondering how any of this relates to “green travel”, here’s how: green travel is not just about making an exact calculation of your carbon footprint, then doing 18 things to offset it, then mapping the shortest public transportation route to the location and only eating organic food when you’re there– green travel is also about enjoying your surroundings and not taking more than you give. When you travel spontaneously, you can get closer to living the local life and even burn way fewer resources than you might on an elaborate, well-planned trip.