I realised very early on that, for me, travelling was the
best way of learning. I still have a pilgrim soul, and I thought that I would
use this blog to pass on some of the lessons I have learned, in the hope that
they might prove useful to other pilgrims like me.
1. Avoid museums. This might seem to be absurd advice, but
let’s just think about it a little: if you are in a foreign city, isn’t it far
more interesting to go in search of the present than of the past? It’s just
that people feel obliged to go to museums because they learned as children that
travelling was about seeking out that kind of culture. Obviously museums are
important, but they require time and objectivity – you need to know what you
want to see there, otherwise you will leave with a sense of having seen a few
really fundamental things, except that you can’t remember what they were.
2. Hang out in bars. Bars are the places where life in the
city reveals itself, not in museums. By bars I don’t mean nightclubs, but the
places where ordinary people go, have a drink, ponder the weather, and are
always ready for a chat. Buy a newspaper and enjoy the ebb and flow of people.
If someone strikes up a conversation, however silly, join in: you cannot judge
the beauty of a particular path just by looking at the gate.
3. Be open. The best tour guide is someone who lives in
the place, knows everything about it, is proud of his or her city, but does not
work for any agency. Go out into the street, choose the person you want to talk
to, and ask them something (Where is the cathedral? Where is the post office?).
If nothing comes of it, try someone else – I guarantee that at the end of the
day you will have found yourself an excellent companion.
4. Try to travel alone or – if you are married – with your
spouse. It will be harder work, no one will be there taking care of you, but
only in this way can you truly leave your own country behind. Traveling with a
group is a way of being in a foreign country while speaking your mother tongue,
doing whatever the leader of the flock tells you to do, and taking more
interest in group gossip than in the place you are visiting.
5. Don’t compare. Don’t compare anything – prices,
standards of hygiene, quality of life, means of transport, nothing! You are not
traveling in order to prove that you have a better life than other people –
your aim is to find out how other people live, what they can teach you, how
they deal with reality and with the extraordinary.
6. Understand that everyone understands you. Even if you
don’t speak the language, don’t be afraid: I’ve been in lots of places where I
could not communicate with words at all, and I always found support, guidance,
useful advice, and even girlfriends. Some people think that if they travel alone,
they will set off down the street and be lost for ever. Just make sure you have
the hotel card in your pocket and – if the worst comes to the worst – flag down
a taxi and show the card to the driver.
7. Don’t buy too much. Spend your money on things you
won’t need to carry: tickets to a good play, restaurants, trips. Nowadays, with
the global economy and the Internet, you can buy anything you want without
having to pay excess baggage.
8. Don’t try to see the world in a month. It is far better
to stay in a city for four or five days than to visit five cities in a week. A
city is like a capricious woman: she takes time to be seduced and to reveal
9. A journey is an adventure. Henry Miller used to say
that it is far more important to discover a church that no one else has ever
heard of than to go to Rome
and feel obliged to visit the Sistine Chapel with two hundred thousand other
tourists bellowing in your ear. By all means go to the Sistine Chapel, but
wander the streets too, explore alleyways, experience the freedom of looking
for something – quite what you don’t know – but which, if you find it, will –
you can be sure – change your life.