I know, I know, this is all very unexpected. Why would a book reviewer, and travel book reviewer at that, suggest not to bring along those books on my own trips? And, my gosh, let's not even begin questioning why on earth she would think it sound advice to tell me not to bring a guide. Or even a map. Ha!
Well, I'm not exactly telling you that you should or shouldn't do anything. But please consider my proposition.
Because some of my best travel experiences have been spent without any of the three.
I know that studying abroad is supposed to be an academic joke. Most universities do not equate the credit to that of their courses offered on the main campus, which translates to an easy class, a pass/fail grading system, or a little bit of both.
Studying abroad was not like that for me. By the time midterms came around last semester, I was stressed and in desperate need of a vacation. Thankfully, spring break began the day after my last exam.
My best traveling companion and I had previously booked hostels in our three destinations (Dublin, Budapest, Florence) and bought plane tickets to and from each random European city. We had the essentials covered. And before we knew it, we kissed our classes goodbye (for a week) and hopped on our plane from Baden-Baden to the Dublin airport without a care or worry in the world.
There was some method to our madness: All we had wanted to do was go to Budapest to visit my neighbor's family and see the city from the inside out, through the eyes of the Hungarian locals. But you, of all people, most understand the way that discount airlines work… without any logic.
And so, I placed my perfectionism and planning tendencies behind me as we found the cheapest flight in (and out of Dublin) and the cheapest flight out (to Florence). We “planned” our entire 8 days of traveling without an agenda, and yet we achieved everything and more that we had set out to do.
We saw the sights in Dublin as we walked aimlessly through the streets. But we also got to know Arklow, a small coastal town that we chose randomly on the train map in hopes of finding the essence of Ireland. We visited all of the historically- and contemporary-influential places in Budapest. But we also tasted the best hot chocolate we had ever had, and realized the beauty in tragically forgotten buildings.
We took the tour of Florence offered by our hostel, and even spent a long morning in the world famous Uffizi. But? It was raining, we were tired of tourists, we walked up the hill before us, higher and higher until we found it. We soon learned that “it” was the Bardini Garden, and we were, at that moment in time, it's sole visitors. We continued on to the Boboli gardens after, of course, but we remember our secret garden most fondly.
“How, then, find the courage for action? By slipping a little into unconsciousness, spontaneity, instinct which holds one to the earth and dictates the relatively good and useful. By accepting the human condition more simply, and candidly, by dreading troubles less, calculating less, hoping more.” -Hendric Freder Amiel