A pleasure of my weekend is to peruse the New York Times travel section and for years I’ve especially enjoyed reading about peregrinations of Matt Gross, who for a long time wrote the Frugal Traveler column for the paper. It’s been especially fun to read his travel writing since the birth of his daughter about a year and a half ago, as he’s gone from blissed-out and bewildered dad of a newborn who slept through most of an Italian vacation to the much more harried father of a toddler on a daddy-daughter trip to San Francisco.
So I was delighted to see that Gross will be starting a new series called “Getting Lost” where instead of “[researching] destinations to death” he will simply show up in a locale and see what it has to show him. This is of course a brilliant reaction to travel in the Internet age, where it’s possible not only to plan every second of one’s trip ahead of time but to gather tons of information on the fly using tools like a GPS or Twitter. I really enjoyed his first essay in the series, which is about Tangier and which I found to be much more atmospheric than your standard newspaper travel article:
The medina had a strange kind of density. The buildings huddled close together, creating a jumble of blind angles and six-dimensional intersections, crowded at times with women shopping for melons, and motorcycles hauling bales of mint. But all of that could evaporate in an instant. Once, I turned a corner and found nothing but a rectangle of concrete where a house formerly stood, as if a giant child had simply plucked it from the urban fabric.
Like Matt Gross, I had my first experience of getting lost as a child in a foreign country – in my case it was in Florence, Italy when I was nine. And like him, that experience has shaped my own reaction to places ever since. I usually have a plan and I always have a map. I also have a great sense of direction and visual memory that generally keeps me on track. So I tend to think of myself as someone who doesn’t like to be lost.
But even as I write this I wonder if it’s true and I remember the delicious pleasure of wandering in an unknown and beautiful place: Paris, Venice, Bruges, Amsterdam. When I visited these cities in the days before the advent of the Internet with all its advice and information, before I had much money to spend, and before I had children, I spent entire afternoons with no expectation or plan simply walking and looking waiting to see what they would reveal.
I realize that it’s a little ironic for a travel blogger to write about the joys of “un-planning” as you might call it. And I wonder too, as someone who travels with kids if this is even possible. My children expect me to have an agenda (because I always do) and they are so used to my ability to navigate that they become almost immediately indignant when I take a wrong turn as I did most recently in London when we emerged from the Tube on Tottenham Court Road and I was momentarily disoriented in my search for the British Museum.
But reading Gross’ article has me wondering if it’s not time to teach my children the joys of getting a little lost. I’ll be curious to see if he brings his daughter along on any of his adventures, but whether or not he does, I’m thinking that maybe I need to start including some unplanned time just to explore on our next journey. So today I’m dreaming of playing things a little bit more fast and loose on our next trip (even if I do have a map in my back pocket).
What are your travel dreams this Monday? Please feel free to share a link to them below. If it’s your first time here, please see About Monday Dreaming.