Ever felt like you just want to grab your bag and leave wherever?
I did that last weekend – here’s what I learned from it.
I feel somewhat restless lately and am not quite sure which direction to go. Last Friday night, I came home from my gym at 8pm and reached a peak of this “longing for belonging”. I decided for a spontaneous road trip (yay!). So I booked a (surprisingly cheap) rental car online and left 20 minutes later.
Well… spontaneous is too sweet of a word. Totally blindsided-head-over-heels might be rather accurate.
1. Always pack toothpaste.
You know, the most necessary things. Enough underwear, ideally wear layers. Cause if you decide spontaneously, everything else is gonna be a hassle. I thought of visiting my parents, thus didn’t even bring toothpaste or a towel, let alone clothes for changing or sleeping. When I arrived at the pick up station, however, I realized, I don’t want to drive home either. Too bad.
So. Where do I want to go?, I wondered
I didn’t know.
I started driving South (starting from Frankfurt, Germany) and just dozed a couple of hours at a rest stop when I got too tired.
The next morning, I was in Southern Bavaria already. And discovered, with a look on the map, oh hey, I’m close to Neuschwanstein! So I made a stop there to check the castle out.
2. Be open for anything
That’s just so much fun! Since you didn’t plan, just check out whatever turns up on the map. So you’ll never be disappointed! Like when I realized I got to see fancy castles.
I continued driving through Austria. I’ve never been there (my 25th and absolutely gorgeous country!), neither to the Alps, and immensely enjoyed the liberating feeling to drive through the mountains. With a cabriolet, I should mention.
By then, I already had this thought in mind… I want to see the Sea. I want to feel the sand beneath my feet and feel a salty breeze on my skin.
I ended up driving 1.000 km to Venice. Very spontaneous road trip indeed.
3. Make sure you use a proper navigation system.
And that it doesn’t exclude charged highways – driving all the small mountain roads, I already wondered why Italy didn’t seem to have proper highways. This added 4 hours and 100 km to my route.
I was on the road the whole Saturday and it was exactly what I needed. Many people looked at me unbelievingly later, how stressful that must have been, but for me it was part of my journey, of my inner travel. The landscape, the mountains and lakes, the forests and vineyards, the houses and castles, the sunshine and rain, day and night, crowded highways and deserted country roads, this all gave a lot of space to my thoughts.
The people that waved at me laughing, this girl with her red lips in her tiny German car.
The cute little shoe shop in Austria that somehow drew me in (I seriously haven’t bought new shoes in a year), that I left 10 minutes later with just the most PERFECT pumps I have ever seen. Price reduced of course.
I continued driving. At nightfall, my music player on random mode chose “Durch die Nacht” (“Through the night”) by Philip Poisel which is about two persons driving through the night in Italy. I burst out laughing. I LOVE these synchronous moments.
It was the middle of night when I got tired. I stopped at 3! petrol stations seeing what I assumed to be a beverage machine to discover – it was one for DVDs. Seriously. They sell DVDs in machines on petrol stations, but no snacks or coffee. Totally rightly set priorities.
4. Always make enough coffee available to you.
Later, me still in my fancy dress, I walked into an Italian bar in the middle of nowhere, with not a soul speaking English. Must have been quite obvious though what I wanted. Received a large double espresso (just 1€!!), delicious and literally blew me away.
I arrived at 1.30 am and was in my spontaneously booked room an hour later (that was on an island, where I didn’t know before I couldn’t take my car there). I welcomed the actual bed with a jump and fell asleep immediately.
5. Don’t freak out about accommodation.
In most cities, you can just walk the streets and will find something convenient, even at 2 am. Otherwise, since we’re so spontaneous, just sleep in the car. And in case your destination of choice might have no roads but only canals – you should actually think about that before.
The next morning, I threw away the map I was given. I wanted to “use” the time for myself and add some Venetian spice to my state of mind.
I just walked the entire day, saw a lot of amazing little streets, I passed an old musician playing the harmonica twinkling at me, and ate in a tiny restaurant among locals. There were the gondoliers in their striped shirts cheerfully enjoying lunch. There was a young couple talking enthusiastically, and a family with 3 kids sharing the different pizzas they ordered. There was what looked like a granddad with his three sons, and it was his birthday – when the waiter brought his candlelit cake, everybody in the restaurant started singing. It was such a happy lively atmosphere!
6. Don’t try to see everything.
And pack every single minute with another “top ten must do’s”, it’s not worth it. You have only a short time at your destination, it will stress you anyway due to all the tourists you walk among. Learn to listen to your intuition and discover all the little treasures and secrets. This will make the experience way more enjoyable, I promise. Actually I succeeded this point!
Several times, I turned a corner to find myself in a place I was coming from 20 minutes ago while I was utterly convinced to be somewhere completely else. Then I often thought I reached a dead end while there was yet another little alley to be discovered.
At one point, I stood in a narrow cobbled street, still, listening.
The walls were at least four stories high, the passage just three or four meters wide, each house of a different color. Fresh laundry was hanging from one window to another way above my head. Colorful, glittering decorations and little plastic wind wheels were hanging from the sills. I heard TV sounds from an open window nearby, I heard a pedestrian somewhere around whistling cheerfully, and a faint harmonica playing those typical tunes you’d connect to Italy instantly. I heard some seagulls, I could smell what was prepared in kitchens around.
That was a way more intense moment than I would have got from any usual guided tour.
I learned about what is happening in Venice from a local’s perspective when checking what all those banners and posters meant, saying “Venezia è il nostro futuro” – Venice is our future. The city’s mayor recently, on the opening of the 15th International Architecture Biennale, said “The future of this city isn’t Venice, it’s Mestre, where the population lives” (on the mainland). He explained that his words were taken out of context, yet there is a good deal of public outcry.
I got goosebumps in a tiny messy book shop that looked exactly like you’d imagine it to be hidden in a narrow alley somewhere in Venice. A tiny room, stuffed with ceiling-high shelfs overflowing with books in any language, about anything from traditional Italian cooking to modern Asian art to a German fairytale book to ten different versions of the Bible to local Flora & Fauna. And many other random objects like a vintage camera here, a weaving loom there, some kitsch over there. And this smell of hundreds of years of captured thoughts – it was magical.
Probably, I didn’t see many of those “must see’s”. But if you’re able to imagine the described scenes, you know that is absolutely not necessary. 🙂
Well. Then, this is probably the most ridiculous, most expensive, most emotional and yet best coffee I ever had. The milk froth was actually so perfect that the little amarettini I put on it stayed just where it was.
7. Treat yourself.
Because you’re worth it. I’m an absolutely passionate low budget traveler (low budget liver, for that matter), but sometimes you should simply enjoy yourself with whatever does you good. I might have actually lost a tear during this coffee because I screwed the price for once* and was just amazed by the perfection of the moment. However, I had to take this trip to realize that again.
And this is also the only photo I took in Venice. I didn’t want to be preoccupied with taking pictures although I love photography. Why you wonder?
8. You don’t have to capture every moment.
Consider doing something just for yourself and try to capture a specific situation in your mind instead of pressing the releaser to whatever your camera lense is directed at. It’ll mean so much more to you, and you won’t become stressed out in a gorgeous place to try to record everything.
In fact, I bought as many paintings as I took pictures. In a tiny hidden street, an old man was blissfully painting beautiful scenes of Venice. And I gladly bought one of him instead of a random copy for half the price in a crowded tourist shop.
After a very diverse day, with excitement and fear and laughter and desperation and astonishment, good coffee and treats, a version of Venetian Tapas, a fresh Bellini and a fresher insight into my mind – I went back to my room, went to bed early. I packed up my few things the next day, had a last walk around, I dipped my feet into the ocean, enjoyed an amazing yet cheap pizza with direct Sea view.
9. Go where locals go.
You’ll find the best places when you walk off the beaten path. Exit public transport where just those two old ladies with their groceries get off (and give a knowing twinkle to all the tourists). Maybe talk to some locals, they’ll mostly be happy to help and curious about your story, have the best and cheapest food – winwin.
So I had a day in Venice. And then I drove 1.000 km back.
During a night’s stop, I gazed at the astonishing bright stars, even saw the milky way, and in that exact moment looking up, a shooting star, and I made a wish (I know, I know, can it get any more cheesy?).
I slept in the car again (a Smart, btw :D) and went straight to work Tuesday morning while fixing my hair in the rearview mirror when I was stuck in traffic jam and putting on my blazer that formerly was my pillow.
10. Be creative!
Even with barely anything on you, you can make work and travel compatible! You don’t need fancy travel pillows and extra blankets and even not a shower every morning with the help of some cold water. Seriously.
Well. I actually managed to get some of the lessons I learned right, after all *happy dance*.
What I wanna say ladies & gents…
Screw “crazy” (which is what all my colleagues named me that morning I returned). It was what was best for me in that moment and it helped me to figure some things out. And there’s always a way to make most use of the fewest time.
Last but not least, please mind not to mistake a pretty picture for the perfect pretty adventure. It was an emotional rollercoaster. From hysteric laughing to desperate crying to excited curiosity to furious rushing to plain happy smiling. But I know this had to be part of my journey 🙂
So – are you ready for your spontaneous road trip? Where would you go?
*the cappuccino was freaking 9€. #yolo