I have travelled solo, with friends, family, and one question always comes to mind when I return home. "Did I have a good time?" I am not querying with myself whether or not I was happy, because I was on holiday so of course I was happy. I ask myself this as a way of assessing how well I have thrown myself into the foreign surroundings, and this can only be answered when I try to remember certain events that have happened when I was away.
Honestly this comes down to my own personal failings of which there are two that stick together when it comes to navigating whilst travelling:
Failing number 1: My inability to read maps, however at the same time still believe I am reading them correctly.
Failing number 2: I possess a miraculous ability to lose sight of massive recognisable landmarks.
The first time I went travelling alone was when I fully discovered these failings, and at the same time had a personal revelation this post is based on. One of my stops was Budapest, and I managed to lose the River Danube, the giant river that splits the old and new parts of the city; failing number 2. This was completely brought about by alighting the tram one stop too early with help from failing number 1... I made myself very lost indeed.
I was on my way to visit one of Budapest's most visited sights the 'Citadella' the giant fortress on Gellért Hill. The fact that it is on this hill overlooking the city would usually work in favour of people trying to find it but oh no not me. Whilst other tourists were climbing the hill and photographing their way around the landmark I was still continuing my case of mistaken street identity, gradually working my way through a park and into the suburbs. I ended up 45 minutes away from the Citadel.
But unlike a situation where getting lost would be an annoyance; such as being late for a train and getting lost in the station, or losing your hotel whilst still lugging all your baggage around, both of which are not very fun at all, the merits of being lost on this day were plentiful.
With no deadline or baggage I found an area which no other tourist would usually go to, a place where no one I could find spoke English, a place that was for Hungarians not for people to walk around viewing life through their camera lenses. I loved it, it forced me to step out of the usual tourist comfort zone and speak to some locals to try and find out where the hell I was. I remember this because it was difficult and exciting. Like I say no one spoke English and my map which only now could be useful as I knew I was indeed lost, did not cover the area I thought I was in so far from the usual sightseeing route. Failing to think of a decent miming action for "Where is the Citadel?" I decided to make my own way.
In this case I can say "yes" I did have fun on that day in Budapest, and I did every other day as well because I was not afraid to lose myself in the city. This of course is not a new idea, and I am fully aware I only found myself in this situation by trying to follow everyone else on the normal tourist route, but it taught me that it is too easy to just take pictures and see the must sees. Because when all is said and done that hundred year old church is still a church, and that beautiful bridge is still a bridge. BUT, that obese woman I saw in Florida on the bus forcing her very young child to call her boyfriend a "faggot" down the phone was real (sadly), and that undercover transport policeman in Prague who flashed his badge at me (Miami Vice style) whilst checking my ticket was real, and they both happened in areas definitely not in the guide book.
So by getting lost whether it is figuratively or literally is a good thing to do, and the best way to allow yourself to breathe it all in is to put down the camera and look everywhere you normally would and twice as hard into the things you normally wouldn't. Because the stories that you will tell will stay with you longer than a photo of a building that has no sentimental value to you at all. Photos only prove you were there, not that you had a good time. So just bloody do it!
Oh and in case you were wondering after all this; I did make it to the 'Citadella'.
It was closed...