Making the most of a place that is totally not your scene. The wonders of travel has kept wanderers wandering from the beginning of time. For many of us, we constantly seek more places to explore, more cuisines to feast on, more people to meet.
From the cobbled streets of Prague to the skyscrapers of New York, the plains of India to the jungles of Borneo, the vastness of our world leaves so much to see, to travel as far as we might dare to venture.
And then sometimes, your travel leads you to a place that’s more strange than it is satisfying, perhaps a little bland and not terribly exciting – a place like Doha, for example, where there’s hot, hot heat and the constant disconcerting feeling that you’re strolling around on a movie set, rather than an actual place that people call home.
So maybe wherever you’ve ended up isn’t really your scene, and while you’re not going to strike Instagram gold in every place you visit, every place you visit has something substantial you can take away from it. (Or, at the very least, another place to scratch off your travel map.) So venture boldly forth and turn a potential travel regret into another place you’ve at least tried to get to know.
DO LIKE THE LOCALS DO
While for the sake of this example we qualify a local as more of a long-term resident – not one person I spoke to in Doha was actually from there – the people who spend the most time in a city or a town know it best.
Even a city that lacks stunning scenery or a wild nightlife scene has its own charms, and to find them one only needs to follow the lead of the people who live there. This could be a hidden gem of a local museum, a particularly lovely after-work stroll, or the best hookah bar in town.
Tempting as it may be to suss out the hottest expat joints in town, you (presumably) might only be here once. Pass on the overpriced alcohol and walk the path of the average person instead, without holding high expectations for where it might lead, but for a new journey to be enjoyed as you go on your way.
“But I could be somewhere so much more exciting,” you find yourself thinking sullenly. “This is literally the worst place I’ve ever been to.” Keep calm, stop your sulking and travel on – a new place is a new place waiting to be explored, whether or not it ever makes your top ten list.
EMBRACE THE STRANGE
In the middle of Tirana, Albania, stands a pyramid. To say that it’s an eyesore doesn’t do its ugliness justice; it is the most monstrous building you can imagine. Built in 1988 and now unoccupied, unused and covered with poor graffiti and suspicious characters, it’s not a place anyone would want to spend an extended amount of time at. Still, there’s a story of a Stalin-loving communist leader and his daughter behind it, and it’s a story as strange as the building itself.
In the centre of Doha, countless shops are filled with birds. Falcons are tied to poles in one big Birds of Prey market and sold for your hunting needs. A bizarre sight for the uninitiated, but one that leaves a lasting impression.
Meanwhile in Skopje, Macedonia, garishly coloured building facades and overindulgent statues and fountains scream new wealth and tasteless spending. Walking around feels a bit like you’re exploring the mansions of a bored millionaire who has a thing for Vegas casinos.
Embrace it anyway – and trust that behind all the strangeness you may encounter, there are more stories to discover still, if you’re willing to seek them.
GET SOME TIME IN
Maybe there’s really nothing else to do. Maybe, try as you might, you can’t for the life of you figure out what one is meant to do for fun in these parts. You’ve wandered into a land of vast nothingness either in terms of sights, culture, activities or history you’d care to learn.
There’s one thing that’s entirely in your control, though, and that’s the combination of you and this dreadful place. Take this complete lack of life or luxury and use it to your advantage: Start writing your novel. Create the killer playlist you’ve already put together in your mind. Do some serious soul-searching. Have another existential crisis. Go for a long walk.
Do the things you always do, or want to do, and use the noticeable lack of desired distractions and the new setting you’re in to actually get some time for yourself in. No cool people to stumble into and hang out with? Even better – stay by your lonesome and (re)learn to enjoy your own company when there’s nothing to distract you from yourself.
LEARN SOMETHING NEW
If you’re a bit of a trivia geek, this could be an opportunity to shine one day in the unforeseeable future, as you dazzle with a surprising amount of information about an unlikely destination. You’ve got time and you are, and as we always are, surrounded by information that can be acquired. Learn quick facts about the capital, ask about the architecture, look into the literature and listen to the music of this place. Maybe you’ll find out something new about the place; maybe you’ll find out something new about yourself.
As you leave at last with all kinds of quick facts, a renewed sense of self, a new appreciation for the absurd and an insider’s tips on a shortcut or two through the city centre, you’ll know at least that your time was not spent in vain. And if ever your forlorn friends end up in these parts, you’ll be ready and waiting to see them through, with a hot take on the land that you have come to know, even if it’s a place that you’ll never quite understand.