What I Learned in a Tiny English Town
After nine weeks of non-stop travel, I was in desperate need of a getaway. Sounds kind of counterintuitive right? Well, I’ll put it this way, I needed a getaway from traveling in groups. I needed a break from itineraries and guided tours and museums and galleries. Although I do appreciate all of these experiences, I didn't feel like I was experiencing travel the way I wanted to.
From the moment I walked past the Duomo in Florence, Italy for the first time, I knew I disliked feeling like a tourist. I wanted to be treated like a local. Obviously, these expectations are a bit far fetched the first week you spend in a country that speaks a different language and has vastly different customs from your own, but I was determined to try. Now, I can’t say I haven’t acted like a tourist, of course, I’ve carried my camera around Munich and pulled out a map of Paris, but I think when we set those things down for a moment, we can learn more about ourselves and a culture than we ever could by utilizing a travel agent or searching for places to eat on Trip Advisor.
I’ve only ever heard stories of adventurous travelers throwing a pin at a map and finding their way to a spontaneously chosen destination, but I wanted that kind of experience for my own. In doing so, here’s what I’ve discovered:
1. Before you leave, leave your pride behind.
When you’re packing for such an adventure, leave your pride out of your suitcase. In order to find your way, you’ll most likely have to ask everyone you meet if you’re headed in the right direction. The good news is this: most people are more than happy to help!
2. Be open to conversation.
Don’t let your day of travel go to waste, be inspired by the people you meet. After all, somehow in a world of seven billion people, your paths are crossing, get to know those around you! On this adventure alone I was able to have [longer] conversations with three different women who were starting their own businesses (is this a sign, God?!). One Australian woman, not much older than myself, was traveling through Europe alone before moving to Bali to start her own business. We talked nearly the entire train ride! Don’t forfeit this opportunity to acquaint yourself with so many different people.
3. You can do it.
The morning I left for a town of only 80 people, I had major doubts that I would make it to my Airbnb come that evening. All I had was a flight booked and the rest was for me and my fellow adventurer to figure out along the way. A few train stops later, and a bit of running through London’s Underground, and more trains, we accomplished what we thought was merely impossible. After 14 hours of travel, we knocked on the cottage door we’d only seen in pictures twenty-four hours before. If I can do it, you can too.
4. No itinerary is the best itinerary.
We left for the countryside with no plans and wanted to keep it that way. We wanted to embrace the art of having no plans completely. Through the entirety of the weekend, Tori and I did whatever our hearts desired; including ordering apple juice at a bar, stopping in any local shop that looked adorable, and running around a wide open field. With no plans at all, we could do whatever we wanted. This way, we happened upon the best food we’ve had since being in Europe and shared more laughter in a day than we’d ever thought possible.
5. Stay in an Airbnb.
This may possibly be the key to feeling like a local. The couple we stayed with immediately welcomed us in like we were their long lost grandchildren and gave us suggestions for how to spend our weekend. Let me tell you, there is nothing better than getting advice from people who know the town like the back of their hand. We probably confused them, being two young girls in a tiny town with no one under the age to 55, but they sent us off in the right direction and we made the adventure our own.
6. You’ll grow.
This type of travel will teach you a lot about yourself. What you like and dislike about different traveling styles and how you like to spend your time. It gives you space to think and breathe (you’ll need it after being on the go non-stop). Incorporating time for being still during a high-speed time in life is so refreshing.
7. Embrace your inner child.
I can’t remember the last time I felt so childlike. It seemed odd at the time to feel this way because I was engaged in an adult-like activity, but the sense of wonder I gained while engaging in this style of travel allowed me to be young at heart. Running in an open field, laying in the grass with nowhere to be relieved any sense of responsibility I was holding onto. I was purely in the moment, and enjoying it.
It always feels strange making a list and not stopping at five or ten things I’ve learned, but I don’t think I should limit the amount I share nor bore you with every last detail. So, here we are. Seven things I learned in a tiny English town. If you ever have the chance to take a chance, please do. It’ll be one of the most (if not the most) memorable experience of your life. With so much to see and learn, lace up shoes like a local and walk out the door without a map, I promise you’ll figure it out. When you step out of your comfort zone, you just might discover something about yourself you wouldn't have otherwise. You might meet people that’ll change your life. You might just see the world through a different lens, and that is the type of adventure we all just might be craving.
P.S. Enjoy this little video recap of our time in the Cotswolds :)
Image via Rachel Phipps