Dear reader, you may have come across my mention of long-term spontaneity within this blog (I hope you have by this point!) and in this post I hope to touch upon that. Knowing just what there is to do during unexpected or inevitable bouts of down time can be a handy tool that won’t take up a bit of space in your bag, either.
Idle time can be a difficult thing to deal with for a person who has turned themselves loose to explore the world. You may have a list of places to see and sights/sites to “do”. Many action-packed days can be spent getting from one haunt to the next, so the life of a backpacker, traveller, wanderer, vagabond, nomad or Drifter can be quite busy and structured.
Yet there will be times you find yourself taking a vacation from your vacation, either by fate or design. Consider these moments as a chance to shed expectations; of yourself, of others and of where you are.
“Leisure is a welcome time to reflect and build, not a feared cause of boredom and restlessness.”
– Lyndon B. Johnson
Too much structure is one reason so many people hit the road to begin with in the first place. To really relax in a deliberate way and actually see a place is the name of the game. To do this, one must be ready to let things happen as they may, or as they might. Or as they may not or might not. It can happen either way!
Feel Alive as You Arrive
So many memorable and positive moments will happen as you find yourself in the middle of the mundane day-to-day happenings; you just have to be on the lookout for these. That 5 hour bus ride is really a chance to sleep, to zone out, to listen to music, to watch the country unfurl before you, to write or to embrace the reality of not having to be amazed. Take the time to truly be alone with your thoughts, if you dare!
Whenever we became tired and cranky from too much unproductive hitchhiking – a huge exercise in spontaneity mixed with a whole lot of doing nothing – we would just give up and hail a bus. Now whenever we see a Nicholas Cage film, we hark back to some of those bus rides in Mexico where it seems every bus must play his movies. And that wonderful air conditioning…
Shop and Stop
Beyond buses, there are loads of chances to celebrate the art of just being. Stroll around a grocery store and take note of what they have or don’t have. If spontaneity kicks in you may find yourself walking out of that shop schlepping some supplies for an impromptu little picnic somewhere. In San Jose, Costa Rica, the picnic was in the shop; they were serving red wine, cheese and chocolate brioche! You cannot plan that one, buddy.
Go somewhere most backpackers would never really think of; head straight to the mall. Malls are full of locals doing nothing at all, so jump right in and join them. In fact, travellers will at some point spend a whole day going from shop to shop looking for some needed item/items such as insoles for your tired feet (and tired shoes/boots), sewing notions for your bedraggled wardrobe, toiletries and grooming supplies or fine-point pens for your journal.
Inserting yourself into the scene this way provides just enough of a dose of what you left behind in your pre-travel life, and for that it keeps you centered and replenished somehow. Even just doing the laundry can be a great moment to slow down and savor the nothingness! It gets your clothes clean, too!
Become a Fly on the Wall
This may just be the very best way to rock the art of nada; sitting in the square with a beer. Mic. drop! We all know that most cities and towns outside the United States have squares that act as focal points where people gather to stroll about and socialize, especially in the evening. Head there and just plop yourself down for an hour or so.
Within a few minutes you will blend in and a microcosm will open up before you; families, crazies, other tourists, young couples, vendors, dweebs, the well-appointed and the dishevelled. This is a great way to experience life happening all around you in a world that is foreign to you. Make sure to wrap that beer in a street bag or you may be doing a whole lot of nothing behind bars. Just saying…
Nothing sends one heading for the hills quite like a rain event, often times without a solid plan B. Why not nip into that dive bar you spotted and tie one on with the locals over a game of pool? Immerse yourself in a movie marathon, either in your room or at the movie theatre. Go swimming; you’re going to get wet anyway.
Surf the web (remember saying that?). Catch up on your journal or write postcards. Plan the next leg of your journey. Get the blues, or get the giggles. Don a garbage bag poncho and skulk about the town; you will have the streets to yourself. Hop on a bus and take a ride to nowhere, which is the perfect destination when you have nothing to do.
This Is Your Time
I hope the comment section fills up with tips on what to do when there is nothing to do. Your Drifters look forward to sharing more hacks as we find ourselves looking down the barrel of some serious break-time in the future.
As travelers, our job is to wander and wonder as much as we can, and that can involve a lot of planning at times. When those plans fall flat – and they will – we owe it to ourselves to make the most of the freedom we have chosen to grant ourselves. Taste every moment you can.