I recently took almost three weeks off work – to spend some time in one of my favourite countries, check out a new city and chill in London. By the time my boyfriend and I found ourselves in Hungary, I was feeling quite relaxed. If only work weren’t necessary – but that’s a fantasy that ain’t coming to life anytime soon!
It’s regularly cited within the travel community that there’s no right or wrong way to travel, yet it’s a topic that everyone has some sort of opinion on. Personally, I’ve never been drawn to just one type of travel. I’m happy to go by myself, with friends and family members, or with my other half. I’ll stay in hostels, luxury hotels or spend a night sleeping under the stars. I’m out exploring the world. That’s all that matters, really.
The first time I ventured overseas, I went with a friend who was organised to a T. She had us city hopping for five weeks straight, filling every spare moment with visits to castles, art galleries, museums and national monuments – an itinerary that she had prepared months in advance.
I was quite young at the time and if I’m going to be completely honest, was mostly interested in partying in a foreign country, which we weren’t doing much of in any case. One of my fondest memories of the trip is of navigating the Prado Museum after a rather memorable night out and about amongst Madrid’s bustling nightlife. I spent almost as much time eating cheeseburgers in MacDonald’s in the hopes of getting my energy levels back up (nb: this doesn’t work) as I did taking in the artwork that hung in the gallery.
I remember arriving in Lisbon towards the middle of my six week long trip, utterly spent. We had two full days in the city and spent the first checking out Pena National Palace in Sintra. It was beautiful, but I was just too tired to fully appreciate it. We were staying in a lovely hostel – what would turn out to be the best accommodation of our trip (if you’re looking for other accommodation options in Lisbon, click here. It was raining our second day there, it was January so it was quite cold and I was feeling burnt out (days later I would be hit with a massive head cold in Ireland that would linger for the rest of my time abroad). In short, I’d had enough.
So, I made a decision. The other two could venture out to explore and do whatever it was they wanted to do. I on the other hand, was going to sit in the hostel common room and read a Patricia Cornwell novel I’d pulled off the bookshelves, keeping warm and relaxing to my heart’s content.
I sent them on their way, promising to reconvene later on in the day so that we could spend the evening together.
It was obvious that my pal was pissed off with me, but I couldn’t really understand why – as far as I could see, my decision wasn’t having any sort of negative influence on her day. So, when she and our other travel companion returned from their activities, I did the most obvious thing I could have done, showing more maturity than my twenty-years of age (for possibly the first and last time). Rather than stew on it and blow it out of proportion in my head, I simply asked her if she was mad at me.
“No, I’m not,” she replied – and here she sighed. “I’m just worried you’ll be upset later on because you’ll feel as though you’ve missed out.”
I understood then where she was coming from, but told her what I know to be true now – I wasn’t missing out on anything. She wanted to see the sights of Lisbon. I needed to chill. I had no regrets from the remainder of that particular trip, to this day.
Fast forward to years later with me traipsing around Budapest feeling guilty. Guilty for staying up late, guilty for sleeping in, guilty for not having any sort of an itinerary put together. Guilty, as I felt I was wasting my chance to properly experience this new city, one that I have wanted to visit for a particularly long time.
Here, my boyfriend reminded me of this very important detail.
“You’re on holidays. You don’t have to get up early. You don’t have to see this or that sight. You’re allowed to rest. You’re allowed to chill. It’s your holiday.”
And he was right, as he so often is.
Throughout my trip, I had a song by Paul Kelly (he’s a legendary Australian singer-songwriter, if you are unfamiliar with the name) playing on a loop in my head. It’s called Every Fucking City and it truly is fucking great (sorry about the swearing, Mum). The lyrics follow the narrative of a man backpacking through Europe, while experiencing the demise of a relationship. The song resonates with me, because it’s how I feel about Europe sometimes, a feeling I was certainly familiar with during my first trip abroad. After awhile, all the sights started to blend together and each place I visited began to resemble the last. It was a most discombobulating feeling, to say the least.
You don’t have to see all the castles and temples, visit every museum and sample each TripAdvisor top ten restaurant. It is, as my wonderful boyfriend suggests, your holiday. Do what you want to do. If you want to skip an art gallery to sit in a café people watching all day, then do that. Stay out all night and sleep in until two, if that’s what your heart desires.
You’re not travelling any less authentically from opting to stay in a five star hotel, rather than roughing it in a dingy hostel dorm. You’re not any less of a traveller if you opt to venture outside of your home base for a few days here and there, rather than opting to hit the road for months on end.
There is no perfect travel style and thank goodness for that. Do what you want to do and remember that it is your experience, not anyone else’s. After all – the only one who can legitimately have any judgement on how you spend your time at the end of the day, is you and you alone.