Serendipity is a much overlooked factor while travelling, yet it may become the most significant, the one providing the most joy and opening new and unexpected gates to future trips.
People travel away from jobs, homes and troubles seeking new experiences, a different culture that would help them forget – at least for a while – whatever they left behind. Before the trip they go to the nearest bookshop and buy a guide of the desired destination. Many travellers insist in its being the latest one, as if cities could change significantly within a year or two. Actually, if they did change so fast then something dramatic happened there and they probably aren’t a leisure destination anymore.
After buying the book, for days and weeks they sit at home – after having worked the whole day – and plan every second of the desired trip. They have never been there, they ignore the pace of the place and its culture, but they have a plan detailed down to the last second that would allow them to completely ignore their surroundings. The reason for this obtuse behaviour is simple: paying attention to the details would cause unexpected delays. Who could resist that fabulous, but unplanned dish spotted out at a street market? This is unacceptable for the over-planed traveller, time would be lost. Beyond becoming a race between attractions, such a trip probably becomes a source of stress and misses most of its goals.
Is there any alternative? Can a travel model based upon serendipity be implemented without falling into a semantic trap? Planning what cannot be planned; unplanning the planned. The answer is yes, but not everywhere. Some areas are so difficult that they demand careful planning. The Himalayas are a good example of these. Yet, other places have an excellent infrastructure and a comfortable climate during the entire year allowing the perfect serendipity trip: an unplanned one.
Read nothing about Thailand. Take the first plane to Bangkok. Probably you’ll land there around midnight; most international flights to Bangkok land late due to the large distances involved. Exchange some money at the airport and walk into the warm night. Regardless the season, the nights are always warm. A row of taxis waits beyond the bus stop; the drivers stand chatting together next to the first taxi in the row. Approach them. The Thai tones hit your ears without mercy. They’ll begin naming places and prices; their English is difficult to understand at first. They accent the words at unexpected places; the Thai affirmation hum sounds confusing. Yet, without knowing much about the city, you manage reaching the main hotel areas, which are invariably located next to main attractions or main commercial areas. Nearby, the Skytrain is adorned with attractive, curvy letters.
Well after midnight a room is found. It may not be perfect, but it is comfortable and the air conditioner works. Nothing else really matters since next morning a different hotel can be found. Meanwhile, sleeping is impossible. Excitement builds up. The - until now - unknown place is providing new experiences. The city is not anymore an abstraction in a book. Noises penetrate through the windows. Food smells win a battle against the air conditioner. Would you wait until the morning to begin exploring the city? Who knows? There are no plans. Every minute you didn’t spend planning the trip at home is now a minute of gained freedom.
While passing through the reception a bunch of brochures are picked up randomly. Names of attractions are rapidly memorized, mnemonic tags placed upon names unheard until now. Instead of following a dry list of places, attractions, travel methods and timetables down to the second, you follow your senses.
How can these apparently randomly ordered letters be memorized? It doesn’t matter. Maybe they would be highlighted with a marker on the brochure, or written on the back of a hotel card; regardless the method used, the traveller is following now a track designed by serendipity. A trip more updated than any guide, more alive than any book, as real as any of Marco Polo travels.