I love itineraries, I love train schedules, I love booking reservations. I love figuring out exactly how much I can cram into a trip, how many overnight buses I can take, how much ground I can cover in how much time. I love scheduling in “cushion” days—two or three, no more—for rest, buffer days, and I love burning through them by packing in more shit to see. And I really love guidebooks.
This, I’ve been assured, excludes me from the illustrious elite of Real Travelers. “Ditch the itinerary!” “Slow Travel!” “Forget the Guidebook!” (words I’ve actually written for jokey articles I didn’t really believe in). You get this vision of Real Travelers: soulful types who tote around their ludicrously light backpacks, free of weathered books and long hours in internet cafes, guided by some impeccable instinct that brings them to the Right Place at the Right Time. Their buses depart whenever they happen to show up at the station; they meet kindly strangers who led them through dark streets; they happen upon “undiscovered gems” and spend weeks lazing with locals, learning their ways, nursing their orphaned children.
But most of all, I imagine these Real Travelers as open to the whims of the road. They don’t lock themselves down to itineraries, don’t construct little prisons of time constraints and force themselves to rush! rush! keep up! with some sort of idea they’ve forced upon themselves, an artificial timeframe not too dissimilar from the things we lock ourselves into at home. I imagine them listening—ears like stethoscopes to some pulse, some rhythm of the world that I can’t even feel, am only vaguely aware is even there—listening and hearing and heeding.
And I imagine, or rather I see, myself, scrambling and rushing and running myself ragged. And needing a vacation after my vacation.
I was revving up to do my upcoming trip in much the same fashion: after FAME Festival, I’d have two weeks. Two weeks! I’d cruise over to Croatia, work my way down through Montenegro and Albania, cut across Northern Greece, hightail it all the way to Istanbul, soak in the city in a furious two/three days before flying back into Rome. I was checking bus routes, maps and schedules; I was calculating days. I was getting exhausted.
I finally said fuck it. In five years of traveling, I’ve finally learned to say fuck it. True, I have no idea when I’ll be back in that part of the world, and true, there’s a lot I want to see. But when I tie myself down to self-constructed itineraries, I end up seeing everything and nothing. I’m tired. I get sick. “Oh, I’d really like to go to the Sahara, but I just don’t know if I’ll have time.” Time, time, always time.
I’m ditching the itinerary. Kind of. I’m going to Grottaglie, yes, but for the two weeks after that, I don’t know what I’m doing or where I’m going. I don’t know. I’ve been relishing in those words, smiling when I get to say them (“Where all are you going?”), feeling them warm me up, a hot sun on a languid beach.
Maybe I’ll end up “wasting” days doing nothing, swimming and eating and strolling around tangled old streets of torn-up cobblestone. (When you’ve got nowhere to be, you can’t be late.) Maybe I’ll just go to one other place, or maybe I won’t leave Italy at all; maybe I’ll go back to Rome and spend days wandering into dank old churches and eating too much gelato. Maybe I’ll listen really really hard and get some sort of answer, not in words, but in impulse—“go here, do this.” Or maybe I’ll just fucking relax and enjoy myself.
And you never know, maybe I’ll become a Real Traveler.