When you’ve been travelling (and writing) as long as we have, often planning every trip well in advance, there comes a time when you realise that the only way to truly get under the skin of a destination is to throw away your map, your itinerary and get lost.
Take random turns, wander up dead-ends, observe, interact with people you meet… Don’t avoid world famous sights or exclusive experiences – do them and do them with gusto. But if you also open yourself to the unknown, unexpected and amazing things will happen.
Getting lost works best in cities. In fact some are positively made for going missing. Anywhere with a good marketplace – Marrakesh, Rome, Barcelona, London, Venice – is an invitation to wander off and drop into shops you’d never have found if you hadn’t taken that wrong turn. In Marrakesh you’ll enjoy more cups of mint tea than if you’d stayed on the straight and narrow. One trip we adopted a little boy as our guide who led us through souks to discover all manner of wonders we wouldn’t have otherwise. A hidden apothecary through an unmarked door with hundreds of jars containing everything under the sun; a random weaver’s shop far away from the tourist trail; a hammam that only locals visited next to a bakery full of freshly rising bread.
In Venice’s web of narrow streets and passageways between buildings, where every other turn leads you to an unknown waterway we found hidden churches, deserted squares and sleepy bars frequented by gondoliers.
In Paris we became became flâneurs, indulging in the city’s famous art of wandering and were rewarded by cobbled streets we’d never seen before, foamy coffees in alternative cafés and quirky second hand shops around Avenue Trudaine.
Once in Beirut, we jumped in a hop-on/hop-off taxi thinking we were going downtown but pitched up in a little street with a tiny bakery selling man’oushe (flatbread pizza-like snacks) into which, attracted by the smell, we couldn’t fail to enter. The baker explained that the fresh zaatar or thyme on the pizza was grown in his village in the mountains – which later we ended up visiting. As we strolled round the corner from the bakery we found what looked like a junk shop, walked in and… kept walking in, deeper and deeper, discovering an Aladdin’s cave of Middle Eastern furniture and antiques.
Simply put, incredible things happen when you set yourself adrift.