Travel’s missing ingredient

Yelp, TripAdvisor, Instagram, Google Street view and countless other always-available web sites and services have drained travel of a critical ingredient: Mystery.

How often do most of us land in a new location already knowing what we want to see, do, eat and drink? Moreover, we have strong expectations of what those experiences should be, based on a wealth of information that’s out there. In extreme cases, unrealistic expectations can lead to transient mental disorders.

I love the benefits that come with being a connected traveler. But a recent series of articles from AFAR about traveling unplugged reminded me of travel before smartphones and WiFi were ubiquitous. Traveling unplugged required flexibility and curiosity, and lacked the manic need to document every move on social media. When Beth and I traveled to Ireland many years ago we had a rental car waiting, no plans, and only a map to guide us.

We found places to stay by asking locals for advice. Over two weeks we encountered many of the same travelers again and again, so we would pause and exchange tips about places to see and things to do. The memories that have stuck with us sprang from the mystery of not knowing (sometimes literally) what we would find around the next corner. Sometimes those were dead ends, which weren’t disappointments as much as suggestions to go elsewhere.

Looking beyond those mysteries made that trip, and others, richer in a way that travel today isn’t.