Ditch your guidebooks

Discover the joys of discovery while traveling

Guides are great tools, but do you want to repeat the writer's trip or take your own?

Once in a while, leave the travel guides in your hotel and wander without advice.

Enjoy the thrill of discovery. Turn tourism into travel, and your vacation into an adventure. The memories will be worth it.

Poke your head into a church without even checking to see if it’s listed in your guidebook. Listen to a local's advice about a great new art gallery. Pop into any store that catches your fancy.

Be a detective. Find your own local travel story.

I was once nosing aimlessly around Sorrento and noticed that some of the intarsia, or wood inlay, on the Duomo doors was quite new (this was remarkbale as rarely do you find anything new on an Italian cathedral). Looking more closely, I saw that they were signed by "Stinga."

On a hunch, I went into a nearby cafe and asked to borrow the phonebook. Sure enough, there was a "Stinga Tarsia" (short for "Intarsia") and an address nearby.

Long story short, I ended up visiting several workshops, learned all about Sorrento's proud history of inlaying wood, and had some fascinating conversations with several expert artisans on their craft, Sorrento history, and the modern state of tourism and Italian economics.

Dine smart

This rule for ignoring guidebooks goes double for dining. If a Rome trattoria is cheap and full of Italians, chances are it’s good.

I cannot count how many times I have seen a couple peer into the window of a little restaurant nearly packed with locals, glance at the menu with its low prices, look up at the sign above to door, then page through their guidebook to see if the place is listed—and then, when it is not, shaking thier heads at each other and walking off in search of some place pre-ordained.

This drives me nuts. Makes me want to run up to them, grab their guidebook away, and frogmarch them back to the bistro to ask for a table. Once I saw this happen and the guidebook they were consulting had been written by me. I nearly cried.

Anyway, while you're in that fabulous little trattoria that neither I nor any other advance-scout travel writer happened to find first, double down and try a dish that your menu translator doesn’t cover.

(Okay, that can be risky, but if the locals are willing to eat it, it probably isn’t poison, though don’t hold me responsible if it involves more tentacles than you’re comfortable with.)

So that's it. Go forth without expert guidance! Have fun on your adventure. Drop me a postcard—hopefully with some new nugget of history or culture or a great new trattoria to try next time I am in town.

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