I’m a stickler for planning. Virtually everything I do has a list attached to it – time, place, the cost, what to wear. No surprise then that I planned our recent holiday to Grenada, in the Caribbean, down to the last detail.
I’d heard that travel is the best teacher, and I was keen to learn as much as possible. I left nothing to chance and was especially excited about the prospect of a guided tour.
However, curiosity and my husband convinced me to step out of my comfort zone and explore the island without a guide. Ours was to be an unguided, spontaneous adventure, going wherever the mood took us. It was the beginning of June, and the temperature on the Spice Isle idled at 32°C, but felt more like 40.
Without a tour guide, we didn’t have a clue where to start. It felt a little like we were on an episode of The Amazing Race. All we had was a car, Google and the knowledge that we could cover Grenada’s 348,5km² area in a single day.
I learned very quickly that being thrown into the deep end and not knowing where you’re headed or what you’re going to do next can be exciting. To my surprise, I thrived in such a situation.
We visited the major tourist attractions, of course, but quickly discovered that the authentic soul of the island shone through the local people we stopped to talk to when we ventured further afield. Their ease in conversing with total strangers made us feel like old friends and their spirit of generosity reminded me of the spirit of ubuntu for which we South Africans are renowned. I doubt we would have enjoyed these unique encounters on a guided tour.
Another advantage was that we spent far less money on food and entertainment by eating where the locals ate instead of frequenting the venues that cater for tourists. Going local meant forgoing the glamour at times, but the insights and authenticity of the experiences you enjoy when living like a local are priceless.
The weekly festival in the fishing village of Gouyave (pronounced “Gwarve”) is reminiscent of a local shim nyama. This open-air market is a feast of Grenadian flavour, music and friendly conversation. We enjoyed an array of cuisine at a fraction of the cost we’d have paid anywhere else, as well as genuine Caribbean entertainment free of charge.
Our experience of the place, the people and their culture was far richer and deeper than it would have been if a guide had been shepherding us from A to B. This holiday taught me that having meaningful travel experiences is about the journey, not the planning.
For those of you who, like me, feel safer with lists and itineraries, I encourage you to ditch the guide and give in to impulsive whims once in a while because there’s much beauty to discover when you wing it. You get to judge for yourself what is worth seeing without having to rely on the opinions of someone else. You curate your own experience and learn a great deal about the place and yourself.
Of course, I’m not entirely changed. I still like to plan the essential stuff in my life. But when it comes to holidays, this trip confirmed that travel is, indeed, the best teacher, especially if you go it alone.
by Mma-Tshepo Grobler, a South African travel-loving writer who lives in the UK and is currently working on her debut novel.