“So what is this venturing lark?’ I hear you cry.
OK, maybe not cry; but it is a moot point.
This blog about venturing portrays my peculiar take on solo travel. It’s a personal slant that I can’t help. It’s in my wiring. But I do follow enough popular travel blogs to know there is a difference between taking a trip to discover the best ‘must sees’ for an audience, and going there without any audience in mind at all. Venturing means the journey YOU take is your takeaway.
Venturing isn’t normally a week’s holiday. It isn’t usually a mini-break, although the spirit of your venturing may start that way, as it did with me. Critically the trips or life phases that I would now class as ventures are about trying out a new way of life. They’re adult fantasies. It’s a replay of when you were a kid and the stairs were the Himalayas for a while.
You’re exploring more than a location. You’re exploring who you can be there.
The first mini-breaks I took to Morocco were so far removed from the lifestyle I was living at the time that it was as if I slipped on a different persona for those few days in my year. My suits and heels were left in the wardrobe. I’d don a long flowing dress with another over it for modesty/ cape effect, plus a pair of sandals I could actually walk in. With my cross body bag I felt like a Bedouin gypsy on a desert mission. I was no longer a brow beaten executive with a to-do list like a boulder. I ventured dangerously far into city souks with my eyes wide and head held high, repeatedly.
Because it felt wildly liberating. I was exploring parts of myself as much as the stalls and sights and sounds.
This can all be rather unsettling. You’ll likely come back different from a venture. Then you’ll have the million dollar dilemma about how much of the new ‘you’ can survive back home. Sometimes it isn’t very much at all unless you take pains to maintain it. Often it takes another venture to reawaken that part of yourself and ‘fix it’ like you’ve varnished it over. All this reshaping can be a dramatic personal process, or a much softer, longer, layered one.
But all sole ventures will reshape you. That’s the point of taking one.
My main solo ventures have tended to be for three months minimum, which often fits with visitor visa restrictions and the limits of short term rents. I’m odd and think you have to put the rubbish out a few times and become known a bit by your local community. It’s good to make a friend who you get to know more than the honeymoon type of friendship you might find on a holiday. It’s fun to master transport systems and even advise visitors who are as lost as you once were. Take some time, if you can, to create some sort of souvenir of your time there. Online photo albums, sketches or paintings, journals, poetry, a scrapbook, video or mp3 recordings of locals and soundscapes all work. The dinner party challenge where no-one there speaks your language is a personal test I like to pass (or disastrously fail) before I leave.
These are not hard and fast rules, of course. A venture may be in your own land and language. My lake house was one of my most significant ventures, yet it was located within an hour of where I was born. Which was a key part of the venture, in truth: seeing how far I’d grown from the child who’d had a wooden playhouse in the garden with a paddling pool in front of it in the summer holidays. My ‘grown up’ lake house – a plastic house with a very large paddling pool and a helluva lot of geese – was a replay of many aspects of a very old version of me. I saw how far I’d come, whether I’d go back, what I’d made peace with.
Ventures are often difficult to define – or sometimes see – until you’ve done them.
So… if you’re not sure how to venture but feel a hankering for one, here are my top tips:
1 – Keep your agenda vague, and a fluid ‘must see’ list
When I decided to take three months in NYC of course I researched all the ‘must see’ places online. I bought the rough guide, made my own top ten list. And yes, I’ve ticked most of the must-sees off over the course of two such ventures now.
But not all. I still haven’t been to the Central Park Zoo, Louis Armstrong’s house in Queen’s or the Top of the Rock. On the last one, everybody recommends it, even over visiting the Empire State. But if I hadn’t followed my nose one day, drifting, legs aching and without hope (because it was one of those sort of days and somehow I couldn’t find Macy’s Christmas windows) I wouldn’t have had this random experience: I came across the Empire State Building and scurried up it (yes, me) without a queue in front of me (yes, you read that right). Not one person. Honestly. Which at that time, at that juncture in my venture, was a feeling of pinch-me impossibility that I needed more than anything.
2 – Live like the locals, not how the locals live for the sake of tourists
In Tuscany some of my best memories are of evenings spent in a local village pizzeria which had a community spirit that was as edible as the pizzas. Tables of discreet groups melted and joined in with each other’s evening as the owner held court like a grubby local celebrity. It was as far from Florentine chic as it was possible to get, naff and outdated and likely to get a crap rating on Yelp. If it ever was ranked (which I doubt).
Venturing out-of-season helps. In Venice I made a good friend who took me to some of the ancient eateries no tourist ever ventures into. I tasted catches from the lagoon that were unrecognisable as any seafood I knew but were delicious. Until I looked at the text book the chef brought out to explain that it was a hairy sea worm anyway. A mousse cicchetti turned out to be a cow’s chin delicacy I would never EVER have chosen. If nothing else, these true local experiences give you dinner party stories to take home. You haven’t lived in Venice without at least one Aperol Spritz for breakfast. I am not kidding *hic*
These glimpses give you a sense of a place ~ and yourself ~ that is beyond the slick itinerary driven version for tourists. It’s beyond brands and chains and Tripadvisor.
Give yourself time to let the real-life glimpses develop, and also permission to try them.
(Even if the thought of chewing on a doe-eyed cow’s face still gives you a shudder!)
3 – You contribute to the local economy as much as you can
Perhaps this is just me, but I feel there’s such an interesting thing happening on my ventures that I don’t begrudge spending. Not in the same way as, say, when I took a holiday in a swanky Turkish hotel and resented the inflated prices of every drink and mini-bar treat. This is not just spending with a self-righteous blindfold on. My last NYC venture started with an Airbnb rent that was not a good investment of my budget – a railway apartment where my ‘room’ was effectively a corridor and the host disengaged – apart from when I paid. Nope, I’m no idiot. But the Airbnb I shuffled to in Bushwick was run by a host who wanted to engage with her guests and improve things for her future guests’ experiences. No brainer. I’d have stayed there happily for six months and paid a premium.
Get to know the launderette system and support it. Foster your favourite dish or drink with a local venue even if you can cater perfectly well for yourself and get alcohol cheaper. Buy a piece of local art. Keep a taxi driver’s number to repeat use. I may start a venture with a couple of hotel nights to get me going (or over the jet lag), but as soon as I’m weaving into the locality, renting and grocery shopping, I feel that the money I spend has more layers of benefit all round. And that feels an important part of venturing for me.
4 – Be prepared to leave a lot of yourself behind
This is the trickiest part of true venturing. You will find new things – ways of thinking, lifestyle preferences, friendships that may be rough as an amputation to leave behind. Of course, a venture may lead to a decisive choice to start a whole new life in that place. Many of my ventures have been driven by that ‘lifestyle trial’ enquiry: could I live like this full time, does it feel like somewhere I want to settle, is my future here?
So far, not yet.
Then the goodbyes can be wrenching. You want to venture on, but not leave what has been so wonderful – or that part of you – behind.
A psychological trick is to leave a suitcase packed with essentials in a friend’s cupboard, in case you return. Then leaving feels less final, more bearable, although it can lead to a trail of baggage across the world (yes, voice of experience!) Sometimes it’s a genius move. I’ve ventured back to Tuscany three times and it’s been extremely handy to have my mountain boots and yoga mat to hand immediately. On the other hand, my expensive Venetian boots were worn only once and have now gone to charity. It’s swings and roundabouts, which is the nature of venturing. Just be ready for bracing yourself against the airplane seat.
5 – If you keep venturing it will likely be seen by others as freakish
Because it is. Most people do settle at some point and I have developed a lifestyle that no-one I know shares. Initially my venturing was certainly a deliberate plan to find ‘THE lifestyle’ including the man, the dog, the whole nine yards. But now it isn’t. There has been a significant change and I am now addicted to the ‘sole’ aspect of venturing. Oopsy. My last relationship foundered in large part because of it. But I doubt I’ll ever stop now.
WARNING: venturing sole can be addictive!!
Phrases like ‘will you ever settle down?’ or (my Mother’s favourite) ‘do you even want a man?’ (little does she know!) will be the sort of questions you’ll have to let run off you like rain down a roof. Get some stock answers ready to reel off. My hardest counter was to a close relative who likened my Father’s difficult career in construction in the 70s – which meant frequent company changes due to the recession – to my ‘flightiness’. Mmm. People do like to judge. But if venturing is true to you and you can fund it without nicking from anyone else, all power to your passport.
I suspect ‘venturing skepticism’ comes from quite a green eyed place anyway.
The definition of venture is: ‘to undertake a risky or daring journey or course of action’ or ‘to dare to say something that might be considered audacious’.
Venturing is at core a brave thing then, and it is likely to be a sole decision on both those definitions. In my view, it’s as much an internal thing as an external, about your resulting outlook as much as about whichever place and lifestyle you choose to take a look at.
So honestly ~ to mix up any hard definitions ~ a ‘trip’ isn’t really necessary at all.
However you venture, bravo for going solo.