I hear it all the time: “I know there’s places I want to go, but what do I do when I get there? How do you plan it all!?” I get it. It’s totally daunting to look at all the the hundreds of things and compare them to one another, weighing the pros and cons of each attraction in a city against each other, and then picking the best things to do to maximize your trip, because, hell, who knows when you’ll be back, right?
The answer to this hit me like a brick to the face. I’m currently re-reading The Paradox Of Choice by Barry Schwartz, which provides a fascinating look into our decision making process when offered seemingly countless choices. The author claims the sheer increase in the amount of choices we encounter on any given day has led to the increase of depression, feelings of despair, and loneliness plaguing our society right now. Yeah, yikes. In fact, studies are showing that the less decisions we burden ourselves with and the less we need to compare the pros and cons and opportunity costs of one decision over another, the happier we are. Everything from cancer treatments to buying blue jeans, the data shows that, if we let someone we trust make the decision for us, the we become happier with the choice that was made. So,why can’t we use this thinking to help make us more satisfied with our travel?
Then, I remembered: I already did it once. And yeah… it was incredible.
Let’s rewind to Hong Kong, 2014. I had only just started traveling by myself around the world. I was new at it and scared of my own shadow. I decided that on my second solo trip out of the country, I wanted to go somewhere totally outside of my comfort zone. At the time, Hong Kong fit the bill. My only previous solo international trip was to Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, which, is probably the easiest region of the world to go to……. if you’re willing to pay $15 for a beer.
Eight days in Hong Kong, at the time, took me so far out of my comfort zone that I think I subconsciously knew I needed help. I was so excited to do all the things! All of them, I tell you! And so I headed to Barnes and Noble and grab a book to find out even MORE things to contrast and compare to each other to make the BEST TRIP EVAAAR!!! I perused a Lonely Planet Hong Kong book, and the first few pages displays “The 16 Best things to do in Hong Kong”. It’s at the front of the book to stoke your appetite, to get you excited of what’s in store, get your mind running. It’s laid out so neatly and simply, suddenly I think I just…..saw myself doing those things. So I did them. Literally. I essentially stuck to those 16 things. And I loved it. Victoria Peak, Man Ho Temple, hiking Sharp Peak, riding the Star Line, a day trip to Macau. The 16 experiences were naturally varied and chosen with care by locals. And best of all. I didn’t have to think about a thing. Step 1: Pick a number. Step 2: Ask receptionist for directions, Step 3: go. No second guessing. No missed opportunities. A carefully curated “best of” for a magnificent city, written by a local, for about $15. Perfect. (And free if you use the library like I do now!)
I used this exact strategy and, just like Schwarz’s book suggests, it made me feel better about every choice I was making. The second guessing was gone. Is the Big Buddha better than the Happy Valley Horse Races? I don’t know. Did I miss something? Probably. But does it matter? Nah brah. Everything I did was at best, breathtaking, and at worst, pretty damn solid. Remove all doubts, stop comparing, and just enjoy the trip. Moreover, I knew the people making the decisions for me were knowledgeable locals that had my best interests in mind.
This probably isn’t something I’d love to do right now. I’m no longer paralyzed by the enormity of options when travelling and I’m pretty skilled at making a trip my own. But looking back at the effortlessness of my time in Hong Kong, I’m super grateful for how it helped me at a critical time, and I honestly might try it again someday.
As for you, if you’ve ever said “Well, I just don’t know what to do when I get there!” as an excuse to not travel, looks like you’ve got one less thing in your way.