A few years ago, I spent a couple of weeks backpacking through eastern and western Europe with some friends. We planned our whole trip out, booked our hostels and various methods of transportation (trains, buses, and ridiculously cheap flights) as well as made lists of the top things to do and see in each city. The plan was four cities in two weeks: Berlin, Budapest, Vienna, and Prague.
We stayed entirely on schedule for the first week. Then when we arrived in Vienna, something interesting happened. At our hostel, we struck up a conversation over some cheap beers with some Australian guys. “We’re going to Bratislava tomorrow,” they said. “Yous wanna come with us?”
We just got to Vienna, we said. We can’t leave for another city right now.
Two of us elected to stay behind and see Vienna as planned. And two of us decided to wake up at the crack of dawn the next day and hop a bus to Bratislava, a city we’d barely heard of, much less researched, with three boys we’d just met.
Guess which group I was in?
We got to Bratislava with no map, no currency, and no idea how to even say “hello” in Slovakian. We bumbled around for a little while, but eventually managed to find the tourists’ office, some money, and a restaurant.
I then proceeded to have one of the best days of my life.
It was the true definition of “wandering”. The five of us–strangers less than 24 hours ago–had a delicious meal together, saw some beautiful buildings, stumbled upon some pornographic statues, discovered a castle, drank some decent beer. Then we parted, promising to stay in touch. My friend and I got on the bus back to Vienna and continued on with our planned trip.
The weird thing is? Thanks to social media, we did actually stay in touch with those guys–one of them has passed through New York a few times since then and we always meet up for a beer. Another met up with my friend when she was back in Europe a couple of years ago. And every time we see each other we say the same things:
“Wasn’t that so random?”
“Wasn’t that the best day ever?”
The next time you’re traveling, don’t ask yourself “why”. Ask yourself: “Why not?”
Images taken by me in Bratislava, Slovakia, February 2007.