7 ways to experiment with travel
First coined by Joël Henry in 1990, ‘experimental travel’ turns travel into a game. In an era of mass travel where it seems that there are few places left unexplored, it’s a great way of turning a well-known destination into unmapped territory. A few years back, Henry, director of the Laboratory of Experimental Tourism (Latourex), collaborated with Lonely Planet to put together a book of travel tests. Here are some of our favourite experiments. Do not try them at home:
1. Fly by night
Travel to your chosen destination, arriving in the evening. Spend the night exploring the place until dawn then leave when the sun starts peeking through. Some cities are actually better when only seen at night, like Las Vegas, or are rightly famous as nocturnal cities, like Paris (the city of light).
2. Slow-return travel
Choose a destination and travel there as quickly as you can. On the return journey home take the slowest transport possible. For instance, fly from Luxor to Aswan (30 minutes), then on the return trip take a felucca back up the Nile (about three days).
3. Alphabet travel
Take a city’s map and, looking at the index of street names, start at the first street and make your way to the last street in the index via the shortest route. Make sure you include food stops on the way and check that you’re not passing through a dodgy neighbourhood lest your wanderings put the T into terror.
4. Twelve travel
Travel using the number 12. For instance, take a train that departs at 12.12 and get off at the 12th stop. Or, catch a number 12 bus and get off after the 12th person has got on after you. Only stay at hotels that are the 12th building on their street. (Obviously, you can choose a number other than 12. Five is also very nice.)
5. Blind travel
Spend 24 hours blindfolded in a destination so that you focus on experiencing it through your other senses. As you can imagine, parks, flower markets and food halls are prime ‘sights’ to visit. Naturally, you’ll need a friend to guide you around — a trustworthy one at that.
6. Find your other half
Take a vacation to a city with your partner, but travel separately. Once there, try to find each other. The conundrum of this experiment is how you play the game: should you do what you normally do (eg. go to museums) so your partner can find you or do you seek out the activities that you think your partner will do? Romantic cities with compact centres are optimal — think Vienna or Amsterdam — unless you really don’t want to find your partner quickly.
In Travels with Charley John Steinbeck writes: ‘In Spanish there is a word for which I can’t find a counterword in English. It is the verb vacilar, present participle vacilando. If one is vacilando, he is going somewhere, but does not greatly care whether or not he gets there, although he has direction.’ So Steinbeck tries to buy something in a city that he thinks it doesn’t have. When one shop owner doesn’t have it he asks where else may. A wild goose chase ensues, making him see a destination differently from a planned series of sights.