Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Travel like an artist

(I wrote this for the Les Arts Turcs website)

How to travel like an artist

While traveling around Turkey, I noticed that whenever I was carrying my art portfolio then people treated me differently. Instead of being some random tourist I became the traveling artist. This means I instantly gain some sort of mystique, and a license to do things that normal people might consider odd. “Why is she doing that? Ohhh, she’s an artist...” It got me thinking about how artists experience new places differently. Here I have outlined my advice for how to travel like an artist…because I find that it encourages certain behaviors that I think all travelers can benefit from.

Take it slow.
So many tourists pride themselves on how MUCH they see. “I did 3 countries in 7 days!” But this type of travel doesn’t allow you to get to know a place at all. Artists know how to travel…instead of rushing around, you see them at cafes hanging out. They soak up the atmosphere rather than running down a list of places to see. You must do some sightseeing, of course. But I limit the amount of time each day I do “touristy things.” Then I give myself permission to simply take everything in at a relaxed pace.

Keep it real.

In my experience, I find that artists have less tolerance for artificiality. We tend to look for authenticity and strive to get to the truth of the matter. So while traveling, we want to get to know the real character of a place. For example, in Istanbul you’d skip the touristy whirling dervish show and go to one of the traditional religious ceremonies instead. It might take more research or be less convenient, but ultimately it is much more fulfilling. You can also get to know some locals rather than only hanging out with other tourists. (It’s easier to do this when you are traveling solo.) This simply requires finding out where the local folks hang out and having a social attitude. And if this all sounds too daunting, there is one easy way to get to know the real city…get lost! Wander around and simply explore new parts of town. But…take a map of course, and know where the dodgy parts of town are. We want real, but not too real.

Take risks.
You are not at home...hence, you are not at home! Therefore the rules of home do not apply to you anymore. Artists are used to people looking at them funny, so the chance to eat some dish you cannot pronounce or to hop onto the back of a motorbike doesn’t even warrant a debate. In a situation where everything is new you can let yourself look at it all with childlike wide-eyes. Travel is an adventure! Even though the unknown might be uncomfortable, you should let yourself indulge your curiosity. Because…why not? No one there knows you anyway.

Tickle your imagination.
There are always things you are “supposed to do” when you travel to specific countries. For example, in Turkey you must see Istanbul and then next on the list is generally Epheses. But on my trip…I skipped Ephesus. Why? Well, beaches and Roman ruins simply don’t fascinate me as much as exotic mountains and caves. (So I spent more time in Cappadoccia instead.) Artists are generally in tune with their unspoken needs and desires, so they tend to carve out their own individual path. By following your instinct and your distinct imagination, you can create an itinerary that is unique to your interests. And you’ll run into fewer tour groups.

Learn by doing.
I think that the best way to get to know a place is to learn about its culture. And the best way to learn is by doing. We learn more authentically when we go beyond mere fact to observing, experiencing, mimicking, and processing new concepts on a personal level. This can be as simple as learning to speak some basic phrases in Turkish. Artists tend to take this a step further by copying patterns, drawing people, sketching buildings, etc. When you copy something, you get to know it on a more intimate level than by merely snapping a photo. But you don’t have to be an artist to try a new dance, cook a local dish, or learn what traditional designs mean. When you’re looking to learn, you find that everyone has something to teach you.

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