That exciting first night at the intercambio, the drinks after with the beautiful Spanish girls, the bike tour of the city, the strolls along the beach, and through the park. La Sagrada Familia in the morning, the Gothic Quarter at night. My dinner date with the Italian girl, shopping for breakfast at La Boqueria. The adventure of the cannabis club, the familiarity of the metro lines.
When I think back on my week in Barcelona, it's easy to remember the highlights. But, not to be overlooked are the feelings I had there, which weren't exactly bright.
After three weeks of WWOOFing in remote locations of France, I was excited for the freedom of hostel hoping, and even more excited to be in an urban area, where the prospect of meeting people reigned high. But what I failed to account for, were the many hours in a day, and how quickly a completely open schedule can lead to monotony.
Barcelona is beautiful, but as I learned, without purpose, even the most beautiful places can become boring. Sure, I was there to document, but I had no plan or angle. Yes, I took photos, and yes, I wrote, but ultimately, much of my time and money spent during that week was wasted.
I thought I'd just be able to walk up to a hostel and land a volunteer job on the spot, but that wasn't at all the case. As a backup plan, I signed up for Workaway, where four months later, I'm still waiting for some of my messages to receive replies.
Don't make the mistakes I made. Don't spend a second in your bunk outside of sleep. Don't be deterred by a language barrier. Don't be afraid of meeting people. Do some research on the place before you go. Going in entirely blind is an overly romanticized mistake.
With that being said, don’t try to plan every hour of every day. Have an idea of a timeline, even if you don't have a definite end date. Have a budget, or at least a ballpark of how much you're willing to spend. Think of a few things that might interest you. Highlight a couple of attractions, don’t try to see them all.
During a recent trip to Barcelona, I had delusions of figuring it all out day by day. After a week of wasted time and money, I found this outlook to be entirely over romanticized. Don't get me wrong, I'm still a believer in spontaneous travel, but I now also believe in the importance of a foundation.
Follow a strict sight seeing itinerary, and you’ll almost certainly miss out on interactions with locals. Wake up without any ideas or plans, and you’re likely to browse Instagram from your bunk and miss out all the same. What I’ve found to be the most rewarding way to travel, is to build a foundation for experience, and then allow your trip to unfold.
While WWOOFing in France, I had no idea what my days would consist of, but my volunteer homestays served as platforms for authentic experiences to take place. In Barcelona, entirely without a plan, I found it too easy to do my own thing and avoid interaction.
Be it Barcelona or Bangladesh, the next time you travel, go with some loose ideas, a tentative timeline, and an open mind. Don’t try to force experiences, but instead put yourself in interesting situations, and allow them to unfold.