Finding That Sweet Spot: A Traveller's Tale
As a traveller, you know when you’ve found that sweet spot—that place with all the right ingredients, where your wandering soul starts to think ‘hey, this is where I want to be’.
Some people might find that place more often than others, and maybe within a day or two, your soul will begin to wander once more, but that blissful period when time seems to stop—for me, that is what travelling is all about.
It can be romanticised—forever wandering, always searching . . . or you could just call it picky and discontented. I don’t mind either way; this searching has guided me around the world to some of the most incredible places you may never know. It’s also taken me to some real shitholes, but I guess that’s what it’s all about.
Are you a coffee aficionado? An outdoors enthusiast? Or maybe even a naturist? Whatever floats your boat! We all have our individual prerequisites for finding that sweet spot.
For most of us, there are definitely (hopefully) times on our holidays or travel when we’re happy, but I’m talking about more than that. I’m talking about when you finally encounter the environment you’ve been searching for and you wouldn’t change a thing. Maybe it’s just during a walk in the park or maybe it’s on a trip you’ve spent a lifetime preparing for. Wherever it is, you’ll know when you truly find that spot.
The thing that makes it difficult is that it’s constantly changing. It’s not just the conditions outside but conditions inside that make a whole world of difference. Maybe you revisited a sweet spot and although it’s physically the same it’s definitely not so sweet? Your wants change all the time, and for many, that is one of the allures of solo travel: searching for your perfect experience at the time without making compromises for other peoples' wants or desires.
I have found that sweet spot, on many occasions, although I will normally grow restless within 3 or 4 days and then it’s back to the search. Through all this searching, there are two boxes which always need to be ticked if I’m to stop moving.
- Crowds (or lack of). Crowds of locals I love, but masses of travellers canned in any location is a sure way to keep me walking. This is quite unfortunate because a lot of the time the crowds are there for good reason. No matter how captivating the location may be, I can stay a while, try and absorb some of the local culture and take a photo or two, but it definitely won’t give me my travel fix.
- Another huge factor is the natural environment. Cities are great and I understand the lure of energetic capitals, but for me, the true beauty in this world is in nature. Being in a big grey jungle is not good for the soul, and despite what the screens may be telling us, it’s not a healthy environment. I’ve lived in cities; the Steel City (Sheffield, UK) and Hanoi, Vietnam and although I loved them, I was never truly happy until I was back in the outdoors.
A year ago, almost to the day of writing this, I found a sweet spot. Peneda-Gerês National Park in Northern Portugal may not be as sweet to anyone else (although I highly doubt it), but I soon as I arrived, I knew this was exactly where I wanted to be. No thinking of my next destination, no thinking of things I had to do or being that overly critical traveller, I was just able to completely absorb and embrace my surroundings.
Most importantly, the national park was naturally magnificent and beautifully untouched. Slap bang in the middle of pristine mountain ranges with rolling valleys, rivers, lakes and waterfalls dotted all over the landscape. It was big, and I mean 700 square kilometres big, so there was no worry of me running away from crowds and there were hundreds of hiking trails for wandering off into the abyss.
So that was my two main boxes ticked, but there was so much more than that. The overwhelming feeling was that everything felt natural. I’ve been to countless national parks which seem nothing more than a tourist attraction with huge amenities and thoughtless trails hacked into the surrounding. This definitely wasn’t the case here.
The local culture seemed unspoiled too. My hikes took me to tiny stone villages in the mountains where the residents saw no need or want to modernise or change. Seeing how incredibly simple life can be without electricity, shops or social media was liberating and not something you often see in Western Europe. They lived in equilibrium with their surroundings and were made happy by their community and culture.
There are many other elements and unique characteristics that made Peneda-Gerês such an incredible experience, but these are the things I really came away with. The kind of things in 50 years time I’ll still be able to think back to a relive the experience like it was just yesterday. That’s what you get when you find your sweet spot.
I spent 5 days in Peneda-Gerês National Park and it wasn’t until the 4th day I even considered my next destination, which for me is good, really good. I found that point in my travels where I wouldn’t change a thing and it was beautiful. It’s that feeling that I’m searching for when I’m on the road or planning my next trip. I know it’s hard to find and doesn’t stay for long, but fuck it’s worth it!
© 2018 Joshua Kian