After a decade of the travel-filled lifestyle, I am sure of just one thing: getting lost and the element of surprise are by far my most satisfying moments. Others like me, we'd like to consider ourselves explorers rather than tourists.
It's about starting conversations with locals and following your nose to cafes, markets, hotels, etc. Nothing quite compares to putting away the map and wandering off the beaten path, fueled entirely by curiosity. American writer and poet Ray Bradbury once said, "Half the fun of travel is the aesthetic of lost-ness."
Modern travel planning with the internet can not only inhibit this style of travel, sometimes it can backfire entirely. One person's idea of a great spot is not necessarily yours. Everyone's needs and interests are different. Having expectations can really get the best of you and nobody wants to be let down after traveling far from home. It's important to get rid of your expectations, stay curious and be open to new things.
For me, there is only one place that surpassed the expectations built up by the dreamy photoshopped images online: the Gulf of Thailand. The crown jewels of my time there, I didn't even know existed until I found them by chance. If my plans had been set in stone, I would have missed out on some of my favorite travel memories.
There I was, traveling solo in Thailand's Andaman Sea, spending my days hopping from one island to the next. Perhaps too carefree with my time on the island of Koh Phi Phi, I had missed my boat back to the mainland. I freaked out; had a near meltdown if I'm being totally honest. A couple of Aussie surfers laughed at me. "Look around," they said, "there are worse places you could be stranded." I was not amused. But of course they were right, and I had to let it go. Leave it to a couple of surfers to put things in perspective. Actually, there really was a bright side because on an island, most of the tourists are gone by late afternoon on their tour boats. Those staying overnight have a chance to experience the quiet evening and early morning; it's a great way to get the authentic feeling of local island life.
After I bought a boat ticket back to the mainland, I was surprised to see that it was not a little speedboat this time, but rather a massive ferry. I stood on the ferry's bow as we made stops at islands and beaches I had never seen before. Railay Beach though, this one left a major impression on me. It had tall limestone cliffs, rock caves, tide pools, crystal clear waters and lush greenery. Best of all, there were virtually no tourists and just locals playing soccer on the beach. I considered getting off the ferry right then and there. What a fantastic accident that I found this place!
I spent the next four days relaxing on Railay Beach watching monkeys, reading my book, drinking banana milkshakes and bouncing between my hotel's pool and the warm ocean waters.
Could it get any better? Well, it did. I signed up for yet another day of island hopping with a different set of islands on the agenda. One of the small islands was unique; not only was it a little slice of paradise, but it had zero commercial establishments of any kind. It was the kind of island I figured was only a reality if I were a friend of Johnny Depp or Richard Branson. Dozens of day-tripping snorkelers were on one side, while the other side of the island had not a soul—just pristine white sand and clear turquoise waters. Can you believe that not a single person had bothered to seek it out? I felt like I had found the Holy Grail.
You can guess what happened next; the next day I hired a boat to drop me off at that island (with a packed lunch) and pick me up before sundown. It was unforgettable. I spent the entire day on my own private island in Thailand. I've never shared the pictures or the story until now. Nothing will ever compare to the serenity of that day and the excitement of having found it by chance. In a world where virtually every inch of our planet is tagged and featured online, this little gem was mine and mine alone. What is better than that? Not much.
Want to learn the name of this island and other travel gems on the roads less traveled? Follow me at TrySomethingFun.com.