A checklist by Paulo Coelho, Brazilian lyricist and novelist

My diverse attitude towards traveling

Since I was very young, I discovered traveling for me was the best way to learn. Today, I still have a pilgrim's spirit. Here are some lessons I have learned. I hope they will be useful to other pilgrims like me.

1. Stay away from museums. This recommendation may seem absurd, but let's think about it together. If you are a stranger in a strange town, isn't it more interesting looking for the present instead of the past? People feel obliged to visit museums because they learned since they were children that traveling means looking for this type of culture. It's clear that museums are important, but they require time and objectivity; you shall know what you want or you will go out with the impression of having seen such a quantity of fundamental things, though you will not remember them.

2. Spend time in bars. Here, on the contrary of museums, the life of the city is revealed. Bars are not clubs, but places where people use to go for a drink, worry about the weather and are always ready to visit. Buy a newspaper, relax while sitting down and gaze at people coming and going. Should somebody start cornering you, even if it may seem stupid, let him talk: you cannot judge the beauty of the road only by viewing at it from the beginning.

3. Be open and ready to learn. The best tourist guide is someone who lives locally, he knows everything, he is proud of his city and most of all he doesn't work for an agency. Walk on the road, choose one person with whom you wish to have a conversation and ask for information: "Where is the church?" or "Where is the post office?". If you don't get the right result, try with another person. I can assure you that at the end of the day, you will have found some very good company.

4. Try to travel on your own or, if you are married, along with your spouse. It will be more difficult, nobody will take care of you, but it's the only way you will have the chance of going out of your country. Organized tour travels are a thinly disguised way of staying in a stranger territory, by maintaining the tours language set, following the leader's directives, caring more for the gossip of the group rather than the place you are visiting.

5. Don't make comparisons. Don't compare anything, either prices, or cleaniness, or quality of life, or means of transportation, nothing. You are not traveling to demonstrate that your quality of life is better than others. As a matter of fact, your search is to discover how other people live, what they can teach to you, how they face the ordinary and extraordinary events of their lives.

6. Behave as if the entire world would understand you. It doesn't matter if you don't speak the language, don't be afraid: I have already been to many places where there was no possibility of communicating by words. Nevertheless, I always found support, orientation, important suggestions and even girlfriends. Some people believe that if they travel on their own, they will go out on the road and get lost forever. In an emergency you just need the hotel's business card in your pocket and show it to your taxi driver to not get lost.

7. Don't buy too much. Spend money for things that you will not have to bring back home, such as good theater programmes, restaurants, walking tour. Today, with the global market and the internet, you can find anything you want, without paying additional overweight charges.

8. Don't try to see the world in a month. It is better to stay in a city for four or five days than to visit five cities in a week. A city is like a capricious woman; she needs time to be seduced and then unveil herself completely.

9. A trip is an adventure. Henry Miller used to say that it is very important to find a church, no one has ever heard about, rather than going to Rome and feeling obliged to pay a visit to the Sistine Chapel, along with two hundred thousand other tourists shouting in your ears. Go for a visit to the Sistine Chapel, but don't forget to wander across the roads and lanes and enjoy the freedom of seeking the unknown. But when you find it, it will change your life.

published by Corriere della Sera on August 22nd, 2002
(used w/o permission, but reprinted in entirety with full credit given)
translation by Malvina Suriano
proofreading by Marilyn Burman