The Beauty of Doing Nothing while Traveling

On my first backpacking trip through Europe when I was 17, my travel partner and I spent a few days at a hostel villa in Tuscany. After a few weeks of city-to-city backpacking all I wanted to do was breathe, so I plucked a VHS of Serendipity from the hostel library and spent a few happy hours watching a bad 90’s chick flick.

“You really shouldn’t spend the day doing something you can do at home,” my travel partner said.

“But I’m so tired!” I’m sure I whined.

That moment taught me an important lesson about travel- living your life to the fullest at every moment quickly becomes exhausting. So on my first full day in Istanbul, I did absolutely nothing. And it was wonderful.

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My cousin Suzy and her boyfriend, Serkan, showed me around their beloved neighborhood of Taksim. Taksim is a neighborhood located on the Asian side of Istanbul- the side known for being residential, upscale and largely tourist-free.

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I spent the day becoming familiar with the salty sea air, the vibrant rugs hanging from light poles, the vendors selling roasted chestnuts and the call the prayer, which came like clockwork.

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I was walking on the street when I heard the call to prayer for the first time, and it stopped me in my tracks- it was a woman’s voice on megaphone, a high-pitched song I couldn’t understand.

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I loved stumbling upon the unfamiliar amidst the commonplace, like this minaret wedged between shopping centers.

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We then made our way to the water’s edge, and for the first time in too long I smelled salt in the air and I heard the caws of seagulls and the crash of waves. I hadn’t realized until then how much I had missed water, the sea, nature.

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And I know this is becoming cliché, but sometimes it really is great to observe local life and boast the title of the only tourist in a foreign land.

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We stopped to enjoy some piping hot black tea, or Çay, pronounced exactly like “chai.” It burned my fingers a little to hold the scalding tea but when I asked why it was always served in glass, Serkan responded, “So you can see the beautiful color.” Which is as good a reason as any.

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It was an afternoon in which nothing was accomplished, where we checked no must-see sites off of a list. And it was just what I needed.

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Do you ever like to spend a day doing nothing while traveling?

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About Ashley Fleckenstein

Ashley is a travel and lifestyle blogger who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Since college she has au paired in Paris, backpacked the world solo, and lived in Uganda. Her work has been featured by Buzzfeed, Forbes, TripAdvisor, and Glamour Magazine.

31 thoughts on “The Beauty of Doing Nothing while Traveling”

  1. great post!

    i always spend too much time doing nothing actually…and i wouldnt have it any other way. i have spent time in cities where i went to the cinemas, hung out at the mall, and just perused around with no agenda or plans and stopped to eat or drink wherever popped up next. and you know what? i wouldnt change a THING. while perhaps i was sitting in a movie theater in bangkok watching magic mike (true story), i was learning a lot about the lifestyle of someone in bangkok without even really knowing it. i know the popcorn varieties offered, i know what day is the movie discount night, etc. while most people would scoff at this, i know i learned more about the culture and people from an experience like that than i would have flocking to another temple packed with tourists from from to back all in competition of the perfect photo.

    i also travel slower than most. i like taking my time and not being rushed. :)

    i think people travel differently. i, personally, get more out of the destination and culture by not planning a set itinerary or working with sponsors. in fact, that is the main reason i decided to stop taking my blog so seriously. i started traveling to destinations and coming home feeling like i knew really nothing about the place that wasnt already listed in a guidebook. to each their own :)

    sorry for the ramble, but it is great to see someone who learns a lot about a place just from doing ‘nothing’ :) i can totally relate!

    • Thanks for your thoughtful response, Megan! I like to immerse myself in local life too- when you go to a country and don’t talk to one person who lives there then you might as well have stayed home if you ask me. Cheers to slow travel :)

  2. Some of my expat friends and I down here in Spain have this theory that travel is basically just 50% eating and 50% walking, and we have no shame in doing basically just that. Like you said, sometimes you just need to relax and take it all in while traveling instead of the typical go-go-go.

  3. Observing and appreciating was what you did with
    “nothing.” Your photos show that and they are inspiring.
    Lovely…

    Love, Gamma

  4. Sounds like a perfect day! Just enjoying your company and strolling aimlessly sometimes is the best way to get to know a country! I miss sea salt air, gulls, and the view of water too! And I still haven’t figured out how to drink çay out of those tiny glasses without burning my fingers a little either :)

  5. My best friend and I were going, going, going, all through Europe last time we were together. When we hit Rome, the first time in a week we were going to be in a place longer than a day, we practically collapsed. We napped until past noon and then went out only to sit by the river and nap some more.

    • I think when I was younger I planned trips that were much, much faster, but now I realize it’s better to see a lot of a few places than a little of a lot of places. And I totally know what you mean, when you hit a wall and are just so exhausted!

  6. I’m a big fan of spending days like this. So often there is that pressure to see and do everything. But in the state of mind, so frantic and impatient not to miss anything, you miss so much. I spent a few days in Paris recently and some of the best time there was just sitting in a cafe and reading. I could watch people and listen to the language and it was lovely.
    Great post Ashley.

  7. Yes! Having days like this is so important! I think it’s when you open yourself up by having no plans that the truly beautiful and memorable experiences find their way to you.

  8. I have just started another backpacking trip around Europe, and am finding it hard to find time to write a blog post. An 8 hour bus ride tomorrow should fix that though.

  9. Great post. I too have found the amazing experience of doing nothing. Growing up, when traveling, we had to move. We woke up early and went to bed late and had a horrible time. We were too tired and rushed to enjoy anything. Once I reached adulthood I slowed down and found out that it was great.

  10. Agreed! I usually rush around and try to do as much touristy stuff as possible but that is so draining. One of my favorite days in China was when I hung out with one of my students and we just walked around the city. He showed me his high school and things that were important to him in his life. It was really cool to experience China from his point of view for a day.

  11. I definitely don’t consider that nothing! You really got to experience life there, which is certainly one of the greatest parts of traveling. Sure, seeing the sights is something worth doing, but those little tid bits like serving the tea in a glass to see the color and stuff are more interesting to me than how old some monument is :)

    • I’m glad you agree! At times I feel guilty when I’m not seeing the sites in a place with so many great ones as Istanbul, but I really think you do learn more about the country when you just go with the flow and allow the locals to show you their favorite spots :)

  12. Great post! Istanbul is one of my favourite cities in the world. I’ve been to it twice now with a 2 month stay on my second trip and I cannot wait for my next one. I do want to point out though that Taksim is actually on the European side, not the Asian :) perhaps you meant Bagdat Caddesi?

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