6 January 2020

This post is part of the 20/20 Travel Project.

When we travel, there's a temptation to rush around, cram as much in as we can, and just look at the things everyone else tells us to look at.

There's nothing wrong with that, if it suits you! But if you want a more in-depth travel experience, to see more, notice more and experience more, one way of doing that is to slow down and simply look at the things around you.

We've collected 9 ways to spot interesting things on your travels that pretty much everyone else misses. So not only will you have a more fulfilling experience when you travel, you will also get better pictures to post on Instagram!

1. Look up

Looking up is the easiest way of spotting hidden gems that everyone else misses - and it's often one of the most rewarding.

No matter where you go in the world, there is something to look at above your head. Outside, it might be a soaring bird, a soothing tree canopy or simply an amazingly blue sky.

Inside, you could find richly-decorated ceilings, symbolic decorations or an unexpected lizard!

Religious buildings are some of the best places to look up. In the West, we are used to heavenly creatures being depicted above our heads, but travel to a Buddhist or Muslim place of worship, and you will find completely different objects to draw your gaze.

Like these:

Temple in Hong Kong insence

This picture was taken in a temple in Hong Kong. Those red spirals are incense coils. By looking up, you can see things you wouldn't expect and it can deepen your understanding of a place, as you find out why these things are here, what is the meaning of them and learn about the history behind them.


2. Look down

Those of us who hate making eye contact with others will be used to staring at the ground as we walk.

Others though, rarely look at the land beneath their feet. Especially when travelling - when there's so much at eye level to enjoy! But once in a while, looking down - really looking down - can be very rewarding.

Whether you're inside or outside, the floor can be surprisingly rewarding. While ancient mosaics and beautifully tiled floors are obviously to be admired, even an ordinary street can offer up surprising gems, like an interesting stone or colourful plant. Even litter can be fascinating in a foreign country! You can see the exotic writing on wrappers, wonder what it might have contained - and then do your bit and put it in the bin.

But of course, some of the best reasons to look down at the ground are the amazing animals we might find down there. You could see a slumbering snake, a scuttling beetle, or even something as rare and beautiful as this:

Glass wing butterfly

It's a glasswing butterfly, and yes, its wings really are transparent!


3. Look behind

I don't know about you, but I love the idea of seeking out things that are hidden when I travel. From those mysterious doors at the airport that are reserved for people with lanyards and lots of money, to paths that lead off into the unknown. There's something so exciting about uncovering something secret.

This isn't a secret as such, but it is fascinating. Take a look at the picture of the front of these houses in London.

By Sladen - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4204165

Looks fairly normal, right? But look again at the window on the top right. Looks a bit... odd.

That's right, it's not a real window.

And in fact, the house isn't real either! It's a facade. This is what it looks like from the back:

By Hywel Williams, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9145564

That's the tube line - the London Underground!

There are quite a few of these fake houses in London. The tube lines needed open space when they were built, to discharge steam, but Londoners didn't want to look at these big ugly gaps, so facades were created to hide them.


4. Look in front

And leading nicely on from the idea of looking behind things, we come to a less obvious way of finding hidden gems: look in front!

But "Look in front of what?" I hear you ask. Well, anything, but especially famous monuments and landmarks. So often, we're distracted by the thing that we've come to see that we forget that there might be other places worth visiting near by. Or right in front.

Take this beautiful church for example. Isn't it amazing? I bet you can't name it though.

Duomo di Pisa

It's Pisa Cathedral. And the more eagle-eyed amongst you would have spotted the more famous monument peeking out from behind it - the Leaning Tower of Pisa of course. Under any other circumstances, the cathedral would be the biggest draw in the area, but of course, it's upstaged by a wonky tower. In fact, Pisa Cathedral originally rivalled St Mark's Basilica in Venice as the two republics battled to see which could create the most impressive place of worship.

We're not saying don't visit famous monuments or landmarks - they're well-known for a reason. But when you're there, take a moment to turn around and see what else is there to experience.


5. Look at the apparently mundane

It takes a special eye to see beauty in the mundane. Photographers are brilliant at this, and if you spend any time on photography or travel blogs, you will find this out for yourself.

Instagram travel accounts are too often full of pictures of obvious beauty - skinny young people on beaches, amazing food, large attractive hats. But if you look closely at ordinary things, you can develop an eye for seeing beauty where no-one else does.

Have a look at this picture, for example:

Knot tying a boat

It's just a fairly ordinary bit of rope on a fairly ordinary deck, right? But carry on looking at it. See the different colours in the rope, the way it twists and turns, the contrast of the bleached wood of the deck with the dark spaces beneath.

Not everyone can or will see or appreciate pictures like this. That's fine! If you look at it and see just a boring bit of rope which is nothing to be excited about, that's cool and you don't need to force yourself into seeing or appreciating more in the picture if that's just not you.

But if you're looking at it, trying to "get" something out of the picture, or feeling an emotional response, that's a sign that you're capable of seeing more than what it obvious. You can develop this ability if you want, or keep it as it is. But if you ever want to stand out on Instagram, or even become a professional photographer, you will absolutely need to be tuned into the apparently mundane.


6. Look from a different angle

This is one of my favourites!

Spotting things that no-one else sees can be as simple as walking around whatever it is you're looking at. Obviously that's a bit tricky if it's Mount Everest, but if it's a monument, building or other landmark, you can get more out of the experience than your fellow visitors if you're simply able to move and see it from a different angle. If you're lucky enough, you can even fly! Some places will do helicopter trips to get a truly unique view of somewhere like The Grand Canyon.

As a more accessible example, take a look at this sculpture of a reclining man:

Atlas dreaming sculpture

It's by the artist Francisco Leiro and is on the marina in Sanxenxo, which is in Spain. Most people view the sculpture from the side, so it looks more like a lying man, but if you take a stroll around to his feet, as this photographer has, you get a completely different view. You get a different sense of the size of the feet, the height of the elbows, and the ways in which you can sit on it or walk around.

Looking at something from a different angle is a good mental exercise as well as simply being a way of experiencing a place more deeply. It's a literal way of problem-solving - and some people find that practising looking at things visually from different angles can help strengthen their mental problem-solving skills!


7. Look for movement

If you're at all interested in spotting wildlife on your travels, this one is for you.

Looking for movement can help us spot exotic animals, fascinating insects, or even something calming such as a leaf blowing in the wind.

Many animals are masters of disguise, and only by looking for movement will you be able to see them. Take this beautifully-camouflaged owl, for example!

Owl camouflaged in tree

If you were taking a stroll in these woods, there's no way you would see it unless you were specifically looking for it - or looking for something to move.

Looking for movement also encourages us to be still, and in what can sometimes feel like a hectic and busy trip, staying still is good to help us focus and reflect on our experience.


8. Look in the details

Too often, we don't look closely enough at something to spot everything there is to see. That's not a problem by itself - we might not have time, we might not be interested or we might simply prefer to look at the bigger picture.

But sometimes looking at the details can be truly rewarding. If you want to do this, a good place to start is a place of worship because such places are often stuffed full of symbolism. You might see a statue of a saint with an icon showing what they're patron saint of, or you might spot fascinating tiny details on a huge statue of a Buddha.

One of the best places to spot details is somewhere that is almost as revered by a lot of people - Disneyland! All Disney parks have "hidden Mickeys" -  the shape of Mickey Mouse concealed in a wall, display or on the ground. Look at this one:

By Eliedion - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41744470

It's carved into a totem pole! Lots of people like to make a game out of this and share what they've found and where.

Even if you're not into places of worship or Disney, looking for the little things wherever you are can be a great way of developing your ability to notice details - both literally and metaphorically. Spotting those things almost everyone else misses can be rewarding in itself and enhances your whole experience.


9. Finally, know where to look!

It's not cheating to research what to look at when you travel! Reading online guides (or old-fashioned guidebooks), asking others what is worth looking at, finding information about what to see in your destination - it's all part of having a more fulfilling trip.

When we travel, we are using the advice and experience of those who have gone before - and in a way, it's combining their experiences with ours. Lots of people can tell you what is "unmissable" in your destination, but, as with everything else, it's up to you if you choose to experience it or not. However, your fellow travellers should always be listened to at least, because they can turn up some true gems!

Take Ta Prohm, for example. It's part of the Angkor Wat temple complex in Cambodia - the one where Tomb Raider was filmed. If you search for images of Ta Prohm, you will find mostly pictures like this:

By Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas or alternatively © CEphoto, Uwe Aranas, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29419267

Pretty cool, huh? It is a wonderful place and the trees growing through the temple are truly striking.

But if you dig a little deeper, you will find out where you can see something really special on this ancient building. It's this:

By Harald Hoyer from Schwerin, Germany - Dinosaur carving at Ta Prohm temple, Siem Reap, Cambodia, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24324177

That's right - it's a carving that looks just like a stegosaurus - even though the place was built long before anyone knew what a stegosaurus was! It's very strange.

But you would miss this if you didn't know it was there, which is why it's a good idea to do a bit of research on your destination before you get there.

However you choose to travel and whatever you choose to look at while you're in the big wide world, slowing down to spot the things everyone else misses will make your trip truly unique.



If you'd like to participate in the 20/20 Travel Project and share how you experience travel in greater focus, contact us here.