This month I was given my biggest spontaneity challenge so far.
I got to do something that I reckon, deep down, everyone wishes they’ll have a chance to try some day: I packed my bag, grabbed my passport, went to Gatwick, and chose a destination from the departures board in front of me. Talk about spoilt for choice.
It had to be somewhere new, somewhere I could explore. Hot weather would be a bonus, and getting out of a city was definitely appealing.
So I decided on St Lucia: hot, beautiful, rainforested, it’s got it all – a spontaneous trip to the Caribbean, here I come!
— Jamie Bezencenet (@BezencenetJamie) April 20, 2014
St Lucia Fact File
- Located in the eastern Caribbean Sea. Part of the Lesser Antilles
- Population of 174,000
- Capital is Castries
- Has changed hands between the British and French 14 times! (7/7)
- Warm all year round (26-30°C)
- Rainy season is from July – November.
- Currency is in Eastern Caribbean Dollar (roughly 4.5 to the Pound Sterling) However they do take USD in most places too.
Spontaneous Tip 1: Book last minute for flights and somewhere to stay
Amazingly, despite the flight leaving in two hours, a return trip with Virgin was still a very reasonable £600.
The challenge was actually finding someone at the Virgin desk who could take payment for it in person, as they hadn’t had anyone buy a flight directly from them in years. Apparently, they’re not used to this approach to travel – but that just made it all the more exciting.
Next, I had to find somewhere to stay in St. Lucia. A quick check on lastminute.com showed me that The Royal by Rex Hotel on Rodney Bay had great reviews and also 55% off. Sorted!
Spontaneous Tip 2: Bin the guidebook and trust your instinct
Twelve hours after leaving a rain soaked London I was sitting on the beach with my girlfriend Pru, watching the sunset and drinking an extremely strong rum punch.
One of the great things about travelling so last minute is that the whole experience is much more of an adventure. While reading the customary travel guides and trawling the internet for ‘things to do’ can have its merits, it can also make the whole trip a little too prescriptive.
However, if you travel more spontaneously then your only option is to explore, speak to people, take a chance and trust your instinct. You might miss out on a few touristy hot spots, but in my experience the much more rewarding things are to be found by getting off the beaten track.
This was certainly the case in St Lucia.
Spontaneous Tip 3: Turn right and ask the first person you see
We needed help and inspiration, so I turned right and spoke to the first person I saw on the beach, who, to my surprise, was one of the pilots from our flight over.
It turned out he does the trip a lot, and also used to live in St Lucia. So, over a couple of bottles of Piton (the local beer) he told me loads of great things to do on the island.
Spontaneous Tip 4: Use the A-Z of Spontaneity
Another useful trick I used throughout the week is to pull a letter at random out of a bag containing an A-Z of scrabble letters.
My ‘letter of the day’ helped me in everything from choosing a dish at lunch to deciding which adventure to go on. For example, when I pulled a ‘V’ out of the bag, I visited the famous Soufriere Volcano, and when I picked an ‘R’, it meant venturing into the island’s renowned rainforest.
Once there, we got the ‘Aerial Rainforest Tram’ near Babonneau. They hoist you up into the canopy of the amazing forest with a guide who tells you all about the flora and fauna. I really recommend it – just watch out for the tarantulas!
Spontaneous Tip 5: Speak to the locals for “a-mahi-mahi-zing” food
Over the next few days I explored the north of St Lucia and tried out the places I’d been told about, including Pigeon Island, which is a beautiful national park a short water taxi away from our hotel.
I’d also been told to eat at Spinnaker’s Restaurant on Rodney Bay which was known for great local seafood. Without a doubt, it was the best mahi mahi I’ve ever had.
In fact, it seems like you just can’t go wrong in St Lucia when it comes to food.
We even ate at a tiny ‘restaurant’ on the beach which consisted of a single plastic table and an elderly Caribbean lady cooking jerk chicken and fresh fish from a makeshift BBQ. The meal came to about £4 each and was absolutely delicious.
As with most things in the Caribbean, what makes it even more enjoyable is the unbelievably welcoming approach that everyone has. We asked her where we could explore next and she told us about a beautiful small beach to the south called Marigot Bay. So southwards we went.
Spontaneous Tip 6: The most fun comes from the least likely places
The local bus dropped us off at a small jetty overlooking a stunning bay.
“Hey brudda, you going to Marigot Bay Beach Club?”
“Uh, yeah I guess”.
So we jumped on a tiny little water taxi and five minutes later were dropped off at our new hotel.
Perhaps I should have rung ahead – I hoped it wasn’t fully booked, or too expensive – but I needn’t have worried. They had an amazing room available for us, with panoramic views over the bay, for only £65 per night.
While Rodney Bay had been big and busy, our new home felt much more like the ‘real St Lucia’.
Spontaneous Tip 7: Have an adventure, not a holiday
On our first night we were eating in the local Doolittle’s Restaurant when we heard some distant music from the top of the hill on the far side of the bay. It was time to explore.
Having being dropped off again by the water taxi we followed the beats until we found ourselves in the middle of a local street party. We immediately made friends with loads of locals and had numerous ‘delicacies’ of the alcoholic variety thrust upon us.
The most interesting was definitely the ‘Fire Water’ which came from a vat filled with chilies and was “guaranteed” to help in the virility department. The jury’s out on that one.
The following day I went out diving with one of the locals I’d met who happened to be a dive master. We saw a wreck just off the coast that had run aground forty years ago. It was spectacular – I even saw my first octopus.
Spontaneous Tip 8: Haggle, even with hotels and flights
After another beautiful day exploring the area, we decided to move on again and see some more of the island.
Everyone we’d met had asked if we’d seen the ‘Pitons’ – two huge volcanic peaks to the south.
My dive master had also told me that if I wanted the most breathtaking view from any hotel room in the world then I had to check out a resort called Ladera.
The view from our room at Ladera Resort was truly breathtaking. There was no fourth wall on the mountain side of our room, so we had a permanent view over the stunning beach far below and Pitons in the distance.
No wonder Condé Nast Traveller magazine voted this one of the best hotels in the world.
— Jamie Bezencenet (@BezencenetJamie) April 26, 2014
But I would never have been able to afford to stay here if I hadn’t been a little cheeky and asked them for a discount.
Since we were booking the day before and they still had rooms available, they reduced the price from $1000USD per night to $500USD.
Now that’s what I call last minute bartering!
Spontaneous Tip No 9: Follow your nose
After finally getting over the view it was time to explore again. Instead of following our ears, this time we’d been told to follow our noses.
It didn’t smell nice at all.
A short twenty minute hike away was the Souffriere Volcano, which is dormant luckily, but still has the tell tale signs of activity with mud baths, geysers and sulphur springs.
Definitely worth a look if you get the chance, but take a nose clip!
Spontaneous Tip 10: Just go for it!
They say time flies when you’re having fun. Well, time flies at supersonic speeds when you’re being spontaneous.
All too quickly it was over and we were heading back to the airport for our return journey. What a week!
If you’re feeling a bit devil-may-care and fancy doing a similar trip, then go for it. Forget about guidebooks, just trust your instincts and have an adventure. You won’t regret it.
Jamie’s Top Tips for Spontaneous Travel
- Ditch the guidebook
- Trust your instincts
- Book last minute
- Speak to the locals
- Ask for advice on social media
- Turn right and ask the first person you see
- Have an adventure. not a holiday
- The most fun comes from the least likely places
- Haggle, even with hotels and flights
- Just go for it!