Captains Curious: Use Curiosity as Your Compass

Welcome to Captains Curious, a weekly series of guest posts on the subject of Curiosity. The newest member of the Captains Curious is Paula Swenson! To learn about the series and the other Captains Curious, please click here.

I let Curiosity be my tour guide

Being curious enriches my life in many ways, but never more so than when I travel. It’s curiosity that pushes me to walk a little further and see what’s around the next bend or over the rise of the hill, even though my feet are tired and the day has grown quite warm.

Curiosity draws me down a narrow stone walkway that opens into a pocket-sized piazza, brimming with flowers and a tiny café with only 3 tables. It’s a local place that has no sign, no need to advertise, discovered purely by chance. I eat exquisite handmade pasta with black truffles, thanks to being curious.

When I travel I view every journey, near or far, as a voyage of discovery. I let curiosity be my tour guide. I’ve discovered obscure but fascinating museums, archeological digs in progress, fabulous local cuisine, secluded idyllic beaches, unadvertised local festivals, world-class musicians, sanctuaries, parks and most important of all, glimpses of the real life of the places I visit.

Asking curious questions has led me away from danger…

Stopping to ask my curious questions of local people has both led me away from danger and toward amazing experiences that don’t ever come as part of a packaged tour or pre-set itinerary. Those experiences are key pieces of the mosaic of my life. Without my curiosity and the things it uncovers, I would not be me.

Once, in Rome, we saw streams of people headed the same way we were headed. My curiosity was fully engaged and we started to follow – but couldn’t really grasp the colloquial Italian we heard around us. We stopped to buy a bottle of cold water and I asked the shopkeeper where everyone was going. “A protest,” he explained, “against the government . . . perhaps,” he suggested, “today is a good day to travel outside the city to Ostia or Tivoli.” He was right, the protestors that day skirmished with the police; we enjoyed the countryside.

…and toward amazing experiences

On another occasion, in Kapadokya, curiosity led us to walk through a gate standing ajar at what appeared to be an archeological restoration in progress. We took a few photos of the empty site from our vantage point and as we turned to leave a man with a dog appeared. Certain we were about to be chased off, but ever curious, I called out a greeting and managed enough basic Turkish to ask the name of this place, so we could look it up later and get more information. Not only did we learn the name, Kaypakli, but we also got invited on a personal, private tour of the site. The man, it turned out, was one of the archeologists. Although he spoke almost no English and we spoke almost no Turkish, he was moved by our curiosity to share the work he was engaged in.

Curiosity opens doors

These are not isolated incidents. Curiosity opens doors and makes my travel more vibrant and relevant. I’ve been invited into people’s homes for tea and coffee, been taught to dance rembetiko and sirtaki in Greece, and been given lessons in the Turkish art of Ebru by a master craftswoman. I’ve witnessed ceremonies in villages unchanged since medieval times, eaten fresh sea urchins and been treated to traditional music by men gathering at the end of their working day to play simply for the joy of it – all because I let curiosity be my compass.

The next time you travel, whether around the world or just around the block, remember to pack your curiosity. It will change everything.

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Paula Swenson is a Creative Catalyst, artist and writer born in the USA, currently exercising her curiosity in central Bohemia, exploring castles and cobblestones in her free time. You can find her online at and and on Twitter: @zografispaula

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Piazza Photo Credit: Ian Britton

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4 Responses to Captains Curious: Use Curiosity as Your Compass

  1. SilverMagpies June 2, 2011 at 6:27 am #

    Paula –

    A great post with an particularly wonderful point about using curiosity to avoid pitfalls as well as find opportunities!

  2. Susan T. Blake June 2, 2011 at 9:00 am #

    Paula, this is a wonderful description of how curiosity needn’t be something to fear – instead, open-hearted curiosity really can change everything. Thank you!

  3. Paula -Creative Catalyst June 4, 2011 at 4:42 am #

    Thank you Nancy and Susan 🙂 I really find curiosity is one of the most valuable tools I have, in almost every situation . . . it keeps me safe, keeps me interested and keeps me young 🙂

  4. Square-Peg Karen June 7, 2011 at 3:48 pm #

    Wonderful! The desire to travel has been growing on me lately – haven’t done much traveling in years – and I *really* like the idea of using curiosity (of trusting curiosity) to be my tour guide.

    Thanks for this, Paula!

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