“It’s a Saturday night at a tropical beach in paradise; what are the odds we’ll be able to find a hotel room?”
That was the question my husband Mike and I pondered after “stumbling upon” the most magical beach in Queensland, Australia, where we had spent the afternoon swimming in the gentle turquoise waves.
This story, which has many delightful twists and turns, underscores the power of curiosity. What I mean by that is choosing to adopt an inquisitive mindset can lead to the most expected outcomes — more wonderful than you might realize when approaching the same scenario without curiosity.
This is a hard-learned lesson for me as a stubborn, self-reliant introvert who is hardwired to Google things endlessly before asking a human the answer to a query. That quality is good in some ways, but detrimental in others.
Our story in paradise continues, and I’ll wrap it up with some takeaways.
The man who stops for directions. What??
We knew that we had found a special place, and we didn’t want to leave, even though we had, just that morning, set out on a 1000-mile, six-day road trip down the east coast of Australia, from Cairns to Brisbane. We had a flight to catch out of the latter and a lot of miles to cover, while doing maximum sightseeing, and less than a week to do it.
Nevertheless, our gut told us we should enjoy this place and not rush past it. We figured there wasn’t going to be any more exciting highway pullouts for many miles, and the next major town was a long drive.
Mike suggested we stop into the local tourism office to see what we could find out. Mind blown. You mean, ask a local expert about the information we were lacking, instead of making blind assumptions? You’re killing me with your common sense, dude.
So into the tourist office we went. The lady working there was extremely helpful and confirmed our suspicions that:
a) continuing on our road trip would lead to miles of less spectacular views, and we wouldn’t make the next down by dark.
(It’s not advisable to road trip after dark in kangaroo country, we’d been told, because they jump out and scare you and end up causing a lot of accidents. Just like deer do in my part of the United States.)
b) It would be tricky to come by a vacant hotel room in a resort town on a Saturday night.
BUT, she offered, “I think there might be a room at this one place I know. Let me call and find out.”
A quick phone call later, sure enough, there was one room left in a bungalow-style beach resort.
Mike and I looked at each other in delighted awe. “We’ll take it!” we practically said in unison.
Because of Mike’s idea to talk to the tourism office, we got lodging when we thought it wouldn’t be possible.
I should add that, this town that we “stumbled upon,” as I mentioned above, we only did so because Mike asked some guy in a coffee shop in Cairns that morning about some good places to see. The town, Mission Beach, was only two hours from our starting point in Cairns. Not exactly a great idea, on the surface, to stop after such a short distance with the many miles we had to drive in just a few days. Our original intent was to stop for an early lunch then keep driving.
Which underscores my point that asking locals for information can lead to outstanding results. Mix that with a touch of intuition and a good nose for sniffing out fun opportunities, and you have a formula for maximizing your travel experiences.
But the story continues.
That last room available that we scored turned out to be down a small, non-descript road, down a ways, in a place we would never have thought to drive to. Heck, it was kinda hard to find, even. But it was a beautiful beachfront resort; only a stone’s throw from the same gorgeous waters we had just enjoyed all afternoon.
After another irresistible dip in the bathtub-warm turquoise waters, we showered and headed back into the tiny town to grab dinner.
The place we ended up, which had been closed for lunch, was now alive and vibrant under the warm evening sky. Tropical music floated into the atmosphere as we looked for a table in a crowded open-air bar, with the mind-blowing beach we had enjoyed all day only a few minutes walk away, but now under the cover of darkness.
Finding a table, we gladly paid for overpriced drinks and food, soaking in the glorious beach vibes and beside ourselves with giddiness for being able to experience a moment in time we knew we’d always look bad on with fondness.
So, about curiosity curing conundrums
As I mentioned earlier, a couple of moments of curiosity by Mike led to results that we couldn’t have imagined and probably wouldn’t have experienced otherwise.
Sans curiosity, we probably would have driven right by Mission Beach, keeping our timeline in mind.
Since we knew it was worth stopping at, we did. Even Plan A of stopping there for lunch and then moving on probably would have been fine. We’d likely have made it to Townsville before dark, found a decent place to stay, a fun restaurant for dinner and had a great time. But we would have missed out on what ended up being one of the trip’s highlights.
So what can we learn about the benefits of curiosity?
Humans are a treasure trove of information, battle-tested with experience. Asking another person about something (in this context, about travel) will lead to invaluable information you may not find elsewhere. The old rule, “ask the locals where to go” bore out very well for us in Queensland.
No matter how much you read up on something, you can never know the whole story. Curiosity through conversation adds richness and context to just about everything.
Curiosity cures assumptions.
When embarking on something new, it is human nature to have biases and assumptions about what the outcome will be. I find this to be a liability in many cases. Asking open-ended questions opens up your thinking to new possibilities, and in many cases, unimagined solutions.
Curiosity leads to innovation and human intelligence.
One poignant example of that for this research-over-conversation introvert was from a previous job I had that involved rolling out marketing plans for events in cities where I had never set foot. How does one go about the daunting task of knowing how to market in a different city or state?
Well, duh, online research, I thought.
My extroverted boss thought differently and insisted that I call local businesses and chat them up about various items to inform our marketing strategies. I found this idea to be terrifying. Calling strangers and asking them questions?? That is as bad as sales cold-calling!
But I grudgingly did it, because telling the boss “no” wasn’t really a solid path to staying employed. I wasn’t naturally gifted at it (it felt soooo awkward), but I did it.
And you know what? It worked. At least a lot of the time.
It helped me to get on-the-ground intelligence that I couldn’t get otherwise.
“Oh, don’t advertise in that newspaper. No one reads it. Their reported circulation number is B.S.”
“Jared used to put on concerts here. He’d probably help you put up posters around town if you ask nicely and pay him. Sure, I’ll give you his number.”
“You want to do your event on a Wednesday night? You won’t get anyone to come out because (insert some reason about locals I wouldn’t have found online) Thursday or the weekend would be better.”
I still prefer to research online over talking to people, because that is how I’m wired. But now I know that conversation should be a part of the equation if I want to be more effective.
Many more volumes could be written about how a general scene of curiosity leads to innovation. Think vehicles, electric light, the printing press, and so many other inventions that are now irreplaceable parts of life. Many, if not all, great inventions came from someone asking, “what if….?” and following that curiosity where it led.
E.g., What if we could go to the bathroom inside and wash our waste away without carrying it in buckets? (A curiosity from the 1800s that I am glad someone chased down!)
We can all benefit from adopting a spirit of curiosity. It will lead us in unexpected directions and sometimes require uncomfortable conversations, as in my case.
But it is usually worth it.
The job seeker, when asking just a few more questions about why the position is vacant, may get invaluable insights that will help her decide if she wants to take the job.
The person that suffers from ill health and often feels terrible could well benefit from asking different questions. “Is there something I could change about my lifestyle that may help?” vs. “What medication do I need?” may be on the road to dramatic improvement.
And travelers that seek to maximize their short vacation on the other side of the world may do well to stop and ask a tourist information lady rather than drive into the hazardous kangaroo-encroaching night-time highways.
A question for you. Can you think of a time when being curious helped the outcome of your situation? I’d love to hear your story in the comment section!
Most of all, thank you for reading this! I appreciate it.