This post comes from James Bolitho, a former sales & marketing intern at Abroad101. He cold called nearly every college in the country, and loved every minute of it. He now travels the world as a Cost of Living Surveyor. Read on to hear his travel musings…
“More often than not, people who travel and reflect on it get on their high horse. Travel is, perhaps inevitably, a self congratulatory exercise in the end. We want others to marvel at our experiences, hang on every word of our stories, oggle our facebook photos taken in far flung locations that they themselves will never visit. We want their jealousy and adoration. We might even welcome it. It is no coincidence that many successful people today tout their global reach. Ask Kanye West – “Excuse my French, but I’m in France haha… I’m just sayin.”
Why is this? Do we just like showing how far out of the ordinary we can go? Is travel a measure of our courage? Our curiosity? Our mental and emotional stamina? Or is it just an outlet for our narcissism? I am not just asking this because I travel for a living, but because my generation is more mobile than any previous generation, and moreover, has more outlets to share its experiences on a larger scale.
But what gets lost in this more often than not is what happens in between. Of course everyone is going to see the photos of you at Machu Picchu, and hear the crazy story about how you got there. Same goes for the Grand Canyon, the Eiffel Tower, the Sydney Opera house, etc… Those stories always get shared. No, what sometimes goes missing is what ultimately makes traveling so uplifting in the first place. It’s the little things. The things that make you find common ground, whether it be a laugh, a meaningful conversation, or a good meal with strangers. They are the moments when you realize your shared humanity with others who are very different from you.
My favorite stories are the ones where people find common ground abroad. My friend, for instance, was on a bus in Kazakhstan listening to some people her age playing the guitar in the back. She could not understand them at first, until they started playing Lady Gaga’s “Alejandro.” She turned around to smile at them, and, noticing her delight, they continued to play songs in English so she could share in their music. An old roommate told me that his most memorable experience in South Africa was being in a club in which he was one of the only white people. Instead of being overwhelmed or intimidated, he had the time of his life dancing and trying to keep up with the locals. He even got a few marriage proposals on the dance floor. Most of all, my friend went to Tehran a few years ago. Instead of an alien society that we would expect, he described hanging out with guys who were just like him. They were into Soccer like he was, they had the same complaints about their girlfriends, they told the same jokes, and were just like any other group of twenty somethings.
For my own part I’ll fondly remember talking about hip hop with the dive instructor in Dominica, about girls with the cab driver in Guatemala, and about basketball with the mechanics in Serbia. I’ll remember watching the World Hockey Championship in Slovakia with crowds of cheering Slovaks (and telling them that I knew their team’s captain, Zdeno Chara, as the captain of the Boston Bruins). I’ll remember the owner of a local hangout in Mexico telling me to take a third shot of tequila on the house, because it only counts if you do three. What mattered in these moments was not how foreign they were, but how familiar they were.
And that, in and of itself, is the best part of travel for me. Because often the big tourist attractions one intends on visiting end up being disappointing, not worth the effort, over-crowded, or boring. What makes a foreign country come alive are its people, and the complexities they bring to it. And if you learn to appreciate those, then you can truly get the most out of your experience, whether you want to share it on facebook or not.”
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