Hi travelers! You know those experiences, in travel or in everyday life, that just stick with you? What is it about those times, and how can you create more of them? Read on for my top tips on how to enjoy more unforgettable travel!
Know the Difference Between a "Gut-Check No" and Nervous Excitement
Here's the scene: my friend Dre and I had just bussed it from Quito, where we were living, to some remote hot springs about two hours north of the city. Our afternoon was spent relaxing in those sweet simmering springs and having swimming races with some local kids. Every once in a while we'd lean back on a boulder or some such thing, check out the blue Ecuadorian sky and sigh with contentment. This was the life, man.
As I tend to do, I had planned the early afternoon return down to the minute. "The bus swings by at 5 PM so we have to hike back down the hill to meet it on the road. That means we have to be out of the springs by 4:30, blah blah." I don't mean to cast a wide net here, but it is fairly well known that things in Latin America do not always happen on time. Thus, when Dre and I arrived at the appointed spot at 4:50, smiling and proud of ourselves for being punctual, we naively waited for our bus for over an hour with nothing passing our way except for a few old Chevy's.
At some point the kids we had been swimming with pulled up next to us on the road. Their parents were in the cab of the truck and the three kids were happily drying out in the sunny back. They too were driving back to Quito and wanted to know if we would like a ride.
This is the moment, friends. Your fantastic intuition was made for times just like these, to let you know if this is a safe thing for you to do. If it is not, you will get what I call the "gut-check no." This is a firm, no way in hell should you do this type of no. The only problem is this: if you are not practiced in making these decisions, or if you always shut them down because, you know, stranger danger and all of that nonsense, then you won't understand exactly what it is your intuition is trying to tell you. That day, both Dre and I felt a little bit of "what the hell, we have no other options" and a lot of "we just spent the day with this family and they were awesome and there is no evidence that they will not continue being so." Our gut told us it was okay, and so it was. What would've been a two-hour ride back to the city turned into a four-hour ride, complete with stopping at a roadside Mother Mary shrine to picnic, and driving through small villages during Semana Santa to witness the spectacle. The day was amazing because we said yes to something that we had been taught to ALWAYS say no to. And because we had listened to our gut, we had an amazing travel experience.
Let People Help You (aka There Are Good People Everywhere)
In planning for a two-month solo trip around Argentina, I knew that I didn't just want to hop from hostel to hostel and bus ride to bus ride for the entirety of the journey. I wanted a place where I could stay for a bit and maybe do some volunteering. After looking into WWOOFing, I decided that was my ticket and signed up at once.
My assignment was to be two weeks on a vineyard about two hours south of Mendoza, and because it was winter in the southern hemisphere, I was to be the only volunteer during my stay. Following my directions to a T, I jumped on a bus and headed for the crossroads where I would be picked up by Victoria, one of the owners of the farm. She told me that I should arrive "al mediodia."
Now, we could argue all day about what mediodia means, (and I did, with Victoria) but to make a long story short, our lines got a bit crossed. To me, mediodia always meant noon. Sharp. To Victoria, mediodia meant sometime between 11 AM and 3 PM. Therefore, when the bus dropped my gringa self off (with all of my belongings/passport/money/fear) at this crossroads in the middle of nowhere at noon, there was clearly no truck in sight. What there was, though, was a huge area of small shacks, held together with plywood, tin roofing material and luck. There was also a truck full of men smoking and drinking about 30 feet from where I stood.
So, I did what any self-respecting scared person would do: I acted like I knew exactly where I was going and just walked. I walked up the street, then I walked back down the street. The men, at this point, understood clearly that I had no clue where I was going and that I did not belong here (hello, huge blue REI backpack!). Further, my gut was telling me that this was not okay, oh no, this was pretty bad actually, and perhaps I'd like to find a way out of here now? And perhaps hopping from hostel to hostel isn't so awful after all?
And then I heard a door squeak open. A woman in her mid-fifties stepped out of her tin roofed home and walked up to my crumbling self on the side of the road. She held out her cell phone to me, offering to let me call anyone I wanted. I called Victoria, no answer. I thanked the woman profusely but understanding how costly it was for her to let me use her phone, I told her I was okay. She understood that I wasn't, and told me she would be back out with someone else's phone in just a minute. Then, a car drove by with two women inside. They noticed that I (understatement alert) stuck out a bit and offered their assistance too. Eventually Victoria showed up, we had our argument over semantics, and all was right with the world.
What do I remember about those two months in Argentina? Yes, I remember biking through the Andes and being awed by the immensity of it. I remember feeling lonely in the hostels and eating amazing food and listening to the same album over and over on the ten hour bus rides. But what sticks out most in my mind is that I learned, really learned, that people are always willing to help. And, what is even more amazing? They seem to pop up just at that moment when you are about to lose all hope of getting to the stupid vineyard. The only thing you have to do is accept their help with gratitude, and then look for folks who need help too. That's how we have those unforgettable experiences while traveling. And you know, while just living too.
Speak Your Gratitude Out Loud
What is better than a honeymoon? You are still riding high from the amazingness of your wedding, your dream person is beside you and you are headed off on an adventure! Because my spouse and I wed in our 30s, we didn't need to register for towels or blenders. Instead, we registered for our honeymoon! Thanks to the extreme generosity of our friends and family, we headed off the day after our wedding to spend two glorious weeks in the vineyards of Burgundy, France and the Alps in Switzerland.
Every day I woke up feeling so over-the-top happy about this person I chose, about what we were going to do that day and what we were going to see. After some introspection I decided that I shouldn't hold this gratitude goodness in any longer. I should speak my gratitude out loud! I started saying things like, "Gah! Isn't this gorgeous?" or "I'm so happy to be here with you" or "I never thought I'd eat snails but these are incredible!" Speaking my gratitude out loud made me feel a little self-conscious at first, and to be honest at times it still does, but it makes my relationship better and makes me a happier person. Speak your gratitude out loud and your travel experiences will be focused on all of the good around you. Bonus: It will make people want to travel with you more!