There are many aspects of travel that make it worthwhile — meeting new people, having novel experiences, getting out of your comfort zone, relaxing. That being said, there are a few very special moments that truly make the trip worth the journey.
Have you experienced any of the special travel moments below?
When You Have A Conversation Without Words
When you travel, your world and it’s possibilities open up, especially in terms of the kinds of people you decide to spend time with. Think about what happens when you’re at home and you meet someone who doesn’t speak the same language as you, or has trouble speaking it well. You probably smile politely and begin talking to someone else; however, when traveling many times the goal is to meet locals who possibly don’t speak your language.
My favorite example of this occurred in Paraty, Brazil. I was sipping a caipirinha at a bar on the beach when a very handsome 20-something local approached me.
“Olá” he said, a shy smile on his face. “Como você está?”
“No Portuguese,” I responded. “Espanol?”
We spent the next few ours conversing through a mix of broken Spanish, charades and body language before going to a club and dancing until sunrise. It was essentially a date without words, and one of the best I’ve ever been on. I’m not naive to the fact if a guy back in New York took me on a date and couldn’t speak English it wouldn’t be so romantic; however, travel opens our minds and allows us to appreciate these types of exchanges and remember them fondly.
Discovering A New Favorite Food
One of my favorite ways of exploring a new destination is through the tongue. These kinds of travel moments are especially exciting when you can sample foods you’ve never even dreamed of. Even better, sometimes a dish has a way of completely altering your palate forever. For me, this experience happened in Argentina when I had my first asado. Growing up in a hunting family, I’ve eaten a variety of fresh meats my entire life; however, nothing compares to the melt-in-your-mouth texture and buttery, spicy flavors of an asado. My favorite is the asado de tira, flanken cut short ribs with a salty, savory flavor and a tender, juicy texture.
Solving A Problem
It’s expected things will go wrong during a trip. Reservations will be misplaced, trains will be missed, wallets will be stolen, you’ll get lost, taxi drivers will rip you off; however, it’s when we rise above these issues gracefully and successfully solve them we realize we can do anything if we need to.
During a trip backpacking Europe, Air Berlin lost my luggage. This would have been fine, except I was moving almost every other day. When the time came for me to leave Nice, France, and they still hadn’t located it, they told me to continue on to the next city and they would deliver it to me. I was told the same thing each day, that it would be arriving that afternoon to my hostel, but it never did. It wasn’t until a week later I got a call telling me I had to go back to Nice to retrieve the bag. I was furious. I had nothing! And now they wanted ME to go back to Nice, four hours away at this point, when I had to be in Florence that night, and retrieve the bag they lost. While the round-trip journey to get the bag was long and expensive, once I got it back I felt accomplished. It’s not like I had done anything that life-changing; however, I’d navigated trains, buses and subways in record time in order to get my backpack and get to Florence before my hostel reception closed. Whenever I get lost and find my way, figure out how to use an unfamiliar mode of transportation or solve a booking problem I get that same feeling of satisfaction that comes with solving a problem in an unfamiliar place. Enhancing problem solving skills is just one of the ways travel can bolster your resume.
Facing A Fear
As stated above, travel opens up our minds and puts us in a “yes” mindset. Experiences you might say no to at home due to fears, money or time constraints now become experiences you’re likely to try.
While I’ve faced my fear of heights numerous times throughout the years through travel moments like bungy jumping, sky diving, cliff diving and canyoning, my most proud was swimming with sharks in the Galapagos Islands. I’ve always been a bit hesitant about jumping into deep waters where I’m not able to see the bottom, but on a snorkeling trip from San Cristobal I took the plunge — literally. My entire group jumped in without a care, despite the fact there were at least 20 black tip, Galapagos and hammerhead sharks swimming directly below us. I held back, my heart racing.
“Don’t I need a cage for this?” I asked my guide, who was already swimming in care-free fashion in the water.
“Just jump,” he laughed. “They don’t care about you. I promise.”
I counted to three (okay, maybe 20), and jumped, shrieking as soon as my feet left the safe haven of the boat. After spending some time clinging to the guide’s back and panting like a dog who’d just raced in 100-degree heat, I relaxed, put on my snorkeling mask, and enjoyed the show going on below me. At one point there were two hammerheads about eight feet below my toes. Yes, I was scared, but I treaded water and watched them swim around, not even noticing I was there. It was liberating, and undoubtedly my most memorable fear-facing moment.
Mastering Small Talk In A Foreign Language
When visiting a destination that doesn’t share the same official language as you, it came be worthwhile to learn a few regularly used phrases, for example, “How are you?,” “Thank you.” and “What is your name?”. While learning these phrases alone is something to be proud of, there’s something special about that moment when you realize you can string them together to have a short conversation with a local. Even if it’s just three sentences, it still has a way of making your feel closer to the culture and is always an important moment.
When You Realize A Stereotype You Previously Held Isn’t True
There’s almost nothing I love more than when travel shatters a stereotype I had previously held. It makes me feel like I’m not just skimming the surface of a culture, but really learning about it and getting to know its truths.
This moment was most profound for me when visiting Jordan. While I’d held an image in my head of oppressed women, an extremely conservative society and people who lived in fear, Jordan was NOTHING like this. Locals were happy and friendly, and I met women who were everything from lawyers to doctors to college students. Moreover, my first night in Amman was spent in heels and a skirt sipping local organic wine at a rooftop bar. It felt great to experience the culture firsthand and learn things I had not previously known.
Taking Part In A Local Ceremony
Ceremonies, festivals and traditions bring local culture to life in a colorful way. You can read all you want about these lively happenings, but until you experience them for yourself it’s just words and pictures on a page. Additionally, once you’ve experienced this for yourself it will be one of those moments that make the journey worth it.
One of the most special ceremonies I attended was a Dong Minority Show in China’s Chengyang Village. The music, singing and dancing were beautiful, depicting local folklore. At one point, the onlookers were given rice wine to take in unison, while at another I was pulled up with the dancers to perform a conga line of sorts.
Another memorable moment for me was attending a church service in Ghana. I had been doing a homestay in Ghana and decided to go with the house mom to experience Sunday church. It was like nothing I had ever experienced at home: Singing, crying, dancing, conga lines, tambourines and people basically seizing from their strong love of God. While I’m not exactly a religious person, it was an interesting look into the culture and, to be completely honest, a lot of fun in general.
Falling In Love
Falling in love on the road is something you’ll never forget. It’s passionate, crazy, spontaneous and everything feels romantic, whether you’re having pasta you made at your hostel with some 1 Euro wine or taking a waterside stroll under the stars.
When I fell in love on the road I was in Amsterdam at the Flying Pig Hostel Downtown. I knew the moment I saw Chris I liked him. He was 6’6’’, broad, played football, had an infectious smile and knew how to make people laugh. We stayed up all night dancing and then spent the entire next day laying in bed asking each other silly questions. And after four passionate days of being together we parted ways, Chris heading home to Canada and me continuing on my backpacking route. The experience meant a lot to both of us, so much so that we tried a long distance relationship for awhile. And although it didn’t work out it’s still one of those moments that made the journey worth it.
Seeing A Dramatic Landscape
The world is full of aesthetically-pleasing landscapes; however, there are only so many places in the world that are truly one-of-a-kind. When you find one of the these dramatic, other-worldly settings it can be life changing, opening your eyes up to beauty you didn’t even know existed. On my travels, some of these kinds of landscapes have included Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia; Torres del Paine in Chile; Fitz Roy in El Chalten, Argentina; Moon Valley in San Pedro, Chile; the Bioluminescent Bay in Vieques Island, Puerto Rico; and Wadi Rum in Jordan.
Realizing It’s A Small Yet Big World
Travel helps you see just how small yet big the world really is — big enough that it’s full of unique peoples and places but small enough that we can go almost anywhere we want to. While it may be something you know in your mind, it isn’t until you truly realize and understand it that you have this special moment. For me, I get this feeling every time I have a conversation online with someone I met in a faraway land, or find something in common with a local from a culture that’s completely different than my own. It’s a beautiful feeling, and a very special moment.
Have you ever had a special travel moment that changed you in some way? Please share in the comments below.