“We travel, initially, to lose ourselves, and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again—to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more.” Pico Iyer
I dragged my large suitcase off of the airport’s baggage claim conveyer belt and rolled it out of the Italian airport in Florence and into a cab. I spent the next several minutes looking out of the taxi’s window as everything sped by. It was the first time that I had ever really left the country, and had no clue what to expect.
It took a while, by my new roommates and I started to understand the ways of the Italians. At times we would tell ourselves that we loved everything about the country that we were currently residing in, and at other times we felt homesick for familiar things waiting for us back in the United States.
“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” Maya Angelou
There were moments, however, where we would run into people from various countries, which didn’t always quite know English, and still have lovely conversations with them.
We understood them through their body gestures and smiles, and we learned more about them from the food and culture they decided to share with us. Those strangers were the ones who made us felt a little more at home in a place that was far away from the home that we have always known.
“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance.” Cesare Pavese
There was many times where my fellow travelers and I felt out of place. The way certain people from different cultures went about things appeared very foreign and bizarre. And at other times it was tough to try and except those things that were foreign and continue interacting with these strangers.
It did become easier to interact with these strangers, and understand their foreign culture, when we let go of what we thought was “normal” and kept an open mind about the way things are done around the world.
“Please be a traveler, not a tourist. Try new things, meet new people, and look beyond what’s right in front of you. Those are the keys to understanding this amazing world we live in.” Andrew Zimmern
As I traveled around a tiny section of Europe I realized that forgoing an itinerary and just “winging it” allowed me to see more than just what the tourist get to see. I managed to avoid tour buses and I found myself walking through the cities I visited. Instead of taking boat rides around the town of Cinque Terre I decided to hike through the towns in order to see the beautiful vineyards, mountains and beaches.
I allowed myself to get lost with just a backpack, a water bottle and a map in hand in numerous cities, and I was able to experience much more than I had ever planned on seeing in those places. I attempted to let go and embrace what was around me so that I could really explore my surroundings. And what I learned over time is that if you really want to learn a language, or about a specific culture, you must go and get lost in that country. It’s really the only fun way to travel.