Four years ago, I experienced my first east coast city. New York was a huge change from North Dakota. Not only was it the largest city I had ever been to, but the mentality of people there was quite different. I quickly noticed, if I was ever going to make it across the street, I had to quit letting people walk in front of me. I try not to play into stereotypes, but as I stood far from the comforts of my own state, I realized some are true. Mid-westerners are very polite and tend to be trusting of others. Most of the time, this can be viewed as a wonderful thing. However, as I was walking with a friend who was attending grad school there, I let my naivety get the best of me. As locals were shouting at people walking by, some guy began talking to us, firing question after question. When he asked where I was from, without hesitation, I answered North Dakota. My friend grabbed my arm and drug me away. She explained that I probably shouldn’t broadcast to strangers, in downtown New York, that I am a wandering girl from the Midwest. Feeling embarrassed and sheltered, I will probably always remember that moment. It was the first time that traveling had taught me more than what meets the eye. It’s not only about seeing new cities. It will teach you about the people and cultures that comprise those places, while simultaneously, teaching you many things about yourself. Suffice it to say, I have been addicted ever since.
I have learned that in order to truly know how you feel about a city, you have to step foot there. Living in an Eastern European Peace Corps country, has allowed me to feed my wanderlust, little by little. If I was told to pick a favorite city, I’m not sure I could narrow it down to just one place. Until you arrive and feel the atmosphere, you won’t know whether or not you and that city will “click.” I have found a handful of cities that I have this chemistry with. And as that handful of places grow, I am only reminded that it is a very, very big world out there.
I have learned more about my travel style and the styles I best mesh with when on the road. Some love fast paced and planning out every minute, while others need to be completely leisurely and free from an agenda. Or anywhere in between. This style will play a large part in what kind of places you like to visit and what stops you will make along the way. Ensuring that you and your travel partner(s) are on the same page can be an important ingredient in a successful vacation.
I have learned, to always leave yourself a little wiggle-room from day to day. Planning can be a good or bad thing when traveling. Organizing ahead of time will ensure that you don’t miss out on tickets for a popular attraction. However, it also runs the risk of stealing the time you would otherwise spend at a new-found hot spot. Giving yourself free time, will allow you to add in any recommendations from fellow travelers. As well as, allow for things to not go as planned. Whether it’s a big thing or little thing, this is bound to happen when traveling in a foreign country.
I have learned that getting lost is impossible to avoid. Once I embraced this concept, I found it to be the best way to discover the ins and outs of a city. As long as I eventually arrive at my destination, I am happy to wander aimlessly down side streets and alleyways. If you’re lucky, you will eventually stumble upon the hidden gems of a city.
I have learned, new places will inevitably force you out of your comfort zone. Offering many events, things and people that you haven’t met before and in doing so, will broaden your horizons. The unknown tends to scare people, but the flip side of fear is understanding. And, is there a better way to perceive other cultures, than firsthand?
I have learned that some of your fondest memories will involve the new people you meet. They may result in new friends or just a passerby that went out of their way to help you. Opening your mind to locals, will be the fastest track to getting to know their culture and city. However, your gut instinct is there for a reason. Trust others but remember to be smart.
I have learned, travel in a foreign country, will introduce a new level of independence. When English is not the primary language, you are forced to think on your feet. A lot. Some situations will leave you with a feeling of satisfaction. While others, will be put in a lock box as lessons learned.
Last but not least, I have learned that this list will continue to change, develop and grow. Just as I will. Which is only a small part of what makes travel so amazing.
“You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.”