Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Ways We Band Together

While I was living in Paris, I had a chance to show a traveler around the city.  He was only in town for the day, and wanted to see some of the landmarks the City of Lights had to offer.

The irony does not escape me that I, not having lived there for more then a couple months, was showing someone else around this foreign city.

 Irony aside, I obliged.

I was still curious, however, why he had not sought out a local to be his tour guide for the day, so I asked.  He gave me a wonderful lesson about people's comfort zones:

"I am not from here, and neither are you.  I thought I'd connect better with someone else who is far from home, too."

That is something I have seen occur time and time again, as well as something I have noticed myself doing in my own travels.

People want a reason to connect with those around them, even if what connects them is what would separate them in almost any other circumstance: that they are both from somewhere else.

Think about it.  In college, you connect with your classmates or fellow freshman because they, too, are lost and confused as they wander around campus.  At work, your first friends are those you met in orientation.  In a foreign country, you instinctively find other expats.

And that's how a business man from India and a fashion student from the United States ended up exploring Paris together.

It was so wonderful to share my knowledge and experiences with someone else.  To see his excitement as we crossed Luxembourg Gardens to Rue St. Michel and finally ended up at Notre Dame.  After only a couple months (still in wonderment that I lived in Paris), I was already seeing Paris as my home, and re-appreciating it through someone else's eyes.

And I remembered what my Paris Tourist said about foreigners banding together, taking comfort in knowing I'm not alone no matter where I go.

Because we all have something in common, even when we least expect it.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Get up. Get out. Get there

"I can jump out of a plane, but everyday life terrifies me."

Pierce considers herself a gypsy.  We hit it off immediately.  In true couchsurfing style, we were sharing wine and mysterious cheesy bread (direct from Colorado) before we had even properly introduced ourselves.  And that's the magic of travelers - when we find each other, we are at home. 

Like old friends, we discussed family, friends, love, jobs.....

And the meaning of life.  At the moment, travel is her purpose and slam poetry is a daily affirmation:

The story that she poured out to me was amazing, and the passion I could see in her eyes was even more powerful.  Pierce told me how she got here, and not just physically.  The hurt, the fear, the curiosity that pushes a person to trade in an apartment for a car and live off a restored faith in humanity.

As I write this, we are sitting on my floor, me writing, her playing guitar and singing.  And it seems so completely natural.  Two strangers that let down all their walls to open up to each other.

The lesson you need to take from this video and this traveler?   

"Acceptance.  Things happen, and you get damaged.  You give parts of yourself to people, and other just take from you.  You will never get that back.  This is you now.  Accept it." 

Move forward.  Get up.  Get out.  Get there.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

My Beginnings

My very first experience meeting travelers was in London in 2011.  It was the moment I stepped off a plane after a 7-hour flight from Chicago and was about to continue on the next leg of my journey to Paris, where I would be studying for the next year.

It was also the moment that I realized I had just moved to another country with no idea who was supposed to pick me up on the other side of the airport gate.

What gave Susie away was the combination of a confused facial expression, a map in her hand and an over-sized backpack-esque bag next to her (what I now know are the tall-tale signs of a traveler).  Something drew me to the person that mirrored what I imagined was my own appearance, and we instantly bonded over our cluelessness.  Susie and I were eventually able to wonder our way through the Heathrow airport and find about 30 other lost-looking travelers like us.

And that's when it started.  For one year, I didn't see anyone I knew.  Every friend I made was a complete stranger the day before.  I traveled, laughed, drank, ate, took pictures with, got lost with and explored with people I never could have imagined knowing.  And many of them I probably wouldn't see again.

That's the first lesson I learned from travelers:  

Always live in the moment.

That's what it's all about.  When you are dwelling on tomorrow, yesterday or even later today, you miss the people right in front of you.  People that want to experience the now with you.  You need to do your best to capture that moment, and meet those people.

Remember to keep an open mind, having no expectations, if possible.  By doing that, your mind isn't waiting to meet the person or have the experience you have already planned out.  Instead, it's like a blank scrapbook page waiting to fill in the spot with a picture.

You will cherish these moments more and your memories associated with them will almost always be positive, because you have no expectations to scale them against.  Your attitude will also be the magnetic force that draws other people to you.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The How-To: Meeting Other Travelers


- Be friendly.  Smiling at strangers can be scary sometimes, but introducing yourself to person next to you on the train/plane can turn a 4 hour nap into something decidedly more exciting.  Like this:

Everyone is free game here.  I met a bartender from Omaha, Ne. (my town) in Prague, gotten a free place to stay from the couple that sat across from me on a train and made a NYC business connection while on a tour in Berlin.

- Opt for Couchsurfing or hostels over hotels.  You're not going to meet someone if you never go around people you don't know.  Apply rule #1 here and you will go far.

- Have travel companions.  When you are traveling, (even if it's just down the road to a new restaurant), people may ask if you want company.  Accept.  Even if you don't know them that well, they will bring a fresh perspective and network of people to your experience.

- Be spontaneous.  Don't get too caught up on your agenda.  While it is good to have some sort of a plan, you meet the best people when you're least expecting.  Many times, this is when you're lost (physically or emotionally).

 Had I not taken the "next ferry to anywhere," I wouldn't have found this pelican in Mykonos and learned that the local business owners let pelicans walk into their restaurants.

- Sit at the bar/communal table/in the park near others.  Especially when you are alone.  No one will approach you when you sit in the corner table by yourself.  Sit next to another person who is alone and you already have a friend.  Tip: compliments & trivia facts make great conversation starters.

- Help others.  If someone else is having trouble with a language, map or their new metro card, help them out.  You may hear their story or get an opportunity to share yours. 


- Focus on your differences.  The idea of meeting new people is to meet new people.  Even when you think your differences are too big to overcome.

- Talk too much.  You'll never learn anything if you don't learn how to listen first.

- Assume every one speaks English.  Even though most people do, it's rude to assume so.  Show some initiative and look up "hello" or "please" in a couple languages.  Your host or guest will appreciate it.  You will probably mess up at some point - laugh about it with your new friends (assuming you didn't accidentally offend them).

- Be afraid to go alone.  I know this is contradictory to what I said above, but what if no one wants to join you on a trip to a remote town in Alaska?  If you've always wanted to go, you should!

- Forget to take pictures. But remember to put down the lens & enjoy the moment, too.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Idea Behind This Blog

Living the World was not conceptualized from just one idea.

Rather, it was a culmination of days, people, language barriers, misread maps (lost ones, too) and evenings spent amongst strangers drinking too much cheap wine on the floor of my 2-room apartment.  Everyone has seen and re-posted the travel memes, rotating exotic locations they want to see through their Pinterest boards and mental bucket lists.  And most people won't ever experience those places.

Which is sad - because the world is a beautiful, vast place.  And I'd encourage you to see it.

But for me, what changed me the most, wasn't the places (or the journey, as the saying goes), but the people and the moments.  And while my travels have taken me around the world, very often those things have found me right at home.

So here is my commentary on travelers, or as I have come to know them, Seekers. 

You have to have an open mind.  You have to invite strangers into your life, rely on others to inspire you, and rely on humanity to not murder you in your sleep because you invited a homeless traveler to sleep on your couch (which, by the way is called couchsurfing, and is awesome). 

I will also talk about traveling, because sometimes the person that changes your life or inspires a wonderful moment is you.

So while the content for this blog has been accumulating in my memories for several years now, it took one truly inspiring traveler to spark the idea of writing it down.  Not everything I say is necessarily my story to tell, but I hope to inspire you by sharing the small piece of their story that I played a part in. 

I also changed the names of my fellow seekers because it's not about names to begin with.