More Than a Trip: Making Travel a Truly Transformative Experience
Richness Found Within Relationships
I’ve had the unique and invaluable good fortune throughout my life to claim three different continents as my home and to have passed through a countless number of countries and regions across the globe. From trains through countrysides to urban hubs and treks up the sheep-laden hills to cliffs that overlook island shores, as I share stories and many memories of my experiences lots of people are quick to marvel at the sheer locations where several different stories I share take place. Understandably, many are quick to guess that my most cherished moments of travel are those that have taken place in exquisite places and are framed in finery. Of course, breathtaking views and the chance to peruse places that offer peaks into what seems like an entirely different world are wonderful. The memories in gilded frames to match their settings are surely fond, but what is most surprising to people is that amongst my favorite experiences many take place in a hole-in-the-wall with a simple table set to share a meal.
The “X” in the middle of the map and the true treasure of travel lies within relationships made along the way. The central theme that runs through each of my most cherished memories of exploration is simply the relationships that are attached to the experience. Anyone can visit a new place, even one they’ve dreamed of through documentaries and magazines. Walking through little alleyways or even famed avenues is exciting, but what makes it so much more meaningful is interacting with the individuals along the way. Experiencing a place for more than its face value and sharing stories and insights with locals who compose the culture itself is what makes time spent on any trip transcend any measure of months. It transforms your experience, it deepens your appreciation, it provides a richer taste of a place, and, if you allow it, it changes your view and your life. Investing in people who cross your charted path and forming these relationships allows for one to appreciate a culture for its deeper senses, diving past the surface level and instilling an intercultural immersion. Going beyond just seeing the local sites and appreciating the acclaimed attributes of a culture you’ve taken an interest in, a simple conversation can evolve into life-changing and lasting interactions by forming bonds with the people who create and carry that culture out.
So many memories can be placed within a certain museum with iconic images or castles that kept more than the monarchs’ jewels. However, sharing the most mundane of meanderings along a back road or sitting in a picturesque bistronomique can be just as enriching and arguably more meaningful in memory and molding a new version of yourself when sharing experience. A picture is worth a thousand words, but the volumes of conversations shared around an image in your memory are truly what makes an experience indescribable and invaluable.
We’re Meant to Share – Cuisine, Culture, and Community
Naturally, it can be easy to become intimidated at times in new terrain that we’ve yet to take root in. We have all heard of the ugly stereotypical tourist and we aim to do anything to evade the label. This can sometimes convince us against candidly asking a warm yet more quiet café owner or shop keeper what lies behind their smile. There is, however, a difference in seeming like a nosey inspector who wants a run-down of the city’s landmarks and an inquisitive traveler who is taking a genuine interest in their life. At the end of the day most usually people are just as interested in sharing the unique terroir of their native home and cultivating a deeper conversation and relationship. We’re all human – we all have a general curiosity and genuine craving to share in life. It just takes openness and willingness to lay the first few seeds with friendly words and a couple of questions that communicate that appreciation for their culture and interest in taking in the local and truer essence of it that they hold.
We, as humans, are meant to share experiences and form community. A major way in which we build that community is through hospitality, whether that looks like inviting someone to your dinner table, inviting someone into your home, or inviting someone into your life. The root word and concept of hospitality grows from a Latin term, “hospitare”, which translates to mean “to receive as a guest”. It is in our innate and ancient nature to want to extend a welcoming hand and invite others to take a seat and talk over a coffee or other concoction. We all aim to share life and enjoy the variety that relationships bring to it. Whether someone is a proclaimed “people person” or finds their identity in being an introvert, common ground can be found where some of the true passions for sharing life come in any capacity. Unraveling one’s stories and reveling in that sharing of life leads to a majorly more fulfilled and fruitful experience. Once we take the leap to ask someone to remove their coat, we can compare, contrast, and celebrate the many different colors that clothe the fabric underneath that ties together their life. Funny enough, most find this to be anything but intrusive – rather, they find joy in not only being reminded of the beauty within their life but seeing it appreciated by others. It just takes taking an interest and the first step to express it through a question, or even a smile that’s as warm and reviving as espresso. We’re all made to share the community we create, and most humans are not as closed as we assume, we all have that unified craving to share life and grow in that enrichment of enlightening ourselves and those around us.
In stopping to take a moment to intentionally show an interest for the people who surround and ground a culture, you become so much more informed about that culture. Assumptions and typical generalizations about a place and the people who compose it can often be disproven or can be appreciated for the deeper meaning found within the drivers that make them the way they have come to be. Regardless of the outcome, the fact that one takes time to investigate and find correlations between common theories and personal experience makes all the difference. People in every corner of the globe appreciate when their culture is not just seen as a postcard picture, but it is seen for the politics, history, art, and people behind the lens. By taking a sip of courage and sharing a drink or dinner centered around uncovering the details and daily intricacies of a culture from bona fide locals, credibility in cultural appreciation takes root. That informed mind and refined take on life and the place it’s viewed from do not go unnoticed and create a foundation to really build relationships upon.
The relationships we form along our journeys are what make those journeys transformative, and that is the root of what allows our branches to take new shapes and bend toward different light we allow in. It is those memories that we share and remember, talking about twenty years later. The conversations that turn into pen pals or Facebook friends or those that we are able to not only share life with but shape our lives with further breadth and depth. From the many stories that friends and family always share, the ones that revolve through the decades and never seem to fade are those that are centered around sharing experiences with friends that are formed and kept up with throughout the years. Or even just a remark at remembering that unique local that stopped and talked with you on the corner of the street that forever ties an interaction to the satisfaction of uncovering more than a favorite new food at the corner café. Shared experiences with others are what bring meaning to a moment and carry a memory throughout the years.
How to Break the Foreign Ice
But how do you form relationships, especially in the realm of a new world? Consider the concept akin to learning to make friends again - cultural kindergarten, if you will. Being able to piece together the letters of a culture is the beginning. Bringing that informed view and interest to grow in a genuine sense of culture is the most important building block of forming relationships. This means bringing it down to the basics, letting your assumptions go, and being open to what life might truly entail for locals. With an open and receptive mind, you can choose which words you want to piece together and what truly interests you. Genuine curiosity and not just asking topical questions for the sake of making a new connection and contact are so important. When going about forming a relationship, the authenticity of your interest is easy to see. However, you cannot be afraid to be truly yourself and to take a step in befriending someone who you do meet. A majority of the time, people truly do have good intentions if they take the time to share a conversation. Once you take a step of courage and find the next rung on the ladder, you might just be amazed at all of the conversations that will slide from simply sharing a favorite song or common interest that has brought you to a shared space.
I will never forget one friend I made named Camille who introduced one of my favorite mottos to me, in regards to going about life and relationships. My mother and I had wandered along one of the most traveled and familiar streets to me in St. Germain – my favorite arrondissement of Paris, and possibly most loved place on earth. We stopped in this tiny restaurant that we had never noticed throughout the years because it truly was that subtle and quaint. It was perfect – my hole-in-the-wall. Upon entering and hanging up our coats, we shared the polite “Bonsoir” and sat to one of the few tables. Camille, our waitress was friendly and from there, we began sharing our love of food. With that icebreaker we were off and chipping away at all of life – from her appreciation of food and wine, international culture, the difference in both dining and life on the whole. We quickly came to know Camille and were asking for her recommendations on every single portion and course. Soon, she had created a custom tasting menu with a hand-curated wine pairing to accompany. What was more wonderful was the fact that as I continued to ask her about her life in Paris and we compared so many topics of culture, language, and appreciation for the small things of life. We ended up staying for hours with an invitation to come back the next night and dine in the kitchen with the chef for an even more enriching experience. While I was floored, one thing she said stuck with me. “What I like most is you are bold. You are willing to try new foods and you are willing to make a new friend in me.” Be bold. Expand your palette and expand your relationships by being willing to find common ground and excavate an entire person and the world you are hoping to have enriching experiences within.
Through just appreciating them and their area of art and expertise, that resonates and reverberates in them getting to share their deepest passions – an experience not every human in any country, in any industry, and in any setting craves. Yes of course, through these experiences we were invited to the chef’s table, able to taste and experience a different wine within each of five courses and complimented in our courage of “being bold” with our dishes and desire to try things – like pigeon rôti (yes, pigeon, “but not the street kind” as Camille assured us) but most of all, we were able to share community and build friendship, which will only grow upon each return. To develop relationships like these, only to list one of many, and tie them to experiences that I enjoy so much in new environments that I am so passionate to explore and unearth more of is just the froth at the top of deeply fostered admiration and love to be had for traveling and all of the light it brings to life.
Asking questions and showing that common and shared appreciation for more than just the seasonal weather or the local sites is what can start it all. Ask about them. Ask about their life. Are they from here? How did they get here? What is their favorite part about living here? What is it that drives their passion for their job? What are those hobbies that fuel their drive that lead them here? Compared to what you have experienced, what differences do they see in your daily lives? What is it that they enjoy most about their daily life? Compared to what you have experienced, what differences do they see in your daily lives? It is those questions and a myriad more that might uncover an interest that forms a conversation lasting for minutes, a few hours, or maybe a continually catch-up for years. It is a two-way street, no matter which side you drive on. By deepening your insight and appreciation of culture, sharing that appreciation and comparison of cultures with others, relationships can blossom and seeds can be planted across the globe that grows for years in fond memories and friendly faces who remain. Just be bold.
Where to find Camille:
Fish La Boisonnerie
69 Rue de Seine, 75006 Paris, France.