View of street with people wearing ponchos

What traveling has taught me

To travel is to live. At least that’s what I see on social media. I’ve read it in books. I’ve heard it said by artists. But more and more, I’ve been seeing it flooding the social media platforms. It’s become a buzzword circulating the internet to increase the number of clicks, followers, retweets, comments, and so on. I began to wonder, does it mean anything anymore? I can’t help but question the depth of traveling when all I see is surface-level traveling.

What I mean to say is, there is a kind of ingenuity that I have found when a place of inspiration becomes public interest. When my friend and I started planning our trip to Europe a few months ago, I thought to myself how I could possibly make this trip something that isn’t being plastered with plastic. In other words, I wanted the trip to mean something, for me to glean something worthwhile from the days spent as a wayfarer.

Man making bubbles in street

Then as I started wandering the centuries-old continent, I started wondering about a conversation a friend and I had prior to our trip about the difference between being a tourist and being a foreigner. When we’re tourists, we take on the stench of it. It’s loud, it’s strong, and it demands to be perceived. It causes us to be a calamity rather than a calm in the way we force ourselves and our miasma on the place we are entering.

To be a foreigner is to be more of a fragrance. It’s softer and sweeter. It’s that whiff that you get when you turn a corner, and it somehow complements whatever other aroma is present. You see, to be a tourist is to enter speaking your own language and expecting others to speak it. To be a foreigner is to enter listening, expecting only to learn more.

Large garden with green and red plants behind buildings

I kept a journal throughout my trip—one filled with train ticket stubs to towns new and old and receipts at restaurants where we dined next to lovers and friends—and noted in it that the last thing that I wanted was for these days to end up becoming a mere tourist’s trip. I wanted to find a greater purpose beyond the simply beautiful sights.

I found myself led to these beautiful sights with new eyes because the beauty behind it is not simple. It is rich with history, with sorrows, with victories, with tragedy. The churches are constructed with the conversion of a city. The food served is a family’s heirloom. And that’s what struck me. The depth is something that you choose to swim to, beyond the shallows. Too often we tell ourselves to be content and satisfied with the facade, too often missing what makes the facade so beautiful, and perhaps the core is what houses even greater beauty?

People on stairs with umbrellas

The thing is, having an agenda only to see and experience as much as we could while on a tight budget was what led us toward new paths, new people, new places. We slept in hostels and Airbnbs, we talked to tourists and locals, we took trains and metros, we walked through alleyways and along rivers, and we let the city guide us rather than creating content for our own city guides.

We said goodbye to a continent of centuries of learning and growing and living, in the company of those who truly love where they live by loving the people who stay and pass by. To wherever your adventures this summer lead you, may you truly live and love well.

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