Today I caught myself reading yet another Lonely Planet article about hostel life called Dorm dilemmas: packing tips for hostel hoppers. The content of the article is, of course, nothing a hostel bum doesn’t already know, but it got me reminiscing about all the hostel experiences I’ve had in my travels.
Part of having continuously itchy feet is that when you’re at home, you begin to miss even the most mundane things that life on the road brings to you. Like the feeling of accomplishment when you solo-navigate to your hostel in a new city where you don’t speak the language, and the feeling of bliss you get when you plunk your body down on that rock-hard old mattress after a days worth of planes, trains, and automobiles.
This isn’t going to be another article about the people you meet on the road or the fantastic views you get (okay well maybe a little). This is about the little things, the everyday things, that make me feel more in my element than anything.
Here are all the little things I love about being on the road:
Malaga, Spain, April 2017
Gas/Bus Station Food
One of my absolute favorite feelings when on the road is when I’m on a long bus ride, and the driver lets us out for a pit stop at a run-of-the-mill gas station.
The obvious first destination is to the loo, and then when that’s accomplished, it’s to the food section I go. The shelves of semi-refrigerated roast beef and turkey sandwiches, the rows of ham or paprika flavoured potato chips, and the bottles of oddly coloured mystery drinks to choose from give me a rush of ‘I am human. Food is fuel. I will survive.”
Meteora, Greece, February 2009
Grocery Shopping in a Foreign Language
Speaking of food, there is nothing quite like having to grocery shop in a country where you don’t speak the language.
Being from North America, you might fancy yourself a person who is quite adapt at deciphering between fruits and veggies. But what would happen to your confidence when all of the english labels are gone, you have zero wifi, and you realize that you couldn’t bet on whether the green thing you’re holding is a weird-looking cucumber, a zucchini, or something else entirely.
And then, once you’ve filled up your cart with who-knows-what, you get to the check-out and the cashier stops you in your tracks. They explain to you in broken english how you have to print out barcodes for each of your purchases back in the produce section. So, head hung low, you go back to where you originally found your veggies and try to match what you’re holding with one of the photos on the sticky computer screen.
I have made many interesting meals this way.
Granada Spain, April, 2017
Uphill All The Way
Coming from a semi-sedentary office lifestyle in the flatlands of Canada, I often lament how anyone would want to build a village on a hill.
But then, after a while of having no choice but to continuously climb said hills to get to various points of interest, well, my butt inevitably starts to look damn good. And suddenly I will stop huffing and puffing after a measly 10 minutes at a 30 degree incline. And when my health app on my phone tells me I took 30 000 steps and climbed the equivalent of 35 floors every single day for the past week, well, suddenly the hills become an easily conquerable feat that reward me with a rush of endorphins and a great view.
Porto, Portugal, April 2017
Nameless Familiar Faces
Let’s get back to the bus/train life for a second.
What I love most about taking long-distance public transportation is my fellow travellers. Every now and then I will meet some of these people, but most of the time, we are just nameless humans on the same route.
However, after a few hours of travel, and a few pit-stops along the way, you begin to recognize the faces. You know you’re on the right bus because of them, and you judge where your seat is by the familiar faces in relation. You begin to see who is travelling together, and which travellers sitting side-by-side have never met in their lives.
I’m not sure if anyone else feels this way, but I always get a bit of a soul-kinship going with these people. I don’t know their names, and we will never actually meet, but we’ve just spent hours crammed into the same enclosed space together, seeing the same views, enduring the same road bumps. And that’s awfully comforting.
Los Angeles, California, May 2016
Getting Ogled on City Buses and the Metro
To you, you’re a familiar face in a strange land. But to them, you’re a haggard-looking foreigner carrying too big of a suitcase who is unable to communicate in any way except well-intentioned hand gestures.
You will be noticed. You will be stared at. You will feel slightly exotic.
Wallingford-Back Mine, Ontario, July 2016
My Daily Cafe Break
Confession: I loosely judge a country based on its coffee quality.
Portugal = Pure Bliss. Germany = Holds-Back-Gag-Reflex. (Hamburg, I still love you.)
When I’m travelling, I make a point to have a daily decompress at a cute little cafe or diner. Prerequisites for my stop are: the place has to look adorable, it has to have a great view either for scenery or people watching, and it must have a stock of pastries and lattes on hand. Then, once chosen, I will sit for over an hour taking in the ambiance and either reading a novel or writing in my journal.
To a degree, I do this at home too. However, it’s usually just me putting on a pot of java and opening my book in the living room while I take a break from working. It’s just not the same.
Yosemite National Park, California, July 2014
Walking around Suburbia
I love touristy points of interest, I do, but I also believe in escaping downtown mayhem for a while in favour of seeing how people of a country live in the outskirts. Despite a hectic sightseeing schedule, this is easily accomplished by booking an Airbnb or a hostel just a little out of the city, but still on a public transit route.
This is where you’ll find kids playing soccer in the streets. Where people hang their laundry out to dry. Where tourism has left a country relatively untouched, no matter how popular of a destination.
Liverpool, UK June 2015
Shedding the Nostalgia
At home, I am a writer. I think back on all the great times I have had and try to shape those experiences into a well-crafted story.
However, on the road, I am an adventurer. I don’t spend my time in Croatia thinking about how much fun I had in Ireland two years ago. No, on the contrary, I think of how lucky I am to be where I am in this exact moment. How the wind feels in my hair, how the sun feels on my face. How hurling myself from a cliff’s edge into the ocean gives me a rush of salty adrenaline.
On the road, there is no time for “remember when.” There is only, “how do I feel right now.” Unwavering mindfulness is incredibly freeing.
I have always felt an attraction to the moon.
What I love so much about this grey hunk of rock is that no matter where I am in the world, no matter how unfamiliar life gets around me, the moon is always there. It’s constant. It’s something to depend on. It’s something I notice more often when I’m travelling.
When I’m abroad, staring at the moon reminds me about all the moon parties I have had with my friends back home, all the nights I found myself on the backroads of Saskatchewan with nothing but the moon to light the way, and the fact that everyone on this planet has the same moon to look at every night. It binds us together, and is the world’s simplest comfort.
Budapest, Hungary, May 2017 (Blurry, but relevant).
The Coconut-Island Girl I Become
At home, I’m make-up, I’m clean-clothes, and I’m spotless on account of having the privilege of showering daily.
On the road, I’m lucky if I remember to brush my hair. In a lot of places, access to ample shower water isn’t always available, washing clothes becomes a less-than-environmentally-friendly chore left to bi-weekly intervals, and make-up will just be sweated-off after a hot day. I love the way my hair becomes a salty, sun-kissed mess, how I go day after day wearing my bathing suits as underwear, the way my skin turns bronze and freckles spot my face after too many days spent outside, and the way my attitude switches from business to fun-loving.
Funky smells aside, it feels awesome.
Mljet Island, Croatia, June 2017
By writing this, I don’t mean to limit myself on what it is about travelling that I truly love. There are so many things. Things that the english language doesn’t even have words for (that I know of). And one day, perhaps there will be a part two of this post. But for now, this 1500 word vent is enough to fuel another round of wanderlust, so, the only question is, where to?
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