The last 8 weeks have been so full, and yet so refreshingly restful; the great luxury of this trip was the ability to simply be at our own leisure. We visited fewer places for longer periods of time, and I can’t recommend that highly enough.
Because our trip was more than just checking things off our list and moving on the next, what I remember most are not necessarily the monuments, or the shopping, or the statues or the weather. For me, most memories are summed up in faces, conversations, and polaroid moments of interacting with people.
I remember the old Scottish man we chatted with on the bus, who was missing half his teeth and could have been mistaken for a homeless man. What we gathered from the bit we could understand through his thick accent was that he was from Carlisle and was using his senior discount bus pass to ride through the Lake District on a sunny afternoon just because he could.
There was a couple who were also staying in the airbnb.com flat we rented in London, and they were visiting from Holland. Their daughter was an artist and had a show in London that weekend; she also recently had a piece accepted into the Met.
Liam and Lauren at Willowford Farm were a delight to work for, and their 4-month old baby girl was simply adorable; our conversations at the meal table covered just about every topic under the sun and it was fascinating to hear perspectives that simply don’t exist in the US. They also own a local pub called Samson’s Inn, and several evenings were spent chatting at the bar with two old tatted up soldiers who had fought in the second World War, or playing darts with two gentlemen (who had been friends since college) spending a weekend apart from their families to walk the wall and just catch up.
Being able to see my cousin and her family was a highlight of visiting Edinburgh, and a reminder of how fast time flies by how much her kids have grown. It’s true that you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family, but having your family as friends is the best. We were able to pick up from where we left off 5 years ago to have a really special time together.
The woman we stayed with in Paris (also through airbnb.com) was a cute thirty-something single mom of the most charming little 6 year-old boy. She had begun renting out her own room in a tiny flat and sleeping with her son in order to raise money to take him to a New York Yankees game at the New Yankee Stadium in August.
Even though we had some incredible times walking along Hadrian’s Wall and through the active Vindolanda archeological site, discovering London, Strasbourg, and Paris on foot, taking a train to scramble through castle ruins at St. Andrews, seeing the Louvre, consuming baguettes and espresso, shopping for cheap wine and taking in all the scenery, ultimately it is the people who we will remember the most. These kind of conversations and interactions are hard to capture on film, but each stop along the way had its own special memory that will not quickly be forgotten.
I know there are myriads of travel guides out there, but here are my two cents on traveling well.
How to travel while making friends, not enemies:
1. Be likeable. Be deferential, kind, and give the locals a reason to want to help you. The golden rule definitely applies here. Also don’t act like you are so smart or sooo travel savvy; just be normal. Be cool.
2. If you know the local language, be humble about it. Don’t start long conversations just to show off your skills. And especially don’t do this if you think you have good language skills but you don’t.
3. If you don’t know the language, at least learn how to say, “I’m sorry, do you speak English?” Show that you tried/are trying.
4. When in public, move at the same pace and speak at the same volume as those around you. If you want to stop for some reason, find a place you can safely pull off to the side; don’t stop traffic in the middle of the street to get that one “money shot” if you don’t want dirty looks. Err on the side of being too quiet as opposed to loud and obnoxious.
5. When walking in a crowd, never make eye contact with someone coming straight at you. If you do, you will be doomed to the everlasting side the side polka waddle dance as you figure out who is passing where. Find someone going in the same direction as you and follow them. If they can part a sea of people, you can follow in their wake.
6. Don’t be afraid to politely ask questions, especially at restaurants. If your waiter speaks English, ask them what their favorite dish is or what is popular or what wine pairs well with what you ordered. This gives them a chance to brag about their product, and gives you a great educated choice.
7. If you notice other tourists doing things that get on your nerves, don’t do those things. It’s like one tourist saying of another “I can’t believe how loud that lady is talking!!!” at a decibel higher than any four year old child. Be conscious of your “societal footprint.”
8. Use airbnb.com. Period. It’s cheap, local, and most have kitchen and laundry amenities. You can pack half the amount of clothes since you can wash them midway through your trip. And you can meet cool people!
9. Photograph memories, not monuments. Unless you are Rebekah J Murray, the post card will have a better photo of the castle than your little point and shoot. Take photos that will remind you of stories to tell when you get back home.
10. Walk the city. Just go. At least once, pick a direction (or two) and just keep walking. It’s amazing what you will find on your own and what treasures you will come across without the help of any guide book.
Below are some more photos I took with my nikon; I didn’t end up carrying it around with me everywhere we went, so there are more pictures of some areas than others… Enjoy.