Part X: All in a Traveler’s Mind
By Bridget Meade
“What then, is a travelling mind-set? Receptivity might be said to be its chief characteristic. Receptive, we approach new places with humility,” Alain de Botton wrote in The Art of Travel. De Botton describes Xavier de Maistre’s trip around his room where de Maistre travels alone. Even though companionship isn’t mentioned in the passage, the company one keeps on their journey certainly alters one’s traveling mind-set.
Two years ago, I jumped on the new age bandwagon and wrote a list of things I want in my life. One of my goals was to live in Italy for 3 months to a year. I toured Italy twice before – once with the Australian-based Contiki tour company and once with a boyfriend – and fallen in love with the landscape, people, and food. When a chance to study abroad during my graduate studies presented itself, I jumped on it.
A recent article on Guy Kawasaki’s All Top listed 50 reasons to travel solo. Amongst the reasons were, “You don’t have to worry about what others want to eat or put up with their moods.” This could not be truer. However, each travel situation and whom we travel with alters our experience. Sometimes for the better, sometimes not.
My three-week Contiki tour of Europe was my first international trip and I did it alone. I stepped off the tube in London in flip-flops and yoga pants into the rain. When I boarded the tour bus two days later, the tour director announced the tour demographics: 23 Australians, 10 New Zealanders, and three Canadians.
Then she paused as her eyes searched the bus and said, “There is one American girl…”
I sheepishly raised my hand. It was at the height of world’s discontent with the current U.S. president and his policies. Americans had lost their popularity and for someone who is reserved when nervous, it was a bad combination with my travel mates.
From the remainder of my three weeks, I struggled. I made a few friends but felt like an outcast in my group. While I had my share of fun on the trip, I missed a lot opportunities for experiencing culture. I had yet to experience European trains, why a friend who had traveled abroad coined Sundays in Spain “Suicide Sundays”, or what it is like to be one of three English speakers on a small island.
My mindset was more about what time I needed to meet the bus than it was about where I was traveling. It was this trip I discovered that I do not like most guided tours of museums. I went in cities out on my own and managed to get lost. It was on this trip that I first learned that people would help a stranded traveler out. Nevertheless, it was a sheltered experience.
A Year Later
While I struggled on my first trip abroad, the person whom inspired me to travel agreed to travel with me a year later. After the deaths of two close relatives seven months prior to our journey, it was a week into our seven-week trip when I realized my mindset was not right for travel. As de Botton suggested, we must be able to be receptive to our experiences and I was far from it.
My travel companion did his best to suffer through our journey with me. There were things I took for granted on that trip: having a person who knew me better than anyone, him being an excellent guide sleuth when it came to train schedules, and his emotional stability and decision making when things went wrong.
My six-week stay in Viterbo, Italy is a new journey and a melting pot of my past experiences. My previous travels relieve the pressure to trying to visit as much of Italy as possible. As much as I love Venice and other locations, I realized that my reasons for being here are different this time. I do not want to be hostel hopping every weekend. I came to Viterbo to learn what day-to-day life is like in Italy.
It is here that I have learned just how social Italian life is whether it is dinnertime, grocery shopping, or travelling. Italians do everything together. Seldom do I see Italians on their own without someone waiting for their arrival.
As an avid social media user, I find this fascinating. As a recent self-diagnosed introvert, it also terrifies me. Late night walks alone are uncomfortable because I am truly the only person walking alone. Viterbo taught me that Italians do not smile at strangers. It is not out of spite or dislike, they just do not see why one should smile at someone they do not know.
My mindset as a frequent solo traveler here has taught me about using caution in a place where I speak three sentences of the native language well. Irresponsible behavior is not only immature but also dangerous. I have all but avoided crowded bars and clubs. It might be a sign of age and responsibility but my actions are watched closely in this small town and I would like to leave a good impression behind.
Safety is more than monitoring my own actions. On a recent trip to Florence, I arrived alone in the large city. The walking directions from the Campo de Marti train station to my hostel were not clear and I spent twenty minutes figuring it out. At that moment, I missed traveling with my previous companion whose sense of direction always kept us safe.
Luckily, Florence was a group trip with friends from my study abroad program. On this trip I learned to appreciate those who plan every detail of their trip. Those travelers are the ones who make sure to reserve a ticket to the Acadamia in advance and the one who almost always makes their train. Without their tenacity, I might have missed Michelangelo’s David and taking pictures of other tourists sleeping in the Uffizi gallery.
In the End
De Bannon was right: mindset when traveling is everything. Even though we begin our journeys with one mindset, the company and circumstances we encounter alter our experiences. How we react is our choice.
Bridget Meade is an Interactive Journalism graduate student at the Reynolds School of Journalism. She decided to pursue her Master’s in Journalism after she discovered personal blogging several years ago. As a result of online communities like 20-Something Bloggers and the new friends she met all over the world, Bridget’s interests expanded and she redefined her personal and professional goals. Her interests are in social media, specifically Twitter, technology, and networked news. She enjoys snarky humor, the ocean, all things Italian, wine, and time with her 90 lb German Shepherd, Keo.