It isn’t about pretty buildings or breathtaking views. Those are window dressings to the real reasons we travel. They are stage props to the purpose of leaving the safety and security of our own lives in favor of the opportunity for growth. It is that fundamental principle that separates “tourists” from true travellers. Indeed, the tourist, by definition, stumbles from place to place as if they were in a zoo, arrogant in the belief they are “discovering” something new. Practically no place the tourist goes on Earth is undiscovered. If there is a hotel or a gas station or a windowless hovel there it was already discovered. The tourist is simply following a trail already forged. The traveller, well, that is something altogether different.
It seems at first a little cynical. We all proclaim the desire for discovery, but here’s the rub. What is it we wish to discover truly? All that is left for any of us not employed as an Astronaut or a researcher on the frontiers of science are journeys of discovery at least as important as reaching outer space, or diving to the darkest depths of the oceans. That is the journey of self-discovery, and by that I mean a truly critical analysis of the heart and soul.
For Ana and I, the most precious discovery on any journey are in the people we meet. And when we are lucky, truly lucky, it is in the lasting friendships and renewed awareness of the complexity and immensity of humanity that we come away with. And in that complex world the traveller must develop skills that opens the prospects for growth and self discovery.
I’m terrible with languages, but I’ve learned valuable skills over the years to overcome that. The first lesson is that context is everything. That is, by paying attention, being humble, and above all patient, overcoming most any language barrier is a minor impediment. It comes down to this: we are all human from the same ancestors. Languages are historical, cultural and customary, but buried within all of them is the desire to communicate and to be valued as a person. Make the effort and pay attention and language barriers become less a canyon between people as a bridge to be forded.
The second lesson I’ve learned is that a little goes a long way. You are in someone else’s home. Respect it. Understand that they love that home as much as you love yours. 9 words in any language will carry you a long way. That’s all, just 9 words-Yes, No, Please, Thank you, Sorry, I don’t speak…People appreciate the effort, and by virtue of simple human nature, will bend over backwards to help, or at the very least, bridge the gap.
And so, when Ana and I travel, it is as pertinent to the trip that we step outside our lives back home, and step outside ourselves as purchasing plane tickets or having a passort. More treasured is when we meet someone new, whom we can keep with us forever. Well, not literally of course. That would be illegal, but the memory and friendship, which can only be forged between people who are equal, whose lives and history and experiences are equal in one another’s eyes. That i the greatest blessing for the true traveller.
As we pulled into the unassuming little Hotel L’Fiorino in the heart of Tuscany that warm May evening we could hardly have imagined the blessings that lay before us.