As I was sitting outdoors at a small coffee shop in Montevideo, watching the locals carry on with their normal Thursday morning lives, I discovered exactly why I travel.
It’s not always glamorous. It’s not always movie worthy, but it is real life. And real life is what I want to experience.
I was feeling the air brush my hair around my face, smelling the paninis cooking from inside mixed with drafts of perfume from passersby and the earthy scent from the row of potted plants next to my table. Hearing the sounds of cars, both gently and aggressively, passing as people head to their next destination. The multiple languages being spoken getting drowned out by the blaring alarm of the car park next door, along with the occasional chirping from birds on the roof. I was watching teens fill their conversations with laughter on the front steps of an apartment building across the street and bicyclists avoiding broken tiles on the sidewalk. Seeing a homeless man push his cart past and hard workers filling the back of a work truck. Business men and women rushing back and forth.
This is why I travel.
I have read books and seen movies romanticizing the dream of sitting at a coffee shop watching people gracefully stroll by as elegant music plays softly in the background of their wandering thoughts.
The realization I had today is that I don’t want that fantasy. I much prefer the occasional waft of gasoline or over-applied cologne. I would rather sit on a plastic chair than pay too much for a small cup of fancy coffee. This is real life in a culture vastly different than my own and this is what I want to experience.
I want to see people running to catch the bus and watch an elderly woman lean from her second floor, flower rimmed balcony to overlook the streets below. I want to hear the interrupting sound of announcements blaring from a passing pickup truck and see a spider spinning a web on the umbrella of the open air cafe table.
I travel to discover lifestyles I have never known and live days I would have never thought to live. Of course, on occasion it is nice to be able to soak up the sun for hours at a time while mindlessly laying by the pool; food and beverage service at your beck & call. It’s nice to have the luxury of paying for an overpriced treat when you so desire.
But these, to me, are just surface fulfillments.
In my eyes, buying dusty produce from a local vendor on the roadside is a higher privilege.
❈ Sharing a meal served on the floor with 4 Indian women in their home,
❈ sipping piping hot tea while a Turkish man tells us about his brand new daughter,
❈ getting a history lesson in broken Spanglish from an Argentinean at midnight,
❈ and eating until you nearly explode because you can’t turn down what an Egyptian mother is piling onto your plate.
These are the moments that make travel worth it.
❈ The smell of freshly caught fish on a Japanese wharf,
❈ and crossing the busy street, frogger style in Shanghai,
❈ playing soccer with 13 African village children and a ball made of rolled plastic bags are all adventures I would choose time and time again.
These are experiences you can only gain through personal exploration of the world and this is why I travel.