A Few Things That Make Me Smile When I Travel

Take away the museums, monuments and famous sites and the travel experience can have certain similarities no matter where you go in the world. It is these constants that give those of us who travel a certain level of comfort and predictability, all too important features in an otherwise chaotic experience. Regardless of where I travel, these are a few of the things that always manage to put a smile on my face.

 Canadian Sled Dog Portrait

1. Dogs – I’m an unapologetic, unabashed, unforgiving and unrepentant dog person. I’ve always had dogs, I’ve always loved dogs and I absolutely cannot imagine life without these furry balls of love in my life. I have three at home, all rescued, and leaving them behind is one of the hardest aspects of the travel experience for me. That’s why I seek out dogs wherever I go, just to recapture a little bit of the love I left at home. I try to photograph them when I travel, especially since it’s not always a smart idea to pet or play with them. Some have been stoic, others mindlessly happy and a few that clearly had lived hard lives. It breaks my heart to see so many animals treated so badly around the world, helpless to do anything for them. So instead I try to tell their stories and share what life must be like for them. I need them though when I travel, dogs calm us, make us happier and are an important part of a healthy life. Plus there’s just nothing better than giving a dog a big hug.

Diet Coke

2. Diet Coke – While I can be a picky person, I try to go with the flow as much as possible when I travel. That being said, there are one or two things I must have and the most important of these is Diet Coke. My dependence on Diet Coke is an addiction at this point, I realize that. My need for this elixir of life is borne of a physiological dependency on caffeine and yummy things. But I don’t abuse it; rarely do I have more than a couple of servings a day. Just as with dogs though, I also chronicle the differences between Diet Coke around the world, from their taste to the design on the cans and bottles. My favorite so far was a 40-ounce Diet Coke I found in Iceland. Never have I seen a forty of my favorite drink in the world and right then and there I decided that Iceland wasn’t a bad place after all.

Paris Metro sign

3. Good metro – I love transportation, all forms of it. I look forward to plane trips like some people anticipate lying on a beach. One of my favorite forms of transportation though is the metro, or subway. It’s of course the easiest way to explore almost any new town and it’s definitely the cheapest. But it also affords the traveler a rare peek into real life in a new city and not one fabricated of ‘official’ monuments and tourist buses. Underground you’re on your own to figure out how to use the system and how to get from point A – point B without getting lost and/or looking like a complete touron. Not all metro systems are made the same though, and I have a true appreciation for those networks that are easy to use and easy to understand. I live in Washington, DC and I may be a bit biased, but I think we have one of the best metro systems in the world. It’s clean, easy to understand and there are attendants at every station to assist lost newbies. The same can’t be said everywhere in the world and I’ve spent more time than I’d like to admit just staring at ticket machines, willing them to reveal their secrets to me. No matter what though, I’ve never gotten terrifically lost on a subway and they will always be one of my favorite travel perks.

 Caution tourist sign

4. The strange and ridiculous – The greatest aspect of travel is the totally unexpected and even bizarre. This takes a million forms and is just one of those things that you know it when you see it. Signs are always a favorite, be they misspelled, badly translated or just strange. The one above is a favorite, found at the entrance to a cenote in Mexico. It’s not just weird signs that amuse me though, it is also juxtapositions that one would not expect. While in Tokyo we were on the subway when a group of young sumo apprentices in traditional garb got on. I know it’s probably normal and I was the only one who stared at them, but I never expected to see that. In a lot of ways, be it poorly worded signs or odd sights, it is these experiences that resonate most with us as tourists and which also say the most about a culture. What we may consider to be strange or offbeat is considered normal by others, but taking note of them helps us grow as people and travelers.

Sustainable Tourism Definition

5. Smiling kids – I have travel blogger friends who have done this topic better justice than I, but one of the universal constants is the ability of a smiling kid to brighten your entire day. Wherever I go I’m amazed at the resiliency and happiness of most children, their as yet untainted view on the world and foreigners and their willingness to lend out a hand in aid. While climbing around the ruins at Petra, there were several families of Bedouin in and around the ancient town, eking out a meager living from tourists. As I huffed and puffed up the mountain, young kids leapt past me laughing and asking me to buy some trinkets. They weren’t being annoying, they were having fun. They were enjoying watching the out of shape white dude climb natural stairs they traverse with ease several times a day. They were enjoying talking with me, even though neither or us understood the other. But more than anything, they were just enjoying life. That’s a lesson most children try to impart and is one we adults would be smart to heed.

These are just a few of the things that make me smile when I travel, what are some of yours?

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

16 thoughts on “A Few Things That Make Me Smile When I Travel”

  1. I SO agree for the dogs – cats and dogs for me. I can’t help myself but go towards them whenever I see one.

    Other things I like is seeing familiar products from home in funky flavors, or in a foreign language.

  2. Putting dogs first means that we could travel well together – the husky puppies at the Iditarod center in Wasilla, Alaska last week was my “warm fuzzy”. On my list Diet Coke would be replaced by Friendly Servers – I love chatting with waiters, waitresses, counter people, flight attendants or anyone else who isn’t too busy to share their passion for the place I’m in or the city I’m going to.

  3. I don’t know how you can be such a well-travelled person presumably exposed to great food and drink and still have a dependency on Diet Coke. Hopefully you’ll crack that addiction.

  4. Great that you put dogs first. They always make me smile. Also weird signs are cool, but the Diet Coke is really a matter of taste, but unfortunately not mine, prefere a coffee;-)

  5. Hi Matt,
    So well put. Aside from all the “attractions” the true thrill of travel is all about people. Seeing them go about their daily business doing normal things can be fascinating as anything different to our norm is interesting. This makes you talk to people to find out, why, what, how and that opens up the world of stories.
    We all have stories to tell, and love to tell them. Talking to strangers in a foreign environment always reminds me that essentially we are all the same. Be interested in anyone, anywhere and generally you will find a nice person and an interesting tale

  6. Dogs all the way! And I’ve now managed to pick up an abandoned dog in Korea, my big souvenir for when I get home. Haha.

    I also don’t understand this diet coke thing, but do what you gotta do! I now know you’re the person ask to when I have a weird craving for diet coke in some strange country. :)

  7. The smiling kids is my favorite! Esp. in the mountainous areas, where you climb with all the efforts and they are there in no time, waiting for you, making fun of you ;) Me being the introverted type, haven’t availed the chance of shooting portraits then, ah what a given opportunity.
    The other was the weird sign :)

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