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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?