Six cities, six days, one bus and thirty-plus people… all with an average temperature of about sixteen degrees. Also, did I mention I was the only one who couldn’t speak Chinese?
“Every city is human, with its own unique way of showing it.”
It’s New Year’s Eve, 2017. I’m sitting at Gate 35 in John F. Kennedy airport waiting for my plane to board. I’ve enjoyed my trip through New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, Niagara Falls and Corning, NY, but I can say with probably ninety-five percent certainty that I’ve never been more excited to get home.
Throughout this whole trip, Charlotte, NC (and even Concord, my suburban stomping grounds) has really felt like a place I could call home… at least in a way that I’ve not really experienced before. I miss the modern, newly developed look of apartment buildings along Charlotte’s South Boulevard, the familiar backroads connecting brewery to bar to coffee shop, the sense of understanding that comes with having spent years getting to know a place.
As much as I long at times to be away from the places and things that have become so familiar to me, now that I’ve visited a few places I’ve really wanted to see for a while – places I’ve sort of idealized into perfection – I realize that these places are just that, places. Each unique and with a distinct set of benefits and disadvantages.
In this way, every city is “human.” There’s no place that’s perfect in every way, where everything else is perfect too. I had been searching for that a few years ago, but I’ve since let this idealization pass. It wasn’t so long ago though, that I was searching for this type of “locational savior.”
I wasn’t trying to satisfy that longing I used to feel by taking this trip, but I did feel like I needed to see why so many people are drawn to places like New York, Boston, etc. What is it about places like this that make them prime locations for so many TV shows, movies and books – what gives these places such an appeal to so many?
To me, it’s the hustle and bustle; the iconic things to see and do in each of these places that give them such a draw. People seeking opportunity, others seeking excitement; some find what they’re looking for while others are left searching. As for me, I was craving a bit of adventure – something new. This trip didn’t disappoint.
Lessons On the Road.
“When you go away to find yourself, sometimes you realize you left part of yourself back at home.“
You realize a thing or two about yourself when you break out of daily routine. For me, I’m always hoping that new experiences will bring me some sort of revelation that’ll inspire me to start doing something I haven’t done before… something that’ll give me a concrete sense of direction (maybe this is something I’ll always be chasing). What I found with traveling was that it did give me a certain sense of fulfillment – nothing life-changing, but I did enjoy seeing new places, meeting new people and always being on the move.
I expected to enjoy these things, but what I didn’t anticipate was missing my routine. By being away from my daily routine for about a week, I was reminded just how much I truly enjoy certain aspects of life. Things I inject into my everyday life to feel more productive during my free time; reading, exercising, podcasts, smoothies, critically acclaimed shows on Netflix.
This is my free time in a nutshell, and while I thought it was all simply my way of optimizing my free time, I definitely missed these moments. I build them into my day to make the most of mornings and evenings, and while I’d been building up the idea of travel, I hadn’t much considered that I’d look forward to returning to this part of my routine as much as I did.
Traveling with Strangers.
“Sometimes the best gifts aren’t exactly the ones you were expecting.”
Stepping onto the bus the first day, it was a bit of a surprise to find that basically everyone else on the trip spoke, understood, and was Chinese. This was a bit unexpected, but it didn’t take me long to feel like this surprise was actually a gift.
It gave me an opportunity to experience a bit of another culture, and also realize how little I know about cultures I’m not accustomed to. There were topical differences of course; things like different cultural superstitions and proper etiquette when drinking were fun to learn about (for example, I didn’t know that in China, it’s customary to “cheers” many times over the course of a drink!), but it was also quite interesting to learn about things like language barriers within China between people from different provinces and discuss philosophical norms within the two countries.
I was also really grateful to be shown so much kindness by people I met on this trip. Being invited to eat with other groups of people, grab drinks at the hotel, even experience a frigid Niagara Falls with a group of friends vacationing together; being able to share these experiences with new people made this trip that much more memorable.
Stepping out of my comfort zone and traveling with people I didn’t know, seeing new places, experiencing new things… these are things I want to shape me into the person I’ll be in the future – and I want stories to tell and pictures to prove it. Getting on a bus leaving from Chinatown, NYC the day after Christmas to travel the east coast is one way to do it (especially once you find out you’re the only one who doesn’t speak Chinese).
So, yes… if you’re looking for a bit of culture shock, I found it. But along the way, I also found friendship, adventure, and made great memories I’ll always be able to look back on.
Have your own travel story to share? Let’s hear about it! Leave a comment below!