Travel is About Connection, Not Destinations
Story by M. Burnam
To one 60 year-old woman, travel isn’t about sites or checklists. Travel serves a bigger purpose: it teaches us to observe, listen, and connect with those around us.
I travel infrequently, maybe twice a year, though my agenda is always twofold. I want to connect to the environment - the feel, the smell, the sounds, the weather, the buildings, nature. And more importantly, I want to connect to the people.
My idea of the perfect travel itinerary is different than my family’s, and I don’t mind. I like to meet and chat up the two people next to me, squeezed into the middle seat of the plane with the most fascinating characters. One guy was going to Iceland to meet his girlfriend and dog sled for five days. One woman was breast feeding her toddler, bundled with three coats in addition to the breast feeding, iPad watching child. In that middle seat, I’ve heard it all, like Kentucky is the best place to live, never mind the tornados. And my tray table is always the perfect spot for my seat-neighbors’ used napkin.
When I get off that plane, it’s my final destination! A hotel! I want to sink in, stay a week or two or three. I have no remembrance of my own home. I’m going to get pampered and I don’t have to clean my house for a few days. Television is unnecessary. I walk down to the lobby or patio and sit. I’m at my happiest here.
I have a particular need to stay in hotels, versus small B&Bs or a vacation home (I actually cried once because I had to stay in a B&B; really, I did and I’m fairly ashamed of that). I love lobbies! I cherish the freedom of getting up at any hour, visiting with the night clerks or early morning risers. If I can stay in one hotel the entire trip, even better. I love the moment a hotel starts to feel like a home, a familiar place, where I can explore the country, town and locals.
The environment of the hotel is important, as I want to sit on a front porch, balcony, patio or pool chair. I’m not wanting to trod around the city, hike the hills, ride the bus, or shop the stores. Nope, I want to have my coffee, my drink of the hour and chill. I’m the best people observer. When I have dollars to spare, heck yeah, I’m in the spa relaxing in a massage chair! And let me tell you, I know more about those facial techs, stylists and masseuses than they know about themselves – they love to talk and I love to listen!
I’m starting to believe I have an uncanny ability to get people to talk to me. I don’t know why or whether it’s a result of me or traveling. Maybe it’s the combination: me when I travel.
That’s when the connections start. I meet the most interesting people and observe every form of humanity. I’ve met so many souls, who are strangers really, but I cannot do without them….
The lesbian planning a Valentine’s Day surprise for her partner in a two-star hotel. She was so happy and excited!
The daughter who could not stay at her father’s hospital bed side as he was removed from life-support. We related.
The hotel clerk in Dublin who denied a Brazilian family of four rooms because “he doesn’t trust Brazilians”. He had a background in cruise ships, in addition to his opinion, and didn’t change his mind.
The ICU nurse remembering the ‘one’ patient who had the most emotional impact on her.
The young waiter who dreamed of moving out of state with his baby momma. (And he served, seriously, the worse tamales in Arizona).
The volunteer castle curator eager to use her English and be recognized.
The night clerk at a three-star hotel who purchased a new home with his partner, still struggling to make ends meet.
The Parisian Uber driver who wondered why Americans don’t learn French. And also, “what do I think of Trump?”
These people I have talked with, laughed with, and cried with.
The observations are endless when traveling. When language is a problem, speaking isn’t necessary to immerse yourself. The most memorable for me was while I stayed at an airport hotel in Paris. There was a two day conference at the hotel. I didn’t talk or listen, because I don’t know French, and approximately 200 business attendees were there. And every single one of the 200 attendees wore black. Seriously. Black shirts. Black tops. Black dresses. Black shoes. Black scarves. Black suitcases. Freaked me out!