Travel

Travel: San Gimignano sunset

Travel changes us. Whether it’s a trip around the corner or around the world, travel has the ability to affect us in so many unexpected ways. Find out why where you are affects who you are and how to travel better, no matter where you go.

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Tourist vs traveler: 25 ways to be a traveler even in touristy places

Tourist vs traveler: Generalife Garden

Peaceful gardens such as this one at the Alhambra in Granada, Spain may not seem so peaceful with hundreds of tourists pouring through them. But even here you can enjoy the place as a traveler…if you know how.

Tourist vs Traveler

The age-old discussion of tourist vs traveler still rages on in travel circles. So what’s the difference? My favorite quote explaining it comes from G.K. Chesterton:

“The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.”

A quick trip over to Brainy Quotes revealed a few more pithy statements:

From Daniel J. Boorstin:

“The traveler was active; he went strenuously in search of people, of adventure, of experience. The tourist is passive; he expects interesting things to happen to him. He goes ‘sight-seeing.’”

 From Russel Baker:

“The worst thing about being a tourist is having other tourists recognize you as a tourist.”

From Agnes Repplier:

“The tourist may complain of other tourists, but he would be lost without them.”

Or, from a different source, I like this one (applied to more than just men) from The Englishman Abroad by Hugh and Pauline Massingham:

“The born traveller—the man who is without prejudices, who sets out wanting to learn rather than to criticise, who is stimulated by oddity, who recognises that every man is his brother, however strange and ludicrous he may be in dress and appearance—has always been comparatively rare.”

tourist v traveler - couple resting at Alcazar

Even people at rest still can choose to be a tourist or a traveler

Does the distinction matter?

Having just returned from Egypt (where there are virtually no tourists right now), Morocco (where there are some, but mostly in the larger cities) and Spain (where in some areas, I heard more American English spoken than Spanish), the notion of tourist vs traveler remains both fresh and relevant to me.

When I see huge hordes of people clearly on a group tour paying more attention to their phones than the surrounding sights, I think, “I don’t want to be like that.” But when I listen to travelers who have been on the road for months or years who condemn these so-called tourists, I think, “I don’t want to be like that either.”

I’ve come to believe that the distinction of tourist vs traveler is similar to that between artist and craftsperson: In most cases, it just doesn’t matter, at least to me as a traveler or a maker. Here are two other similar perspectives I think represent this same attitude:

The difference between being a traveler and being a tourist

Why it’s better to be a tourist than a traveler

To me, the distinction isn’t important because it involves comparison and judgment of others which rarely helps to make your own travel experience a worthwhile one. Your goal on a trip is to discover what matters to you, not how others are spending their time. So instead of looking at other foreigners in a country and classifying them as tourists or travelers, what the last few weeks in some very touristy locations in Spain (mostly Seville, Ronda, Granada and Madrid) has reminded me of is this: You can still operate as a traveler even if you’re visiting places frequented by tourists.

Tourist v traveler: people taking photos at Alcazar

Tourist v traveler: Everyone is taking similar photos. How will yours be different?

25 ways to be a traveler in a touristy area

The real issue isn’t classification or comparison or even location. It’s attitude. It’s about how you engage and go about experiencing a place. So to help you get the most from any location, even ones where millions of others visit every year, here are 25 ways to be a traveler in a touristy area:

  1. Stay curious. Keep asking questions and wondering about all you see and experience.
  2. Learn. As the Chesterton quote notes, you get more from a new place  when you learn something from it. Learning doesn’t have to be formal history lessons about some monument. You can learn about the culture, the food and even about how you react under pressure. Just try and remain open to learning something.
  3. Appreciate what you see. Seeing the positive of every place not only ingratiates you with the locals, it helps them to see their own hometown in a better light.
  4. Learn the language. Even a few words. In Cairo, Egypt, for example, I knew about five words of Arabic. But just trying those few words made a huge difference versus expecting everyone there to speak English.
  5. Engage ordinary people. Knowing the language helps, but striking up a discussion with the people who are used to treating you as just another disinterested tourist — shopkeepers, waiters, taxi drivers or people you meet on the street — can make a huge difference even in touristy places where such locals are normally treated as expediters of some foreigner’s request.
  6. Pause and reflect. While tourists can be great at maximizing limited time, the downside is that you never make sense of what you’re experiencing unless you stop long enough to think about the experience. Sure, you can do so after your trip, but pausing during your journey allows course corrections and the ability to go back to places that cry out for a deeper examination or greater discovery.
  7. Get off the beaten path. Maps are helpful in showing you where the key sights are located. But you don’t have to take the most direct root. Just one block over from the main thoroughfare lies a very different experience.
  8. Live like a local. Airbnb has made this much easier, but in an urban setting, the next best thing in my book to being invited to stay in someone’s home is to rent an apartment. I’ve had great success with Booking.com and Homeaway.com for apartments. These are usually cheaper than hotels, they avoid the group-think and clustering of other travelers that you sometimes get at hostels (which can be both a good and a bad thing) and best of all, they are usually in neighborhoods away from the normal tourist areas. The hosts can point out local markets and restaurants you would likely never find in guidebooks or on your own.
  9. Use public transportation. Public buses, trains, subways, bikes and boats of all kinds provide a very different experience than being on a tour bus or even in your own car. It’s a great way to do both Number 5 and Number 7 above.
  10. Be present. This sounds a bit ethereal, but I simply mean to listen and apply all your senses to a place. Listen carefully to the people you meet — in touristy areas, they are used to being ignored or only half-heard. But also ask yourself — intentionally — what do you smell, taste, feel or hear around you, in addition to what do you see. It really expands your appreciation of the place when you engage all your senses in a conscious manner.

    Tourist v traveler - Ronda plaza

    Sometimes the crowded places are the best…if those crowds are locals.

  11. People watch. You’re in an area surrounded by tourists. You can bemoan the fact or behold their behaviors in a non-judgmental way. Ask yourself, “What can I learn from watching them?” Or just sit back and enjoy the show.
  12. Forget FOMO. Actually, this Fear Of Missing Out lies more in the realm of the traveler than the tourist. But since we’re not making distinctions, just relax. Remember this obvious point: You will never see everything. So enjoy what you do see and chalk up what you don’t as something for your next trip.
  13. Go beneath the surface. Get behind the scenes. Talk to the people others ignore. Janitors, market vendors, ticket takers and security guards at museums and other venues can often provide you with information and access you’d never get through “official” channels. Here’s where knowing the local language really helps. Asking them questions not only informs you, it makes them feel special. You may end up with a private tour…or even a new friend.
  14. Have a good sense of humor. Joking with locals can be tricky because humor doesn’t always translate. But even when I only know a few words of the local language, taking a self-deprecating approach, being genuinely interested and staying playful breaks through even to those people hardened by dealing with thousands of tourists each day.
  15. Pay attention to details. While everyone else is gawking at the big sights, look around. There are small wonders everywhere. Often the small moments on a trip end up being more meaningful than the big ones.
  16. Break things up. No one says you have to eat dinner all at once in the same place. In really touristy areas such as St. Mark’s Square in Venice, Italy or Plaza Mayor in Madrid, Spain, don’t buy an overpriced meal on the square. Eat elsewhere then just enjoy of coffee or drink on the square itself.
  17. Play with local kids. In really touristy areas, the kids may be used to asking for a handout or trying to sell you something. Instead of giving them money, play with them. I recently spent time with some kids in Morocco making up goofy handshakes with them. We all loved it. Kick a soccer ball, jump rope, play tag. Who cares if you look goofy. Everyone will have a better time and you’ll help them see tourists as more than opportunities to make money.
  18. Take a class. You’ll likely be with other tourists, but even in popular locations, you’ll learn about the culture and a particular area — cooking, shopping, local history or crafts — that you wouldn’t on a tour or even on your own.
  19. Get out during the bookend hours. Get up early or stay up late and see the sights without any other tourists (being aware of safety issues, obviously). Especially early in the morning, you get to see the same people who will likely be serving all of us tourists later in the day, walking to work, getting some shopping done or taking their kids to school. The very same place looks much different in the off hours.

    Tourist v traveler: Ronda at Night

    Even places like Ronda, Spain, can be very different after the busloads of day tourists leave.

  20. Change your focus. Move from “What can I get from this place?” to “Who can I be in this place and how can I enjoy my time here?” The former is a consumer perspective where it’s all about the place itself. The latter helps you enjoy you and your traveling companions where your focus is on your experience rather than just the location. For example, I’ve learned to love long dinners not because of the surroundings so much as from simply being away from the norm and taking time out for deeper relationship building.
  21. Sketch. Who cares if you’re good or not. Pausing to draw or paint or even photograph in a slower, more deliberate manner helps break you from the tourist frenzy and helps you see the place in a new way.
  22. Study up before you arrive. I have a hard time digesting historical facts and figures when on site. But when I do research about the context of the place before I get there, I always enjoy the experience more because I understand more. Plus, I don’t have to wait in crowded lines or huddled up with a ton of other people trying to listen to a guide.
  23. Try new things. Even in the most touristy of locations, you’ll likely find food, activities and sporting or cultural events you’ve never experienced before. Now is your time to give them a shot.
  24. Get lost. Get the card or address of the place you’re staying written in the local language so you can always hand it to a cab driver. Then just take off. Nothing moves you from tourist to traveler faster than figuring out your own way in a new place.
  25. Know what matters to you…then pursue it. This is probably the most important one of all. Even in touristy places, you can home in on areas of interest: shops, crafts, hobbies, food, etc. Discovering makers or chefs or farmers or athletes becomes a form a treasure hunt. Everyone else around you will be looking at the same old tourist sites while you’re off connecting with your passion.

Now its your turn

What else can you do to be more of a traveler even in touristy locations? Share your thoughts. Then go out and try some of these approaches and see if the distinction between tourist and traveler really matters to you.

 

10 surprising ways to get to know a place before you arrive

Morocco BooksHow can you get to know a place before you arrive? The answer is you can’t. That’s why you travel there because reading about it and experiencing it firsthand aren’t the same. But you can get a taste of it which significantly helps you prepare for your trip.

I’m putting together a comprehensive guide to planning your trip due out later this year. But for now, here’s a quick overview of ten surprising ways to get to know a place before you arrive. These will help you determine what aspects of that place matter most to you. You’ll also have an orientation so you can hit the ground running when you get there. That way, you can avoid that attractive “what have I done and what do I do now?” look common to first-time tourists.

  1. YouTube videos – How could I not have discovered this sooner? I’ve been checking out videos from the library for years about the places I’m visiting but the number of locations is often quite limited, especially for less-touristy places. Recently I found that YouTube has videos on just about any place you’re going. You have to kiss a lot of frogs to find the princes there, but seeing videos gives you a much better perspective on how everything relates than simply looking at photos or maps. For example, I can see pictures of the labyrinthine alleyways of Fez, Morocco’s old market area, but it is a very different sense you get from seeing a video as someone winds their way through the narrow passageways in search of interesting food.
  2. Personal advice – Of course we all know to ask friends about their experience in a place we’re about to visit.  It’s the sources of the personal advice that have surprised me. In the last few years, increasingly I’ve started communicating with the locals, in particular owners of guesthouses and small hotels who are geared toward tourists but can provide tips and resources you’d never get on your own.
  3. Travel forums – You have to work your way through these, but almost any question you have about a trip has likely been asked before. Sometimes you can just Google the question and see various forums. Other times, going to the forum areas on sites like Rick Steves (for European trips), Lonely Planet or Fodors and glancing through the threads can help give you a sense of the place that the travel descriptions don’t. Tip: Don’t settle for one person’s opinion or even that of a single forum. I’ve found some that offer advice that later is contradicted by more informed travelers on another forum. But when you find the gem, the hunt is worth it.
  4. Learning the language – You gain insights into a country from learning even a few words of its language. You understand what the culture values (e.g. a male-dominated vs. female-oriented society) and how the origins of language affect how people think and act today. But here’s the more surprising part. Learning the language gives you an excuse to meet with others from that country or region. For example, I recently overheard a guy in a local Starbucks talk about some words in Arabic (which I’m trying to learn for an upcoming trip) so I went up, asked how to pronounce a certain word and was so enthusiastically greeted (because I was even bothering to try to learn his language) that he immediately introduced me to another friend from Morocco who provided great insights. Leverage the language to learn about the place.
  5. Photo books and sites – I learned more about Machu Picchu from some coffee table books than I did from the guidebooks. Go online to flickr, Instagram, Pinterest and other sites searching on the place you’re visiting and you’ll get a visual sense of the place. But here’s the surprising piece: Don’t just stop with the first image. Click on to the person’s site (if you like the image) and often you’ll get many more details and stories you wouldn’t have found using a general search on the destination. Or try my new favorite for getting a more complete picture of certain places: Google Street View. This feature of Google Maps allows you to get a 360-degree view of the most popular places. What’s really helpful is when the places you’re staying have the same thing so you’re able to see the streets around your hotel, guesthouse or apartment. The odd thing is I haven’t yet figured out how to get those same views on my computer. I can see them on my phone when using Google Maps. If you know how to find them on the computer, let me know.
  6. Literature – Increasingly I find that both fiction and nonfiction books or articles about a place provide me with the details of the experience there which, in turn, helps me to visualize and understand the place in ways travel sites don’t. For example, I’ve learned many cultural nuances about Fez, Morocco from reading A House in Fez (the Moroccan equivalent of Francis Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun, in this case about an Australian couple that buys an ancient riad (home) in Fez and the trials of renovating it).  A great starting point are guidebooks which usually have recommendations about books, art, movies and music of your destination country.
  7. Booking sites – Normally, Airbnb, Hotels.com, Homeaway.com or one of my favorites, Booking.com, are useful for reservations. But if you read the reviews and look at the photos (same as on TripAdvisor), you start to get a sense of the place as well. Also, Booking.com (as well as Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor) has started city guides in the places where you book (or at least the major cities). Most of the information covers the main tourist sites but a really nice feature on Booking.com is that they organize this information in respect to your hotel or apartment. You get to see on a map and in the site descriptions where everything is shown in terms of how far the sites are from where you’re staying. This provides a sense of context that is missing on less personalized travel info sites. Tip: Another reason I like Booking.com is that for a fraction more money, you get to reserve with free cancellation. I try not to abuse this, but I have at times booked a few different places to make sure I don’t miss out on popular ones, then go back a few days later and cancel the ones I don’t want. It makes hotel reservations far less stressful and allows you the freedom to change, usually up to 24 hours before you arrive with no fees.
  8. Social media – Here’s just one example of leveraging social media in surprising ways. I posted an image on Instagram and I then checked out the profile of one of the people who liked the image. I saw that he had images of the very places in Morocco I planned to visit soon. I then linked over to his blog and read detailed description of his trip, complete with costs and transportation information. I ended up emailing him asking for more details and he was wonderful in helping. Here’s Kane’s site: www.roamandrecon.com. It’s just one of many examples of using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other sites to not only see what others have done in the country you’re visiting, but to form connections that help you get insights you’d otherwise miss.
  9. Apps – Travel apps are springing up like wildflowers in June. They all have their different function, but here’s the surprising part: Don’t necessarily use them as designed. For example, a great app for finding interesting tours in cities is Vayable.com. Check it out not just to hire a local guide, but to get an idea of the kinds of interesting possibilities that city offers. Other tips: Use TripIt not only to store your reservations, but to load in notes and photos you’ve found elsewhere. Use Evernote to record your passport and other info (which works best if you have the Pro version that allows you to secure your Evernote account with a PIN number). In fact, I use Evernote to capture photos of guidebook pages, menus, street signs and directions, voice recordings of overheard conversations or phrases in another language for the taxi drivers, etc.
  10. Guidebooks – These may not seem very surprising. But how you use them may be. Don’t settle for just one. I usually skim through several: Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, Moon, Rick Steves, Fodors, Frommers and often country or regional-specific ones. You’ll get a more complete view and find some hidden gems that way. Photocopy or take photos on your phone of the pages that matter to you (being sensitive to copyright laws). Also, don’t just read about the places. Many of these guidebooks have great overviews on the history and culture of your destination. Reading these are some of the fastest ways to get a sense of the place without reading long histories.

These are just a few of the ways I’ve found useful in getting to know more about a place before I arrive and even once I’m there. What have you found helpful in planning your trips?

 

The last place you look

The last place you look: Green Lake road

The last place you look may be just around the bend as on this road at Green Lake Conference Center. Keep going.

The last place you look is last for a reason

“Why is it that when you lose something like your car keys, you always find them in the last place you look?” my colleague Sarah asked her mother recently when Sarah had misplaced her keys. “Because,” her mother replied patiently to her grown daughter, “once you find them, you stop looking.”

When Sarah told me this story, I laughed. In part because her mom’s comment was so obvious. In part because I, like Sarah, had never made that connection before.

Sarah and I were at Green Lake Conference Center, a beautiful gathering place in central Wisconsin, for a set of meetings with other colleagues. After wrapping up our morning session, we headed to the dining hall for lunch. Our other colleagues had filled up a table so Sarah and I joined another one with a sign that read “Road Scholars.”

As I sat down and made introductions, I mentioned that the name sounded familiar. “Didn’t Road Scholars used to be called something else?” I asked. “Yes,” replied a sprite woman to my right. “Elderhostel.” “Oh,” I quipped, “the new name makes more sense since none of you seem either elderly or hostile!” I was in.

Lost and found

Sarah asked about their conference and found out it was a writing workshop. Their theme? “Lost and found.” I looked at Sarah. She just smiled. We spent the next twenty minutes learning about their writing, how they were enjoying it and how long they’d been coming there. One woman said this was her 23rd year attending the event. She noted how she loved the learning, the memories and mostly, the people she met, some old friends, some new acquaintances. “Come back another two years and you get a gold watch,” Sarah said. They all laughed and I could understand why someone would want to keep returning to such a welcoming place and group.

As these Road Scholars headed back to their writing, I got to thinking about Sarah’s earlier comment and how true it is. We do stop looking for things when we find them whether those are keys, people or even dreams.

The problem is, with the exception of the car keys, too often we give up looking too soon. We treat some things like our dreams or even our callings as if they were car keys, tangible, finite objects that we can grasp. And thus we stop looking when we think we’ve found them.

Why the last place you look shouldn’t be the last place you look

But what if there is more? What if we settle for just part of what is there and stop looking too soon? Artists and craftspeople will tell you that 50% of your effort on a project can get you 90% of the way there. But that last 10%? That’s where the difference is made between what is good and what is great. That is where you run the risk of ruining all you’ve done before because that last 10% requires so much additional effort and skill. So what do many of us do? We give up at 90%. We stop looking or trying.

When we stop pursuing our dreams or working through that last 10%, we end up wondering why life feels OK, but not entirely satisfying. Deep down we sense that we’re settling for mediocrity but we’re not really sure why. We don’t realize that we’ve stopped looking.

This isn’t about perfectionism so much as pursuit and relentless curiosity. It’s about applying the explorer’s need to know what lies beyond the next rise to the areas of our lives that matter most, our passions, dreams and creative interests. It reminds me of the phrase from the movie, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” where the father, played by Tom Hanks, shows his son the typo in the newspaper and reveals it as a clue, a mandate actually, to follow: “notstop looking.”

Let’s make it personal

How about for you? What has been lost or maybe just pushed aside in your life? Where have you stopped looking? Where do you need to pursue that last 10% to find what truly matters or to be truly found?

Shortly before the group of Road Scholars left, one woman mentioned that she had come here with her husband who is a writer. They had signed up for another workshop/conference but it fell through so she tagged along on this one. Before she arrived, she didn’t see herself as a writer. Now? Everything had changed. She loved the workshop and planned on coming back. “For another 20 years or so like this other person?” Sarah asked her.

“In 20 years, I’ll be 100,” she replied. But then, with a sly smile she added, “But you never know.”

Here clearly, was someone who was not going to stop looking.

 

The introvert’s secret to meeting new people

Meeting new people: watching crowds

Why stand back from others when you can join them…on your own terms?

My dinner at The Beirut restaurant in Toledo, Ohio was delicious and entertaining, but also something more. It was a reminder that meeting new people on trips – even business trips – is one of the best parts of travel. People make trips because people are filled with stories. They provide insights into the place that you can glean in no other way.

They are also unpredictable. I can go to Rome and pretty much count on the Colosseum being at least close to what I’ve seen in photos. But I never know what I’ll learn or what great adventures might unfold when I meet someone new.

But what do you do if you’re an introvert and meeting new people feels awkward at best?

I can speak to this because I too am an introvert. I love being with people but then, I hit a point where my energy drops like a fumbled set of car keys. Extroverts, on the other hand, can’t get enough of others: The more people, the more energy. So here’s the introvert’s secret to meeting new people: Take advantage of an extrovert’s desire to engage.

You see, there are more of them (extroverts) than there are of us (introverts) – twice as many, actually. Thus, when you encounter a new person on a trip, your odds are good that he or she will be willing to carry the lion’s share of the conversation. All you have to do is start off with a few introductory questions or remarks and then listen. They’ll likely do the rest. It’s like conversational jujitsu: Use your “opponent’s” strength to your advantage.

With the couple we met in Toledo, once I got the party started with just a few words of welcome and introduction, the husband took over from there. Was I tired afterwards? Yep. Was it worth it? Double yep.

Keep in mind, if you are painfully shy, just saying hello to a stranger can be tough. But it really doesn’t take much. In this case, I merely asked if the couple needed help finding an extra bar stool since initially, only one was available for the two of them. A single question led to another and another and…

All you have to do is be polite (it’s a bit rare these days). Look for an excuse to ask them something or simply say hello. See how they react. If you get a chilly response, let it go. But if you’ve lucked into an outgoing type, feed them a few more questions and then see what happens.

I know this sounds incredibly basic, but I see it all the time on business trips, especially with solo travelers and particularly when the lone traveler is female: the traveler turns inward and never reaches out to others. Clearly, you have to use discretion. But too often we introverts forego truly meaningful encounters because we think a) it will take too much effort, b) we’d rather read the back of the menu, check status updates or messages on our phones or do anything that avoids human contact, c) we don’t know how to engage in a way that doesn’t seem embarrassing, or d) the person near us looks borderline psychopathic or like a salesperson on the road with too many drinks and not enough company.

If point b) is your issue, remind yourself of how meaningful it can be to engage someone new. You never know what you’ll discover. If point d) is your issue, OK, you’re off the hook. Time to find a new seat. But if point c) concerns you, remember this: You’ll likely never see that person again. You’re far from home and a stranger. Plus, how hard is it to ask a question? What do you have to lose? Look on the possible conversation as practice and remind yourself of just how rewarding and interesting people can be.

And speaking of interesting, don’t worry about being that yourself. As the sales manager of a client’s company once told me, he instructs all his sales people to “Be more interested than interesting.” Listen to others rather than talk about yourself. Inquire. Encourage. Learn the art of asking good questions. Receive. The sale’s manager’s advice is good for anyone, extrovert or introvert. Because when you listen, you do learn more about a place (and all the associated people, ideas and insights) than you ever imagined.

Even someplace like Toledo. It never would have made my list of vacation destinations. But now, if a person were to tell me I should go there, I think I would listen to them.

 

Toledo, extroverts and travel

Extroverts and travel - The Beirut bar

View from the bar at The Beirut restaurant in Toledo, OH

Ever watch any of the popular travel videos? If you do, you’d get the impression that travel is the domain of the extrovert. Extroverts and travel just seem to go together. There’s one guide yakking it up with a local merchant. Or another sharing insights with a group of other tourists. And wait! There’s yet another ingratiating herself with a group of men playing backgammon on the street. They make it seem as if meeting strangers is as easy as ordering fast food.

And perhaps it is. Unless, of course, you’re an introvert.

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Toledo, Ohio isn’t someplace I’d likely visit on a vacation. But on a recent work trip to there, I discovered much more than I anticipated. The city itself has an interesting feel. Although its’s been through a lot (it’s only an hour drive south of Detroit and shares that city’s manufacturing highs and lows), there seemed to be a sense of guarded optimism, a refusal to let terms like “rust belt” define it.

After a long day of meetings on this trip, my colleague Josh and I decided to expand our search for a dinner location beyond the Sonic and Bob Evans near our hotel. We went online, read some reviews, found a well-rated restaurant, The Beirut, and were soon on our way there for some Lebanese cuisine.

The parking lot was full and the place was packed – on a Tuesday evening. Good sign. The hostess asked if we wanted to wait at the bar. We followed her to two of the remaining three seats there. A moment later, she informed us that the wait would be longer than planned, but if we liked, we could order and eat there at the bar. That worked fine for us.

Sammy, the bartender (and I suspect, co-owner) quipped with us as we ordered what turned out to be an exceptionally tasty dinner, in my case, succulent pieces of steak on a bed of amazingly good hummus.

Shortly after our food arrived, a couple squeezed in at the bar beside us, the wife taking the remaining bar stool, the husband standing. We began chatting: dinner or drink? Just drinks…tonight. They normally come for dinner on Thursdays. Where you from? Locals. You? Seattle. The husband soon took over and led the conversation.

Josh and I had already felt at home there. But soon, we were like regulars. With minimal prompting on our part, we learned from the couple about the state of the auto industry, about their trips to Europe and Asia, about their son who had once played in a band and traveled the country and about how the actor Jamie Farr (whose character Klinger on the old MASH TV series hailed from Toledo) still does charity work in the area.

As I finished my meal, Sammy asked if I liked it. I held up the plate and commented that I would have licked it if I’d thought I could have gotten away with it. Everyone laughed and Sammy informed me that it would have been completely acceptable. Somehow, with all the good cheer and camaraderie evidenced here, I believed him.

Eventually, we had to leave. But as we started to get up, the husband continued talking, telling us of all sorts of places to see there in Toledo. Behind him, his wife gestured with her hand in a sockless sock-puppet fashion silently mouthing, “Talk, talk, talk.” I sensed this was a familiar, but loving, routine.

Finally, between our movement toward the door and his wife’s now more vocal imploring, we made it out but not before we were invited to go sailing with them if we were ever back there on a weekend. After all, they reminded us, we could find them there every Thursday.

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That evening taught me a great deal. Not only about Toledo, but also about how even introverts can gain unique insights into a place through the words and stories of others. But how, if you’re an introvert, do you do this? Find out next time when we explore more about how to get the most from travel, even if you’re not the most extroverted person.

 

Design is…

Design is…what, exactly?

The question of what design is may not be one that keeps you up at night. But it is one that matters. As we move more and more into what author Daniel Pink refers to in his book, A Whole New Mind as the “Conceptual Age” (which follows the Agricultural, Industrial and Information Ages) we’re all affected by design. And when I say “design” I’m not referring simply to graphic design or aesthetic functions.

To better understand what design is, take a look at the following graphic. It’s from Warren Berger’s excellent (but quirkily titled – I can never remember it when trying to tell others) book on the subject, CAD Monkeys, Dinosaur Babies, and T-Shaped People.

Design is from CAD Monkeys, Dinosaur Babies, and T-Shaped People

As the above definitions show, design:

  • is hard to nail down,
  • applies to problem solving and planning, not just art-related work,
  • is something that all of us can do.

Let me comment on just three of my favorite definitions and look at how these apply to travel.

Design is “The art of making something better, beautifully.

Joe Duffy’s definition contains two key components: better and beautiful. Great design improves the function or use of something. But it can also improve the overall experience. With travel, we can “design” our trips by making decisions to choose wise risk over playing it safe, to stay present when everything inside us wants to shut down due to too much newness or to seek out what is beautiful even in places that, on the surface, may not seem that way.

Design is “The introduction of intention into human affairs.”

Michael Glaser’s definition reminds us that our best experiences – even the ones that seem accidental – usually involve some form of intentionality. For example, once when traveling on my own in Switzerland, I met a young man on a train who ended up inviting me to stay with his family for several days in the Interlaken region. I could never have planned on meeting him but I was intentional about being open to connecting with everyone I met on that train. And because of that mindset, that led to a conversation that led to an invitation that led to an amazing weekend with a local family.

Design is “Hope made visible.”

Brian Collins’ definition captures well the aspirational nature of good design. Great designers don’t focus only on function or even aesthetics. They seek to make the world better, one product, service or experience at a time. Our travel can do the same when we focus our trips on what we can do for, and bring to, others. “Hope made visible,” however, isn’t limited to just what we do on a trip or even to design.

It’s a great definition for travel itself.