This is the fourth part of a series of posts I am writing about the lessons we learned from taking a gap year.
No one really cares what “you do” but they do care who you are
While friends we met along the way may not have cared about what we did for our occupations, they did care to find out more about what we thought, who we cared about, and our future plans. Now, when I meet someone new I try to focus on the person and not his or her occupation.
The coolest experiences are never planned
We had finished a quiet dinner one fall evening in a small French town and were walking back to our apartment when I spotted a vintage scooter parked by the road. I took a photo after admiring it a bit. Suddenly, I heard a fellow behind me say in French-soaked English, “That photo will cost you!” I turned around to see him waving his hands and getting worked up. I was about to show him that I could just delete the photo when he broke into a laugh. Tomas invited us over to his table to share a bottle of wine with him and his girlfriend, Eleanor. He was excited that someone thought his recently renovated scooter was photo-worthy. When we got to the table and Tomas told us how he found and refurbished the scooter, Eleanor rolled her eyes at what I assumed was not his first telling of the story.
A while later we ended up moving from that restaurant to a bar across town. While my wife and Eleanor walked over to the bar, I hitched a ride on the back of Tomas’ scooter as he rocketed down medieval cobble-stoned streets the width of one small car. We all ended the night exchanging contact info to catch up sometime in the future.
That night was just one of many times where we didn’t plan on having a cool experience but did anyway. It just happened. Thinking back, this seems to be a trend and not just while we travel. I think you just have to keep your eyes open and be OK with unscheduled cool experiences.
Good follows bad
We generally had great experiences with finding our lodging using Airbnb. However, our host in Amsterdam simply forgot about us. She was working remotely halfway around the world and had forgotten to tell her local contact that we were arriving. We knew something was wrong the second we approached the apartment door and saw it was dark inside (nearly all Airbnb hosts will be waiting on you). I launched into problem-solving mode and set off looking for a phone. In the process I made friends at the corner bar as lightning struck and hail fell outside. I called the only number I had and got our host’s voicemail (in Dutch). A little while later, her local contact appeared and apologized for the mix-up. Later, after dinner, my wife and I walked by the same corner bar I had visited earlier. A quick drink turned into closing down the place with about half a dozen locals while the bartender played DJ and a regular patron kept buying us drinks. It was a fantastic night that didn’t start that way.
This wasn’t the first time we had good following the bad. It seemed to be a recurring visitor during our gap year travels. I thought it was just us until I started seeing references to this phenomenon on other travelers’ blogs. I suppose that you can either have faith that you’ll work through issues in life or just give up.
More lessons to come
While we traveled I started writing in my notebooks quite a bit. I’m now in the process of going through these notebooks to figure out what might be helpful for someone else who wants to simplify, travel long-term, and/or just pick up useful bits.
Please comment below if you have learned any lessons from your own travels or have questions about some of the things I learned. Thanks!