I already posted about the importance of enjoying the people around you, but I wanted to emphasize that more, in a bit different way. Most of the moments with incredible people—especially while traveling—all tend to be moments that at the time probably seem small, insignificant, “lag time” moments that aren’t on the “must do” list for all your travel plans. But if you think this way, then these moments will be small and insignificant. Or, worse, you’ll miss these moments entirely.
I just thought I’d share ten examples of little moments that if I had been moving too quickly, or had been too in my own little world, I would have missed. Moments that truly made these last eight weeks incredible and moments that I easily could have overlooked in my Type A quest to do everything there is to do in Europe.
- Waiter at Gigi Café
Last week, I needed to work on an essay (lol, have had to write over 15 essays since arriving here; even Duke summer classes are intense), and I decided I’d make it more fun by going to a coffee shop. I was sitting there and they had the best. Music. Ever. It was actually all American music, but new, soulful Indy stuff I hadn’t heard. I asked the barista about it, and turns out it was her personal Spotify playlist. We talked a bit, she taught me the word “playlist” in Spanish and would smile at me whenever the songs changed after that. One of the songs I loved so much that I looked it up on YouTube to listen to later. When I got home, I pulled the song up, and an ad was playing. I moved about my room, organizing things and waiting for the song to load, annoyed that I was listening to an ad about some great detergent. All of a sudden I realized that the ad I was listening to was in Spanish. And I had just listened to the entire ad without actively realizing that my brain was processing a different language. Friends!!!! These are the kinds of moments that happen when you’re gaining fluency in a language! It was so simple but so freaking exciting.
- The little boy at Pentatonix
I went to the Pentatonix concert two nights ago, and I saw the most obsessed fan (or “superfan” as they call it here) I have ever seen before. It was so moving that it actually brought me to tears. The boy, probably 12 or 13, had backstage passes, too. We were first taken to this room for a private Q and A session. He had memorized his questions in English, but every time he said one or two words, he’d burst into tears and come close to hyperventilating. When he finally got the question out, he quickly added, “I love you guys so much. You’re all so beautiful. I just love you all so much.” When he got to actually meet them, he hugged each of them for probably a minute, recited everything he knew about each of them, told them how they were his biggest role models, that today is the best day of his life. In the middle of the show, Pentatonix thought he was so dedicated that they even brought him on stage to sing with them. He kissed Scott on the cheek, and wouldn’t let them go. He knew every word to every song, and he danced like nobody was watching in the front row. Now, he might seem crazy, and he kind of was. But it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen, because I’ve never seen someone love something so passionately that he doesn’t care who’s looking, love something so deeply that it is the very foundation of who he is. The boy was with his mom, and he kept looking over at her, hugging her and saying, “thank you thank you thank you thank you.” He was so grateful for this moment and for everyone who was making it what it was. I immediately thought about how I think the only two things in my life where I could come close to being as passionate as he was are 1) the feeling when I finish a blog post where I unleashed the deepest, most vulnerable parts of my soul and know that what I wrote was me, was good, was pure; and 2) the feeling of Jesus’ presence and being so full of His love. I cried because this boy’s love was beautiful, but I think I also cried because it was a little sad to realize that I haven’t been that overcome with love like that in a while. Some of my friends I love so much that I do stupid things around them—like around my friends Connor and Vanessa where I say the dumbest things, dance around and act hyper and awkward and don’t give a damn because I am loving them with my whole soul. And I remember in middle school I loved Hillary Duff that much. I literally followed her to her hotel after her concert one time. It’s crazy, beautiful, insane that we can feel such strong emotions and that we have the capacity to love someone, or something, with so much vulnerability. It’s the best part of being human.
- Pentatonix Manager
This next moment was at the Pentatonix concert, too. When we first got to the concert, we were supposed to find this guy Nathan. I didn’t know what to expect, but I saw this objectively, extremely attractive guy carrying a box that said Pentatonix Official, so I asked him. “Are you…. Nathan by chance?” He gave me a huge smile and said, “I am! What’s up?!” He turned out to be the absolute nicest guy, and the guy in charge of all Pentatonix VIP stuff. Ironically, he used to work for the Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC), so he knew all about Duke and Durham. He made us feel like we were at home, and we got to speak English for the first time in weeks. It was such a crazy moment making a Durham connection in the middle of Spain at an a cappella concert.
- Yemas in Avila
When two friends and I were visiting the small town of Avila, we knew we had to buy the famous Yemas—this Spanish sweet that can only be bought in this small town. We walked into this store, with only like five minutes before our bus left, to buy these Yemas. My friend asked me, in English, whether I wanted to buy the large box or the small box, and I replied, “chicaaaaa, ESPANOL!” to sarcastically remind her that we should only be speaking in Spanish. She replied, “lo siento” (I’m sorry), and I jokingly said, “No pasa nada” and then “todo bien.” These are colloquial ways for saying, “it’s all good, dude,” phrases you really wouldn’t know unless you were overhearing a Spaniard in her 20’s talking to her friends. The guy at the counter overheard me say this, and absolutely cracked up laughing. He thought it was hilarious that I, with my horrible American accent, was using Spanish slang and chastising my friend for speaking English. When we paid, we asked for a bag, and he of course replied with, “sí, no pasa nada,” and kept laughing. We joked around with him as he tried to convince us that this store was the best place to buy Yemas in all of Avila, even though the boxes were literally from the same company at every store. My friends and I could have so easily popped into this store, bought our Yemas and left. Instead, however, we shared a beautiful, hilarious moment with a random cashier whose shop clearly didn’t get a lot of attention. He made our day, and we made his. And that’s pretty special.
- Cereal Hunters
I was aimlessly walking around this new metro stop I wanted to explore, looking for a café. I walked by this one, and felt air conditioning. I stopped dead in my tracks. Air conditioning?! In Spain?! In a café?! This had to be a joke. I couldn’t possibly pass up this opportunity, so I walked in. Immediately I saw a pile at least eight feet tall of hundreds of different types of cereal. And along the walls? Fifteen different types of milk, different colored and shaped bowls and spoons, and little trays. It was a café called Cereal Hunters, and you design your own bowl of cereal—with as many flavors as you want in one bowl with any of the 100 topping options and milk choices. And the best part? The decorations were all movie scenes that involved cereal. Above where I sat was a picture of Matilda, my all-time favorite book and movie. I asked my server all about the place, and turns out it first started there in Madrid, but they now have locations all across Spain and in the US. I’m now looking for an excuse to head to New York to eat some cereal… What could have been a calculated, rushed twenty minutes to grab a cup of coffee turned into a delightful afternoon filled with Reese’s Puffs and Special K (genius combination if I do say so myself), air conditioning, free wifi and a lovely conversation with my server about how New York is always the first US area to get all the cool restaurants, and same for Madrid in Spain. And how cereal will never be overrated and that next time I should really try the blue milk and how his Spotify (Or, in Spain, “Spoat – eee – fee”) playlist was the best I had heard in a while.
- MAC employee
My host mom in Spain dropped me off at the airport 4 hours before my flight to Berlin, so I had some time to kill… What better way to spend that time than to shop in all the duty free stores! (Haha… Oops…) I decided to make one more last-ditch effort to practice my Spanish, so I went to the MAC makeup store. I started asking the only employee working all about the best products and soon enough he was giving me a full-on makeover. He never once spoke English to me, and he treated me with the upmost respect. I learned the Spanish words for eyeshadow and waterproof (how the heck would I have learned that in school? Thank God for immersion). He even tried to get me to buy this lipstick called Rebel that I assured him my mom would flip about (let’s just say Rebel was an appropriate name…). I most definitely bought twice as much as I planned to buy just because I was so honored that he didn’t treat me like an English-speaking tourist. I’m a sucker for good customer service, clearly.
- Madrid Gym
I joined a gym right near my house in Madrid, and I planned to just get in and get out every day. I would use the treadmill and a few weights, mind my own business, and leave. But that wasn’t the case at all. I learned how to follow spinning classes in Spanish, joke around with the trainers about American fitness fads, and became a real family with the gym goers there. I will miss José, the 75-year-old man who never a missed a day at the gym and who loved to ask me about North Carolina beaches and mountains. I’ll miss Nemala, the super fit 50-year-old who called me “The Brit” even though I told her over and over again I was from the US (This was actually a joke, because one time I was doing the wrong move in an ab class and a random woman yelled out, “Hey! The Brit doesn’t know what she’s doing!”). Nemala would tell me that “we Americans” need to “make some changes” because it simply did not make sense that I was from the South of the United States but that my State is called NORTH Carolina. She had a point. I’ll miss my little family clapping when I’d finish running on the treadmill, or making fun of me when I couldn’t do some exercise correctly, or just genuinely smiling at me when I’d walk in every day. The Spanish fitness culture seemed unbelievably healthier than the American fitness culture. Spaniards, at least at that gym, worked out to feel healthier and happier, not to reach unattainable abs or to attempt dangerous moves. It was such a welcoming, non-competitive community, and I’m so thankful I let go of my “walk in, run, leave” mentality to experience such a beautiful environment.
- Man at the park
I visited my old Spanish professor in Salamanca, a very small city in Spain. After we had basically walked from one side of the city to the other, we sat on a park bench to relax and talk. As we were talking about our horribly cliché dreams (like to publish a romance novel, but as cliché as it is I still hope we both do one day), we saw a man, probably in his late 70s, running on the track that encircled us. The best part? He was wearing a speedo. Just a speedo. My professor started cracking up, grabbed my phone and started taking “subtle” pictures of him. It was a pretty beautiful moment as I realized that my professor was really my friend, and that if we had continued to try to accomplish everything there was to do in the city, I may never have had this hilarious bonding moment.
- Getting home from the Coldplay concert
When I visited Berlin, I had the incredible opportunity to hear my favorite band, Coldplay, with a great friend I haven’t seen in six months. I can’t put into words how amazing it was to sing my favorite songs along with 100,000 (yes, 100,00!) other people, with confetti, balloons, extraordinary lights and backdrops and videos, and amazing “seats” (we stood the whole time, though, of course). After the concert, 100,000 people had to leave out the same door and take the same three modes of transportation. Imagine that for a minute. My friend and I spent over 2 and a half hours getting home. It could have been a miserable experience, and maybe he thought it was, but I actually thoroughly enjoyed it. I thought it was hilarious to watch Berliners hop on the U with their balloons from the concert, to stop at seven gas stations before we found one where less than 100 people were lined up to buy water, to see people walking hand in hand for miles still screaming Coldplay songs, to desperately try to get a cab and to be smarter than the average Berliner only to realize we were actually just going to have to walk, too. Walking the alive streets, with the songs still stuck in my head, with my friend by my side, I felt content. Who cares that it’s 3am? What a life we have to live. Even if we try five different bills in the nearest vending machine, alongside ten other Berliners, smacking the vending machine and angrily yelling out that this machine couldn’t possibly be broken because we all need water. It was hilarious and just…. Real.
- Dancing on the road trip
Our Madrid program was taking a 6-hour bus trip to Asturias, a lovely rural part of Northern Spain. To pass the time, I started making random playlists on my phone. My closest friend from the program was sitting next to me, and I gave her my other earbud so we could make our own ridiculous playlist together. We listened to middle school rap songs and made up our own dances, cracking ourselves up and gaining quite a few incredulous stares. But we had a blast. And we were legitimately bummed to have to get off the bus. It was rewarding to think about how those were the same songs I’d listen to at awkward middle school dances, and now I could make myself awkward for my own personal enjoyment, and make friends while doing it! I can confirm that life does get better after middle school.
I could talk about so many other moments, like walking around the beautiful Prado botanical gardens with my old RA—an accomplished, thoughtful and intentional friend who is wise and mature beyond his years; meeting a smart, funny, kind guy who is related to one of my biggest mentors from home and then running into him again at the airport; having to say goodbye to the church I’ve called home these past few weeks; or gallivanting around London with my Coke scholar friend, gawking at ridiculously priced clothes and laughing over delicious food.
So many little moments. Yet these are the stories I’ll tell when people ask me about my summer. I won’t tell them about how I climbed the Eiffel tower (which, in actuality, I didn’t even climb because I want to wait to climb it with the person I love), or how I saw the Berlin wall or a Spanish aqueduct from the first century. No, I’ll tell them about the people I met who changed my world views, the unexpected kindness and beauty I encountered in this world. I’ll tell them about how travel lists are kinda pointless, because my most favorite memories aren’t from trying to find some obscure coffee shop that apparently “all the locals love.” No, my most favorite moments are trying to find that obscure coffee shop and meeting some kind Spaniard who tells us that there’s actually a way better one right next door and that we should get the carrot cake because it’s out of this world. And then eating the carrot cake with my friends as we laugh about why we bother to plan anything, anyway. Just living and letting the little moments find you is so much more exciting and memorable.
It’s easy for us Type A’ers to want to accomplish as much as possible, to see and do everything, to check off every item of the checklist. But for my next trip, I don’t have lists of museums, boutiques, restaurants or beautiful parks. Instead, I have a narrative. I have a mission statement. And that’s what I’ll carry in my pocket as I walk around, not the lists of recommendations after recommendations. I have a paragraph that describes what I want to accomplish on all my traveling, especially for when I’m abroad for the fall semester:
I want to see the world and meet incredible people. I want to experience seemingly small moments with people who understand just how big those moments actually are. I want to go to lonely coffee shops and make friends. I want to smile at the people on the streets at whom people rarely ever smile. I want to leave a bigger tip than necessary, not because I’m an inept and uncultured tourist, but because generosity is beautiful. I want to reach out to all connections I have in various cities, because I want to see the power of relationships established elsewhere that are alive and well an ocean away. I want to take public transportation and not get caught up in the privilege of being a visitor in a city. I want to share my travels with the world because stories open minds, foster connections, and help us never forget the emotions and feelings behind the stories. I want to leave a mark wherever I go in the most important way: through authentic, vulnerable, generous, loving actions towards everyone with whom I interact. That is living. And traveling shouldn’t be the word we have to use to actually live. Living is just noticing the moments and loving the people.