17 June 2013

From Seeing to Experiencing

When I was in Bulgaria last April, I couldn't help but notice that my travel priorities have slowly changed. It used to be the case that I always would try to maximize my visit, packing in plenty of things to do during the time I have while I was there. Now, I noticed that I am slowly moving away from that model. Maybe I am getting old? Maybe I feel like I am slowing down? I have no idea.

I remember when I was in Mexico City for a week. I made a very elaborate itinerary for every day. It was quite elaborate that I even listed what time (yes, not just what day) I would be in a sight, in a location, and how many hours I would be spending there. It was like I planned for someone's trip, where someone would just show up and not worry at all about the itinerary, because someone else has planned it for them.

Of course, that had benefits. I always liked the trips I did that way, because I definitely couldn't complete all the items in the itinerary, and so I would leave the place thinking that there were so many things to see, and the days I alloted for the visit were not enough. That's how I felt about Mexico City. There were so many neighborhoods to explore, but I didn't have enough time to explore them all. Naturally, this feeling only resulted in me having a very favorable experience, thinking that I should plan a visit to Mexico City in a few years.

However, this model hasn't been adapted in quite a while. When I went to Guatemala, I didn't have an itinerary, and the hotel booking I did was for the first night, after arriving by way of a late flight. Everything after that was spontaneously decided. And when you don't have a plan, there's more chances to be flexible and in doing so, there are more chances one might meet other people, whether it's locals or other travelers.

I remember spending the last night I had in Honduras before crossing back into Guatemala in 2012 with several other travelers from all over the world, talking in Spanish since that's the only language that was common to all of us. Of course, there was vodka and soda as well. And when I was in Bulgaria, I remember conversing with several other travelers, knowing their stories, talking about our lives, why were in Sofia, and so on. I met students from Istanbul who were currently on vacation. I met a Japanese diabetic who has been traveling for a month by then, and will be on the road until September. And finally, when I was mailing my postcards, I met a middle-aged Japanese couple, by pure coincidence. I heard that they needed 1 BGN more to buy stamps, and their conversation with the bureaucratic post office clerk were on the verge of breakdown, so I just offered them 1 BGN to save the day. I did it in Japanese, and that small encounter ended up becoming a conversation that lasted the whole morning, as we walked outside the post office, after mailing our postcards, where we slowly stumbled upon a Viennese cafe in central Sofia.

I got to practice my Japanese again, which was becoming rusty. Hiroshi and his wife were both from Tokyo, and they have a son the same age as I am. Hiroshi's story was quite interesting, because when I asked why they were vacationing in Sofia, he told me that they were there because they made a friend back in the 1970s, when they were still in college. This friend was a foreign student from Bulgaria who went to school in Japan. And they have kept in touch.

I guess that's the reason why I try my best to keep in touch with the people I meet. And with the Internet and all that, it's not that hard. All it takes is the mutual responsibility of keeping in touch.

Needless to say, Hiroshi and I exchanged each other's contact information. I was told I have a place to stay in Tokyo in case I come and visit. I am not a big believer in destiny; we don't meet people because it was meant to be. However, I do believe in the butterfly effect; one chance meeting may perhaps have a strong impact on another aspect of our lives later on. And this aspect of travel, is more an experience, than just a simple sight that one has visited.

I spent 3 nights in Sofia. I only got 5 photo albums. I never visited any museums. Yet I still feel like I've experienced a lot of the city while I was there.


  1. I have never been a planner when it comes to traveling. I want to experience but I go with the flow. Sure, there are always a few "must see" or "must do" on my list but they are general guidelines.

    1. Zhu,

      I guess I am a planner, still is, it's just I am slowly learning to enjoy travel that has less planning than the ones that do. After all, sometimes, it does pay to plan, and saves time and money every now and then.