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2014 June — The Meaningful Traveler

June 2014

It just takes one

by Steve Brock on June 27, 2014

Grand Bazaar EntranceMy Uber driver and I start to chat. He’s driving me to the airport in Southern California last week and it doesn’t take long until we land on a topic of mutual passion: travel.

He’s retired and now drives part-time for Uber (a taxi-like service where drivers use their own cars and your rates are all determined ahead of time) to support his travel addiction. His travel mode of choice: cruises.

We discuss the pros and cons of cruising and in particular, the dilemma of food: you have a menagerie of delicacies available to you 24/7 on the ship, so why bother eating on shore? There’s one good reason: You’ll never gain a taste of the authentic food of the region on your floating hotel.

And so he tells me about his stop in Istanbul, one place where he definitely wanted to partake in the local cuisine.

Grand Bazaar MarketHe was visiting the Grand Bazaar with his wife and friends. They were having a very pleasant conversation with one of the ubiquitous purveyors there of rugs, lamps and interesting clothing options (the photos you see here are from my time at the Grand Bazaar a few years back including the outfits shown below). This particular rug seller had been extremely friendly and helpful, so my driver asked him about good options for lunch.

Belly Dancing OutfitsThe merchant said he knew just the place and personally walked them to a restaurant around the corner and spoke to the owner who seated the group of four enthusiastically. The women in the party opted to wait for food on the ship, so the two men ordered, asking their hostess to select “typical Turkish cuisine” for them. Soon, she brought out a series of appetizers and finally the main course.

Grand Bazaar Lamps

My driver described how it was all tasty, but then they got the bill: for just two of them at lunch at a casual restaurant, the total came to over $150. He and his friends were outraged. They quickly realized they had been scammed, but at that point, they realized also there was not much they could do about it without causing even more of a scene.

They returned to the ship poorer yet wiser. But worst of all, they left with a bad taste in their mouths: a negative impression of the whole place caused by one unethical restaurant owner (or perhaps two if you figure the rug merchant was likely involved as well).

My driver stated that he cannot blame all the people of Turkey for one bad experience. And yet, just one encounter like that can’t help but influence you and affect your perceptions of a place. I work in branding and marketing and thus, though we may not like it, I know from experience how much perception is our reality.

That was an unfortunate situation for my driver, but it made me realize something else. It just takes one bad encounter to tarnish our view of an entire country or culture. But do we ever think about that in reverse? Meaning, did you ever realize you may be the only American (or whatever your nationality) that a person in another country meets?

We think of the people we encounter on a trip as windows into their culture. And they are. But it’s a two-way window.

That adds both great responsibility and a great opportunity to us and our trips. What kind of impression will we make? What kind of memory will we leave, about us and about our country? We may not feel as if we represent all Americans but someone overseas doesn’t necessarily know that. To them, we are America.

 It doesn’t take hundreds or thousands of Americans to make an impression on someone overseas.

It just takes one.


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Go ahead, dream

by Steve Brock on June 19, 2014

Rothenburg StreetsThe photo above is a familiar scene to anyone who has been to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, the most popular of medieval towns along Germany’s famed Romantic Road. My guess is that if you look up the city name in Google Images, you’ll see more shots of this one Y shaped intersection than of any other scene from the picturesque city.

I like the shot (which I augmented with textures to give a bit more of the feel of the place) , but in part due to its popularity, it is far from my favorite of the many photos I took of the town. I have others like these below that I prefer because they bring me back to the exact time and place. All the associations, even of light and temperature flood back when I see these photos because now, they are highly personal.

Rothenburg Fountain

Rothenburg Gate

Rothenburg Sunrise

Yet the location captured by so many others still has a special meaning for me because that was the image that was imprinted in my mind before we visited the town. It was, in short, the image of my dreams.

If you’ve read The Meaningful Traveler for any time, you’ve likely detected the ongoing advice to “live in the present.” On a trip, the present is the trip, the real-time experience you have there. Be present to it with all your senses, and you’ll derive greater joy and satisfaction from your trip.

But before the trip? That is the time of dreaming, of looking to the future with longing. I once read of a woman who’d never left the state in which she was born. Late in life, her adult children decided to take her on a cruise to the Caribbean. They booked the trip a year in advance and over that year, the son noted a profound change in his elderly mother. For the first time in years, she had something to look forward to.

When I read that story, I must confess, I thought it sad that something like a trip was all the woman had to look forward to. But as I get older (and more aware of grace in all aspects of life), I see her anticipation of the trip not as sad, but as beautiful.

I have long recognized that anticipation before and reflection after a trip can be the most meaningful aspects of the journey. But now, as my own family has undergone a very difficult year and my wife and I plan out a trip for next year, I’m reminded of how powerful that anticipation of a trip can be.

We now are entering summer when many of you too will be traveling or looking forward to traveling. As you plan your trips, you’ll find iconic images like the popular one of Rothenburg that will define the place for you in your imagination. Once you get there, you’ll likely notice that the image is close, but not exactly like the reality before you. And that’s fine because the image has served its purpose. It gave you something tangible to hold onto as you think about your trip. Anticipate what you’ll discover. Imagine the wonders you’ll encounter.

So go ahead, enjoy your trip now, before you even finish packing your bags. Enjoy the anticipation. Let it be something you look forward to. Let it forever be a special part of that special trip.


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Lightening your load

by Steve Brock on June 5, 2014

My new old backpackI wrote last time that no matter what the trip, I always use my old trusty roller bag as my carry-on luggage.

I lied.

Actually, it’s been true until my last two trips, one a few weeks ago and the other last week. Both were simple overnighters, 24 hours or less in duration. On these, I tried something new.

Well, something old: my son’s discarded school backpack. But it was new to me. Here’s what I discovered in using it instead of my roller bag:

  • I took me longer to pack less. Everything before was already in my roller bag. Now, I had to go through each item in both my roller bag and laptop case (since I was consolidating both into the backpack) and determine if it was necessary.
  • It caused me more anxiety at first wondering if I’d forgotten something. These were the two downsides. Now for the positives.
  • I didn’t have to get to the airport as early to make sure I boarded with the elite frequent flier section to assure overhead space for my roller bag. My backpack fit under the seat.
  • I could make it through the airport much faster since, a) I wasn’t hauling a heavy load behind me, and b) I could use stairs and walk up escalators, not easy feats with a laptop case stacked on a roller bag.
  • I just felt different. Freer. I could carry the pack on one shoulder when boarding or zip across the whole of O’Hare wearing it with both straps. It not only generated a fun association with backpacking, but the more upright change in posture induced a different rhythm and added a lightness to my step which made my dash across terminals downright enjoyable. That’s like my wife informing me she had really friendly and quick service at the DMV. Who’d have thought?

I’ve put off using a backpack rather than my laptop case for fear it wouldn’t appear as “professional” to clients. And while my son’s old backpack may not scream out “You can trust me. I know what I’m doing” (the torn zipper may be the giveaway), I see enough business people with backpacks now both in airports and conference rooms to know that backpacks have become mainstream business attire.

So from now on, I’ll be upgrading the backpack to something a bit sleeker and using it on other short trips because my experiment on these two trips has revealed something unexpected: A small shift (literally and figuratively) in luggage can change how you feel about your trip.

I’m sure the novelty will end soon, even with a new backpack. But I encourage you to try and go as small and light as you can on your next trip. See what happens. You too may be surprised and find what I did:

How you pack affects how you travel.

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