I’m not much of a temple type of gal. Sure, there’s plenty of beauty in the decorative roofs, sculptures that aim to ward off evil spirits, and they tiny corridors scented with centuries of burnt incense in Asia’s finest temples. But to be completely honest, once I’ve seen one temple, I’ve seen them all.
When I was little, we would take family trips all over the world. I remember getting dragged around to the Smithsonian Museums in D.C., the Chang Kai Shek Memorial in Taipei, the Vienna Boys Choir in Austria, the Brandenberg Gate in Berlin, and the weird little Danish Shoppes in Solvang, California. Am I really complaining about doing all these amazing things? Of course.
My sister and I posing for our parents in front of a museum or memorial
Taipei, Taiwan, summer of.…1992?
I complain now, only because I can finally admit my parents were right. They, like they always have, knew what was best for me. Yes, I have finally come to appreciate all those family trips that interfered with my childhood summers at the community pool and with the “coolness” of my teenage years (or, so I’d like to think). Not only was I able to see some of the world and
conquer decrease my fear no longer be mortally afraid of flying, but I began developing my appetite for travel on these family vacations. I heard different languages, experienced different cultures, and tasted different foods.
I learned how to go to bed at an early hour and wake up at the break of dawn, ready for a full day of activity. I learned how to sit in a car for 14 hours at a time, though I was never able to make my bladder do the same. I learned to prep a binder full of itineraries, maps, reservation confirmations, and emergency contact numbers (thanks, Dad). I learned how to make my hotel room bed and clean up before housekeeping arrived- something that though I think is completely crazy, I still do today (thanks, Mom). I learned that sometimes, people who love each other tremendously fight fiercely.
I know some friends who, like my parents, have these regimented styles of travel. They book trips far in advance and plan out every hour of their days. Other friends are all adventure, all the time. They scale mountains and cliffs and tackle rough oceans in kayaks. Then there are the fancier of our friends who like to stay at fancy resorts equipped with fancy infinity pools and fancy outdoor showers, those who lounge on white sand beaches and come home beautifully bronzed, not a sunburnt spot on their evenly tanned skins. Some friends have checklists they like to accomplish when they travel, while others have just one vow: to finish a book or two.
Since I’ve ventured out on my own, my travel styles have significantly relaxed from the jam-packed travel schedules from my youth. Admittedly, sometimes I feel guilty about this. I feel that I should be seeing more and doing more and getting up earlier. You know, seeing more temples and stuff. But in the least two years, with each trip that I’ve taken, I’ve come to realize that my own style of travel works to accomplish an important thing, and that’s to re-affirm a lifestyle filled with happy moments and simple pleasures.
When the DiploMan and I travel, we visit maybe one or two of the tourist sights, and spend the rest of our time seeing the city and experiencing the simple pleasures in life. Meaning, we walk around, exploring dark alleyways and popping into intriguing antique stores. We stop for a drink at a respectable-looking bar or a shanty local tea house. We eat snacks when we’re hungry and skip meals when we’re not. We rent cars or mopeds or bikes and speed around rice paddies and country backroads. We get lost- a lot. And given the location, we preferably squeeze in a snorkeling trip. We talk a lot about our hopes and ideas, about dreams of learning to sail, living in Africa, and turning writing into a career (one is his, one is mine, and one is ours- I’ll let you guess which is whose).
Many couples I know have similar travel styles- and the DiploMan and I are one of those couples. I’m lucky to have found a partner who I can see and eat and experience wonderful things with. After all, the couple that travels together stays together.
But there is one thing that I love to do that, though the DiploMan dutifully will tag along, isn’t on his travel radar. That one thing is to seek out a local market. Ideally, it’s an outdoor market, and ideally it will sell prepared foods as well as fresh produce and fruits. But really, I’m not too picky. Give me the supermarket; the equivalent of that country’s Safeway store, and I’d be happy combing through the baking aisle and seeing what intriguing potato chip flavors are stocked on the shelves. Or it could be the local corner store, where I can see what type of cheap instant coffee the locals like. The little fruit stand works for me too- this way, I can get a fresh juice while I take in the sweet smells of seasonal melons and lychees. Frankly, anywhere where the purveyance of fruits, vegetables, dried and canned goods, and weird local products are sold, those places are as good as gold. To me, this is where I experience my travel rush.
Recently on Cup of Jo I read about the idea of couples spending a day apart during travels, doing their own thing. I loved this idea. And while the timing and our similar interests won’t always allow us to do so, it worked out perfectly one morning in Phuket. On our last morning in town, the DiploMan slept in and caught up on some of his newspapers, while I set out to get a pedicure and visit the local market that I had been eyeing for some time.
The market was amazing. The Thai people have such an interesting array of fresh produce and chilis and curries. After being in China for so long, it was refreshing to see the produce of another country. There were stacks of limes- a rarity in China. There were more varieties of eggplants than I’ve ever seen before in my life, little round knobs of eggplant next to eggplants the size and shape of my fingers. Strings of flowers and sheets of banana leaf were being sold in the aisles, and crates of fresh shellfish- clams and shrimps- were being stacked on iced palettes.
The Thai like to use small air-filled plastic bags, tied with tiny rubber bands, to package much of their produce that had already been portioned out. I can’t say exactly why, but I was enamored with this.
I loved my morning at the market, and was thrilled to be able to take some time on vacation to do something I was genuinely happy to do. After all, that’s what travelling is all about, isn’t it? Ultimately, it’s not how many things you saw or being able to boast about how many places you’ve been. It’s about being able to satisfy the simplest of pleasures, see something enjoyable, and truly experiencing happiness within.
What is your travel style? Have you found YOUR travel nirvana yet?