Why I Talk to Strangers: A Reflection on Costa Rica

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There are certain disadvantages that come with traveling that, for the sake of our peace of mind, we tend to omit. The disadvantages stem further than  the nineteen hour plane ride that we will complain about or the ludicrously heavy bags we have managed to pack. While those might be inconvenient they are not the concerns of the frequent traveller, the nomad or the third-culture kid.IMG_4301 You see, we are the people who have made a practice of weighing in at a decimal point under the limit, being jet-lagged, and trying to get bumped to first class. We are the difference between the person who plays tennis once in a while and the professional athlete. We’re the ones who they claim have ‘grown’ or are ‘so mature,’ who have ‘learned so much from their travels,’  and have ‘had the experiences of a lifetime.’ And whether we agree with those statements or not, they come at a price. It’s the price of uncertainty. Of confusion. Of exhaustion and excitement, sleep-deprivation and lethargy. They come at the price of roots and familiarity.

IMG_4397There’s a reason why our people secretly love plane rides. We do, you know. Deep down, under all the complaints we spew in order for you to stop gushing about how lucky we are, we take joy in the drop of our stomachs and the hum of the engine as that plane takes off. I don’t know how else to explain it other than this; it’s nineteen hours of our lives during which we cannot possibly be expected to do anything productive. It’s nineteen hours of movie marathons, uncomfortable sleep, sky-mall browsing, reading or (if you’re one of the people who clicks on music when we click on ‘TV shows’) music listening. It’s down time when we’re 45,000 feet up. IMG_4439 And that’s beautiful because it’s that little bit of freedom to do as we please without the fear of being called  a procrastinator. Because, as far as the rest of the world and the hobby-travellers are concerned we are undergoing some hugely taxing, unpleasant experience. Which is not to say that we always aren’t because, let’s be honest, no one wants to spend an hour arguing with a United ticket-counter lady. Because that just sucks. But the moment the seatbelt sign goes off and we are allowed to take out the devices we pretended we turned off, we are in some weird sort of bliss. And that’s all because for these nineteen hours we can procrastinate without procrastinating. It is our break from our incredibly fast-paced, demanding lives.

IMG_4447You might think that I am exaggerating when I mentioned a lack of roots earlier. I’m not. But I didn’t mention the increased loneliness that comes with racking up frequent flier miles. When you live at home with your family you share those same experiences. You, like your family have lived in that town, and the town you lived in before that. You have similar life stories. But when you start to move? That’s when things start to change. It becomes harder to find someone who used to live in your town, your country even, harder to find someone with a similar life story. That’s not always bad, mind you, it just becomes all the more necessary for you to stand on your own, an individual, one of a kind. And that’s lonely. And confusing, for that matter. I don’t like being confused. Being confused is a similar feeling to being weak, and no one wants to read a weak life story, even if it is the only one like it. And that in itself can be confusing.

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The disadvantages, with their tiny swords, sometimes overpower the advantages in my mind. A question used to circle in the maximum security vaults of that place (my mind, I mean). A question so completely forbidden that just my thinking it made me guilty of a crime. You see, as a wanderer and a student at a traveling school, I am not supposed to question these things. I am supposed to agree, in my heart of hearts with all of the praises that are sung of traveling. If I don’t than my collection of boarding pass stubs, my overstuffed iPhoto library (yes, I still use iPhoto- deal with it #lindsay don’t hate me), and significantly emptier bank account could all be recorded as ‘wastes.’ It’s taboo I am not supposed to question whether or not I like traveling, when the fact that I am doing it is so revolutionary or whatever. But I do. Or at least I used to anyways.

IMG_4556And then I went to Costa Rica, a country full to bursting with ‘real.’ One word to describe it? Genuine. The landscape is genuine, the experiences were genuine and, most importantly, the people there were genuine, as well. To the embarrassment or amusement of my friends I have always been a person who enjoys making jokes to strangers. You know the moment when the waiter asks if we want to pay? I’m the one who says, “Not really, but I’m guessing I have to.” Or the point when it comes to showing the immigration officer my passport? I tell them what a terrible photo it is (but really, it is. I was sick and tired when it was taken and it sure shows). Providing they have a sense of humor,it makes them smile which makes me ecstatic in return.

IMG_4547It’s this quality that helped me realize what exactly I like most about traveling. I figured it out towards the end of the trip as I looked back at all the experiences I had had while in Costa Rica. With my host family, I enjoyed laughing about the time I mixed up the salt and the sugar when I tried to make mango and sticky rice for them more than anything. While investigating primate behavior at a biological field station, I found myself enjoying playing soccer with the people there. On the rafting trip, I loved laughing as the guides stole the guacamole I made. At the hippy commune we stayed at, I enjoyed a talk I had with our P.E teacher and an interview I conducted with an American girl the most. I liked chatting with the captain and the skipper in Spanish as we boated back from a marine research base and hanging out with Galek in the town we went to in Monteverde. At UGA I loved the venting/laughing/wheezing session Alexis and I held at the volleyball court, and listening as Kiana and Natalie bounced ideas for their presentation off of me. I cherish the time Alexis and I made Samaya push us on the luggage cart at the hotel pretending we were Zack andIMG_4273 Cody and I enjoyed talking to the guy next to me on the airplane. I like traveling. I like seeing new places and experiencing new things, but what I really love from those experiences is getting to know the people from those places personally and not just as tour guides and peers but as friends, acquaintances and guacamole-thieves. So do I like traveling? Yes, but my favorite part of going somewhere are the opportunities I get to talk to the strangers I meet along the way. Don’t worry, I’ll stay clear of anyone offering me candy from a creepy white van, but I can’t promise to stop making cheesy jokes to the waiter if he asks me if I’d like to pay.

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