On Traveling And Perspective
“There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.” ― Aldous Huxley
Over this past summer, my little family and I decided to take a long road trip throughout Europe, for the most part, choosing countries we only knew very little about.
The decision to hit the open road was taken quite spontaneously and we drew up a last-minute itinerary, listing the main countries and cities we wanted to visit. Overall though, we ended up driving and stopping wherever our hearts desired. We quickly fell into a natural and comfortable rhythm, enjoying our time around our two-year-old's sleeping and eating schedules all while avoiding spending more than four or five hours in the car every two or three days. The great thing was, we mostly stayed on camping sites and had the opportunity to experience the majority of our summer outdoors, too.
We left Romania, where we currently reside. We visited Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Germany, Czechia, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and came back through the Northern parts of Romania. Aside from Austria, Germany and Hungary which we had already visited parts of, all the other countries were completely new adventures to us. We didn't know what to expect, hadn't planned any specific attractions ahead of time, and simply took it day by day, stopping wherever locals recommended us to do so or where our travel apps took us.
Well, to be honest, this trip turned out to be one of the most surprising ones I’ve ever been on. And needless to say, I've done my fair share of traveling around the globe. Of course, I always fall into a discovery trance when I travel, engulfing the world around me as I unearth new sounds, smells, flavors, cultures, and ways of life. But on this particular trip, something very unexpected greatly affected my general perspective.
Let me paint you a picture: it’s nighttime and you’re slowly driving through very thick fog, only slowly moving forward as visibility clears up just a few meters from your windshield. Blurry shapes gradually become evident, and suddenly, you’re the absolute center of a completely new viewpoint. Throughout this entire trip, that’s exactly how I felt. Only it was summer, we had great weather most of the time, and there was no fog. This is what I have come to call the effect of travelling on perspective.
Admittedly, I hadn't heard of most of the countries we were visiting since I scarcely picked up the history books in school. Sometimes I tell myself I should’ve paid more attention in class, but all the same, I like traveling to new places that I don’t necessarily know too much about and just learning, taking everything in, through my own personal lens and experiences. Despite that though, I’ll also add that I was equally afraid these new locations would be gloomy, boring or underdeveloped. I had imagined that they’d be stuck in some type of WWII setting, which was basically where these countries had sat all this time in my mind.
Alright, yes, there’s no point in beating further around the bush, I am partly European, but in my defense, I lived outside the continent most of my life. In other words, my culture and knowledge of this region of the world is rather limited. I had visited a few western European and even Eastern European countries, too. And naively I thought: well, from my small Caribbean island point-of-view, most western countries resemble one another. And the same probably went for the Eastern half too, at least in terms of infrastructure, and culturally, too.
To the contrary though, it just turned out that I had never felt so close to home (geographically), and yet so far (culturally). I was, hands down, dead wrong. And I was stunned to find myself in places where everything was so different, even though I was still in Europe. I guess my initial reaction was the result of a human's tendency to think they are the center of the world, or that at least their perspective is the only one out there. We have a tendency to see our belly buttons as the center of the world. And this type of outlook is kind of selfish and limited. This trip enlightened me about Europe and taught me that there is so much life and different ways of living outside the ones we generally know about. For example, prior to this trip, Europe, to me, rimed more with France, UK, Germany, Italy, Spain, Greece, and Romania. And that’s just because I live there now. Nevertheless, you never hear about Slovenia, or Poland, or even places like Slovakia, Czechia, Serbia or Croatia. These aren’t your top-of-the-list tourist destinations. But to the contrary of what you’d expect (or at least what I had expected) they have so much to offer. I'd even say so much more. These countries are hidden cultural gems. In truth, I even found myself feeling surprised and somewhat saddened to see how developed these places were in comparison to Romania. I assumed all Eastern European countries would be at the same level of development, with lots of communist remains. I was wrong again though and was amazed to see that these places had outgrown their history.
Honestly, we felt all-the-more intrigued and welcomed in these countries than in the big industrialized nations. We loved our experiences in these unknown places because the people weren't used to tourists and were delighted to offer us their delicious food, recommend their best attractions, and offer the most authentic places to stay. In many locations, the locals were just as curious about us as we were about them.
Communication was something else, though. I almost always find a common language in which to communicate with during my travels, but I was stunned to find a B&B receptionist looking puzzled upon discovering that we don’t speak Russian, Polish, or Czech. It was quite a hilarious scene as we tried to negotiate the English, Spanish, and French languages, but nothing did the trick, and the three of us just ended up smiling and laughing with one another. Actually, speaking of which, this type of scenario happened a lot during our trip. We were surprised but content to find ourselves in countries that have such strong cultures, so much so, that they seem to resist globalization. There’s no other way to describe it than perfection: we were immersed in entirely different worlds, which was something we hadn't expected at all. And even more importantly, having traveled to the South Pacific, I realized how little I knew of our neighboring countries in Europe.
Because I traveled so much in my life already, I sometimes catch myself wondering if there’s actually anything new that I can discover. I guess this feeling arises because I’ve seen so many extraordinary things up to now. This road trip opened my eyes and my heart on the idea that the world is truly endless. Near or far, beauty and amazement are all around us, just waiting to be explored.
Sarah The Digital GypSea
Romania, October 2019