Monday, January 11, 2016

Why travel?

Why travel? What’s the point after all? What are all of us travelers searching for in these foreign destinations? Thrill? New sights? Culture shock? Excitement? Challenges? Unique food? Independence? Inspiration? Self-discovery? Adventure? New experiences? 

I follow tons of legit travel bloggers on social media. And when I mean legit, I mean that they dedicate their lives to travel; they quit their jobs and are now traveling long-term as their profession. They make money through their blogs from writing freelance articles, advertising, marketing, campaigns, etc. When reading the “about me” pages and posts of all these bloggers, no one ever really talks about why they travel, they just explain how to travel. I guess everyone just assumes that the answer is obvious? Why not?

One day, Ajay, an Indian guy staying at the same hostel as me in Kiel asked me, "Wanna go to Laboe tomorrow?"

"You should really come!", Leila, a Kenyan girl also staying at our hostel said to me. Maybe you remember Ajay and Leila from my last blog post? Well at the time they asked me to go to Laboe, I had just met Ajay that day and I had only met Leila the day before. They also had only met each other that day but both had free time and were planning a day trip to Laboe, a small beach town on the Baltic sea. Even though I didn't know them very well, they were so friendly so of course I said yes and the next morning we set off on the ferry ride to Laboe. 

Laboe is nothing special, especially not in October when the sun basically doesn't exist in northern Germany and rain falls almost everyday. But it was Leila's first time in Europe and she found everything absolutely "amazing". Literally. She kept pointing at the sea and the buildings saying, "this is just amazing!!". It was nice to see someone so excited about a place that most people consider normal or even dull.

Ajay and Leila turned out being really funny and we all pretty much clicked immediately. We had a lot of fun that day, walking on the empty beach, taking pictures, eating fish sandwiches, checking out the Naval Memorial and the WWII German submarine. Laboe is no Berlin or Frankfurt or Cologne or Hamburg; very few international tourists have even heard of Laboe much less traveled there yet I had a lot of fun that day, solely because of the people I was with. The next night they also surprised me with an early birthday present of chocolate, caramel Müsli (probably my favorite German food ever). It was so sweet of them!

I love these cute, little pod-like beach chair things all over German beaches! 

Naval Memorial commemorating sailors of all nationalities that died during the World Wars

U-boat Nazi submarine

Müsli!!!!!!!! YES

A week or so later, a few days before my birthday, I was feeling a little sad because I knew Mihai would be in school and have German language lessons afterwards until 5pm so I would be alone all day. I asked Leila if she'd like to get lunch with me and she said she was busy on the actual day of my birthday but the day before she could meet! We went to a German restaurant that Mihai's host family recommended and got smoked salmon pizza. And when the check came, Leila insisted on paying for me because I was the birthday girl. I was so surprised, I had only met her a week ago. She was so kind and thoughtful and really cheered me up.

On the actual day of my birthday I was alone in the German countryside waiting to meet Mihai after his German lessons. I couldn't help being a tad bummed. It didn't even feel like my birthday. But that night I met up with Mihai, we went back to his house and he surprised me with a strawberry cake with those sparkler candles that won't stop burning and his whole host family standing around the table singing happy birthday and a few presents. One present was a hat that I had seen at a German market, which was a little expensive. At the market I said I'd think about buying it and keep looking. Later, I went back to buy it, only to find that someone had beat me to it and bought it already. I was so mad!! Little did I know that that someone turned out to be Mihai. After eating cake with his host family, Mihai and I went out for dinner at a sushi restaurant. Definitely turned out being a perfect birthday, all thanks to my perfect boyfriend :)

Before coming to Germany, I knew I'd be alone during the day while Mihai was at school. But then he found out he had a two week fall break from school in the end of October. We were thrilled! We'd be able to spend all day everyday together for those two weeks. Then we found out that Mihai had to go to German language lessons the entire month I was there from 1pm until 5 everyday, even during his fall break. We were upset to say the least. I often got really mad because the whole reason I was going to Germany was to see Mihai. But we did our best not to let this get in the way. We often woke up early at 6 or 7am to spend the morning together before he had to go to his lessons and always met up afterwards in the evening. We definitely did our best to spend every moment together! And now that I'm in Japan I even miss the hour long sleepy bus rides at 6 am with Mihai.

Early morning in Schwedeneck

One of our early morning breakfasts in Schwedeneck before Mihai's German lesson

Like I said before in a previous post, I was forced to learn how to spend a lot of time alone out in the middle of nowhere German countryside. This alone time also made me appreciate conversation and socializing so much more. Silke, the owner of the hostel stopped by often to help clean, make jam or get some other errands done. We'd also sit and chat while sipping on tea and I got to know her a little bit. After finishing gymnasium (German high school) she spent a year au pairing in Ireland. In university, she majored in English and art. She spent a year studying abroad in Canada/backpacking around the U.S. Silke then saved up money during university and after graduating spent a year backpacking around New Zealand, Fiji and Thailand. Silke is in her 40s so she did all of this traveling in the 90s, back when there were no cell phones, much less iPhones. I asked her if it was scary, not being able to call someone if she needed help, or look up directions with a GPS if she got lost. She said no and that she liked the freedom traveling gave her. She physically couldn't text or call her parents everyday and liked the independence. She also did all of this travel alone. She said she prefers traveling alone because she could do exactly as she pleased. She loves horseback riding and hiking. Originally, she wanted to be an art teacher but after staying at so many hostels around the world, she decided that she too wanted to open up her own hostel. Silke said she's done traveling and settled down with her boyfriend and daughter in Kiel but enjoys meeting travelers that stay at her hostel, like me, because it makes her feel like she's still seeing the world. Wow. Talk about inspiring.

One day when Silke and I were making jam together I mentioned that my birthday was in a week. She asked me what my astrology sign was. I told her that I was a libra and she said she wasn't surprised. "My birthday is in October too but I knew you couldn't be a scorpio like me", she said. "Why??", I asked. She said that she could never do what I was doing; traveling the world by myself at age 19. I argued that she had done nearly the same thing!! But she said she wasn't quite as young when she traveled independently (in her mid twenties) and is not as outgoing as I am. I found this to be such a wonderful compliment from such an experienced traveler like Silke.

One Friday, Mihai's host family went to spend the night in Hamburg to visit their eldest daughter/sister. They told Mihai he should spend time with me because I'd be leaving soon and I was welcome to sleepover while they were gone. We went out that night to some bars/clubs in Kiel. The next day we were pretty tired and spent our day sleeping in, drinking tea, listening to music and just relaxing. We expected his host family to be home at around 3 or 4 in the afternoon but they never showed up. Every time we heard a noise, we thought it might be them but it never was. We felt like parents anxiously awaiting our kids arrival back home. We kept joking that we'd taken over their house and owned it now and they were never coming back. Finally, his host mom texted Mihai saying they wouldn't be home until around 8pm. We then went grocery shopping and decided to cook a big, delicious dinner as a surprise for his host family when they came home. Even though we barely left the house, I think this might've actually been one of my favorite days in Germany just because Mihai and I laughed so much!

We found this bent up spoon in Mihai's host fam's kitchen and couldn't stop laughing

So you're probably wondering why I'm telling you all of these random stories from Germany? Well, all of these moments made me realize that more often than not, the people we spend our time with are more important than where we are. Northern Germany may not have been on the top of my travel list but it turned out being an amazing month because of the people I was with. And yeah, maybe Mihai and I didn't get to spend all day, every day together but we did our best! Plus, seeing him only for a few hours everyday will always be better than not seeing him at all.

This realization brings me back to the question, why travel? Why travel if, like I just said, the destination is irrelevant compared to the people? Well, ironically, I never would have made this realization if I didn't travel. That's what traveling does, it exposes you to new challenges, new experiences, new situations, new cultures and new people, which forces you to learn lessons that you'd never learn by just staying at home. And that's why I travel. Oh yeah, and because it's fun and I like foreign food ;)

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