I write today on February 22, 2017, the official “monthiversary” of my arrival in Budapest. Having personally rode the emotional rollercoaster that is the forced separation from home, I can honestly say I have become a more confident traveler. This equates to having a sense of familiarity almost everywhere I go and have gone. If you have been following along with my blog you already know that my travels abroad have taken me to three vastly different cities; Budapest, Bratislava, and Amsterdam. Each city with its unique culture, identity, and what I call a “traveler’s learning curve”. The aforementioned learning curve can be defined as the amount of time it takes one to familiarize themselves with the city to a point where they are comfortable traveling through the city. Usually this learning curve is directly correlated with the size of the city, thus making Amsterdam the most challenging task yet. To add a layer of difficulty I managed to book my flight a day earlier than I was originally supposed to, this meant that I would need to book an extra night as well as be on my own for the majority of my first day in the city.
In the face of this adversity I was forced into the role of a “carefree drifter”, as feeling that was comforting in that it was simply easier to roll with the punches. As the day dragged on without any particular goals in mind I quickly became frustrated that I wasn’t really getting anything accomplished. It took me nearly three hours to realize the paper map I had purchased simply was not cutting it as I walked in a circle for the fourth time. It was at this moment I decided to download an offline map to my phone, and this gave me a new confidence to roam much more freely and with more direction. It was this time with the offline map which instantly provided my location, that I was able to gain a better understanding of the city. I was able to finally take my head out of the map and become an active observer. I felt myself moving towards the ‘mindful traveler’ category where I could observe the traditions of those that were around and the general atmosphere and culture. Amsterdam being one the most accepting places in the world it was absolutely fascinating to observe and watch the interactions between people. I quickly recognized that the places that I had been wandering were intentionally designed to capture the attention of tourists and decided to break out and find new areas to explore. I was pleasantly surprised to find beautiful neighborhoods with buildings that seemed to more accurately capture the feeling of the entire city. I was absolutely amazed with the way the city had found a way to co-exist with people being from all walks of life from entirely different cultures and value-sets. It seemed so simple, the created districts based on interests. Of course there is the infamous Red-Light district, which I would coin the Sin-District, where everything that is essentially considered “unacceptable” by most culture’s standards existed peacefully. The success behind this was in the fact that it was isolated to one portion of the city, and those that were not interested could very easily avoid the area and be entirely unaffected by it. Subsequently the further you got away from the train-station that dropped off the tourists, the less touristy the city got. Immediately after the red-light district there were museum districts, art districts, music districts, and many more. The cohabitation of these vastly different cultures was truly inspiring and idea that I hope will radiate around the world with time as we become more globalized. To the right I have placed a picture I took of a painting by Banksy, a social commentating street artist. This particular painting I have interpreted to represent the fact that strings that have held our mentality in place and have become the norms should be challenged. This is the sensation that Amsterdam provided to me and thus why this particular picture is representative of my travel there.
Now in the beginning I mentioned the cities that I have visited so far throughout my journey abroad, describing how each of them had “learning curve”. This learning curve largely depends on the complexity and size of the city, but also on the individual. When I first arrived I felt as though I had no idea how to navigate while I was living in a city. Instantly I was overwhelmed by not only just the proximity of other people but even the proximity of the buildings. In the past I would often joke saying “Buildings need to be spread out, otherwise they give me anxiety I just need the space to be there.” While I felt as though I was joking when I said this, I did not realize how true that statement rang. But being on the official “monthiversary” I realize now that I have been able to gain a new appreciation for the proximity of everything. My solo travel to Amsterdam gave me new insight into where my travelling abilities lacked, and allowed me to develop those skills. Now I have confidence that I am no longer an amateur city navigator and that no matter what city you drop me in, and no matter what language the speak I can learn the system and be a successful traveler. I have never felt a greater self-pride overcoming this source of anxiety and turning it into something that I can draw confidence from. While I am not arguing that I am a city dweller and could be a guide for others by any stretch, but rather I have become a self-sufficient explorer. It gives me joy to be able to add “explorer” to my tag-line of personality-descriptors. Before having come here I did not think that this would be a result of my experience, and I hope to continue to gather travel related accolades. With each step down this path I develop my extrinsic world view, and my intrinsic understanding of myself. Reaching a point where I am eager to develop more and continue down this path entirely changes my outlook on not only my travels but also my life’s journey.