Location: Amsterdam, The Netherlands
I darted through the crowds as quickly as possible, a difficult task when dodging people and puddles with a suitcase on a cobblestone street. I’d just stepped off the train after a flight from Geneva to Amsterdam and was now tasked with finding my hostel amongst the crowded streets. Wiping the raindrops from the screen of my iPhone, I took a left down an alley in hopes of finding a shortcut. A couple wrong turns and one soaking pair of shoes later I stepped inside and threw my bag onto one of the top bunks of a community room.
It was late evening, I had an early flight in the morning and a decision to make: stay in or go out. Most all but the unsavory businesses were closed or closing as the night grew older. But I had never been walked through the streets of Amsterdam at night. That and I was hungry for more than the package of crumbling stroopwafels tucked in the bottom of my bag.
With my soggy shoes laced back up, I set out across town for a Tibetan restaurant where I could eat and make an evening plan. In the dim yellow light of the restaurant, I sat by the window people watching while checking my list of places to see. They would all be closed by this time, but if I didn’t see them now then I would have to wait until the next time I found myself in Amsterdam.
Back outside, the rain had slowed. I spent hours walking to the places on my list as the streets emptied themselves of the hurry of humanity. Some of the streets I walked down simply because there was nobody else there, my only intention being to find somewhere new and quiet. After the planes, trains and time changes of the past week, it was cleansing to just walk. No music, no required conversation, nowhere to be.
Traveling affords you an opportunity to explore new places and settings, especially when you are all alone. But traveling doesn’t have a monopoly on this opportunity. Thinking back on wandering through Amsterdam, I have to ask myself why that night was a rare occasion. Rarely, if ever, at home, on a rainy night, alone, would I go wander new streets. There are many places in my own town that I’ve never been to. Even more when you add the locations that I’ve never been to without the bustle of people. But instead of going out with no intention but to discover, I stay in.
The little lessons we can learn from traveling across the world often translate in some form to truths we can use at home. Going out to discover is as much about understanding others as it is about understanding yourself. No matter where you are this week, consider something you can discover, perhaps for the first time or for the first time in a long time.