I like to think of myself as a pretty open minded traveler. for the most part, I value the journey over the destination. I don't have a million stamps on my passport, but I've lived abroad and traveled enough to know that the loveliest moments often pop up when you let go and just open yourself up to whatever may come your way.
A trip to London last spring gave me an even fresher perspective on the beauty travel can offer.
Last april, i journeyed through England and Italy for a few weeks with my dear friend
. I had been to London once before and, to be honest, hadn't fallen in love with it. The people seemed cold to me. This year's trip was mary's first time in the UK, and together we'd only traveled to various cities in the US. Mary is one of the friendliest people you'll ever meet, her eyes are wide with wonder, and her ability to truly connect with anyone - an old friend or a complete stranger - has always amazed me. i hadn't really taken the time to think about how this beautiful trait would shape our travels.
As i mentioned before, Londoners seemed cold to me. I was taken by the city's history, by its style, by its pride… but not by its people... not until i stepped back and saw the way Mary was interacting with them, that is.
On our first night in town we wandered into a cozy little pub in soho. we ordered pints of cider and grabbed a corner booth. before long we were chatting to the bartender. I'll admit, his friendliness caught me off guard a little bit. Before long we learned his name was Aaron, he was from Australia and was living in the UK for a year. We talked about family, about traveling, about rugby, about life.
The next morning while wandering through covent garden, we walked past a man taking out the rubbish from the cafe he worked at. A totally normal moment to just pass by without thought. But - he was singing while he carried out the trash, so naturally… Mary had to stop and talk to him. His name was Kola. He had a charisma and a warmth about him like i've rarely seen. he told us all about his home, about why he loves London, about the places we simply had to visit. His presence and his joy have stuck with me, even a year later - here is a guy who is so grateful for life that he can't help but sing while he takes out the trash. I want to live like that.
At this point i began to see that Mary was on to something. Maybe simple interactions with strangers don't have to be so simple, so short.
Later that day we grabbed espressos and I decided to follow her lead and strike up a conversation with the barista. He was a bit surprised by my asking about his day while he prepared my americano, but it soon turned into a conversation about his ideal day in London and our upcoming trip to Italy. it was a very simple conversation, nothing deep, nothing life changing. but it felt significant.
Over the course of our time in London, we had conversations with kind cab drivers, servers who dreamt of pursing their love of photography, we even bumped into our aussie bartender friend on the street. and since then i've tried to adopt this practice of mary's into all my travels - engaging strangers a step further than 'hello' - and oh what a beautiful experience it has been.
I have felt for years and years, that the way to learn about a new place was through art, music, museums, architecture, sport, history, fashion. and those things certainly are incredible ways to engage a culture. But my trip with Mary reminded me that is the people who comprise a culture, and all those things are actually just about people, about their stories, collectively and individually. So to really engage a culture, why not chat to its people? I had thought Londoners to be cold - but how much of that notion was shaped by the simple fact that I
guard down? Everyone - every single person - has a story. Yes - even the ones taking out the trash, pouring your pint, brewing your coffee- and you should ask them about their day. Ask them where they came from. Ask them what they love. Perhaps their answer will be brief and you'll never think about it again- but you never know - this simple action might just change the way you view the world.
Jill Devries is a very accomplished Photographer based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She loves Spain, and is a bit torn between moving to Barcelona and discovering new places. She is always stylish and perfectly put together. Follow here adventures