5 Reasons You Should Explore LESS While Traveling Abroad
Home is where embraces last a little too long. And, as my shirt mingles with the sweaty remains of Daniel Gasangwa’s* hug, I feel it. This has become home.
Today is my final day in Rwanda and I’m writing from a place called the Klab. For reference, the Klab is an innovation center here in Kigali, Rwanda. It provides an open space for tech-entrepreneurs to collaborate and work on IT related products. It is free, wifi-intensive, and over the past eight weeks has become my home-away-from-home.
And even though today is my final day here, it hasn’t been too different from others. I arrived early, butchered a couple of handshakes with friends, and exchanged an English-Kinyarwanda lesson with Fais - the barista. (She taught me “to be happy”, I taught her “Kerfuffle”)
No, today hasn’t been too different from any other; but because it is the last, I’ve started to reminisce on how this total-nerd center became my Rwandan abode.
I started going to the Klab out of necessity. I needed a place to program, to write in my blog , and to respond to the increasingly frantic facebook statuses from my mom. The Klab was close, free, and beautiful. And the more I went, the more I saw the same people. I made friends, found a favorite chair, and even began low-level Kinyarwanda banter with the guards. (“Good afternoon" “good afternoon to YOU” (I leave.))
By about the third week in Rwanda, however, I realized that there were a number of other really nice Wifi places near my house (A cafe, library, etc.)
Which led to a new dilemma: should I explore those other places? Or should I continue going to the Klab?
Now, I think that travel buff inside me would argue that we should always explore new places - I mean, why else travel but to explore? And yet this time I consciously decided not to. Instead of trying new places, I would stick with one that I liked and see it through till my final day.
Today is that day and as I overhear Fais murmuring “Kerfuffle” to herself, I realize I feel something here that I’ve never felt while traveling - real belonging.
And I think the base reason is that I made myself explore less. In the time when I could have seen other places, I instead came back to the Klab. In doing so, I made friends and a small home.
So, this list is for the traveler; for someone who wants to live somewhere new, but who is more interested becoming a part of that place than in checking off “sites I've been”. And, to be honest, this list is for myself: to remember that “discovery” involves quite a bit more than simply “seeing a new place”.
Finding Home: Five Reasons You Should Explore Less While Traveling.
1. Homes are created not found
A large part of traveling is searching for places that we connect with. However, as much as we need to find the “right" environment, we also need to put time into it. A sense of belonging comes from knowing others and being known. Some of this is finding the right place and people. But, as with all friendships, simply being a presence helps people grow closer. (Check out the mere exposure effect in “How I met your mother” ).Places you like can be found anywhere; homes are created where you invest your time.
2. You get to explore people not places
Many of us travel to explore something new. However, as much as exploring is about different locations, it’s also about meeting/learning about different people. In order to do this in a non-superficial way, you have to have more than one conversation with the same person. When traveling, we often meet people briefly and then never see them again. A way to combat this is to become a regular (if only for a brief time) at a place you enjoy. This may mean going back to the same cafe, fruit shop, etc. By exploring different locations less you can explore who the people are more.
3. You develop Friendships
When I travel, I rarely think about making friends as a purpose. But, adventures are always better when you share them with someone else. The more you become a presence at a single place, the more you grow close to the people there (http://www.lawsofattraction.com/psychology/proximity/) . For me, at the Klab, this meant that I met entrepreneurs who were starting new products, high schoolers who asked for my advice, and a number of mentors who helped me design a web application. I’ve been blessed this summer with great friendships with Rwandans - and the reason for that is the community I found/created with the Klab.
4. You find more authentic experiences
Friends want to share their life with other friends. And so, the closer you get to locals while traveling, the more likely they are to want to bring you to a traditional part of their life. After six weeks in the Klab, a close friend of mine invited me to come to his friends house to celebrate Ramadan. The house that we arrived at was on an un-paved, single-file dirt hill where the friend's mother and sisters prepared a Ramadan feast. If I had spent time exploring other wifi-locations, I may have tried different cappucinos or different views, but I would have missed the adventures my Klab friends gave me. This is a trade-off. But, I believe it is one well worth making.
5. You become doted upon
I want to say this is a joke, but it’s really not. If you want to find that mother-like figure (whether it be from a barista or fruit vendor) you simply have to be loyal. This is true anywhere in life - but it is especially true in a country where you stand-out. (Think jewish boy in central america) I’m not going to say you’ll get endless free things, but you will probably find a parent-like figure who cares about you being safe, happy, and well-fed. .
Ultimately this list comes down to one thing - making traveling about people and not about places. And does that mean you have to sacrifice some of the check-list aspects of traveling? Probably yes - you will go to fewer places, touch fewer countries, and have fewer unique photos to show. But, as I look around the Klab today - I realize that’s okay.
For if I ever feel sad about the tourist attractions I didn’t see, the foods I didn’t try, or the museums I missed out on, I can always turn to my left and say
“Hey. Who needs a damp hug?”
*Names of sweaty huggers have been changed/protected.