She’s Got the Beat

27 May

Megan in front of the Lotus Temple, a Baha'i house of worship, near New Delhi.

Today I sought out the advice of my favorite travel expert, my good friend Megan. Now she may not see herself as a travel expert but that doesn’t matter, because I do. It’s not just the number of places she’s gone to but the way she’s treated her travel as a way to experience other cultures. So instead of just quietly sitting in the back of a car she’s going to speak Spanish to her Indian driver to bewilder him. It’s this spirit of play that allows her to bring home more than trinkets. It’s really inspiring.  She seems to make friends everywhere she goes.

I started off by asking her about some practicalities. As she’s been on exponentially more planes, I asked if she had tips for long flights. She told me it’s good to bring a nice pair of thick socks to change into instead of wearing shoes on the flight. Your feet expand due to cabin pressure and the socks are far more comfortable. She also mentioned that bringing a pashmina worked really well for chilly cabins and was easy to pack. Then there’s drinking water. Megan recommends bringing your own and getting more from the galley, if you need it. People on long flights can get dehydrated (they turn into Shrinky Dinks, apparently). This doesn’t help with jet lag, she says.

Then I asked her if she would tell me about stuff she packs that make her trips better. Again, she listed socks. Her suggestion was to bring soft, comfy ones to wear after a tough day. “Since long trips often mean sink laundry and crispy socks. They are a silly go to”. Fantastic! Megan also says that if she has a room that she likes to get a candle. “I’ve never met a good smelling hotel room. Often, later the smell of that candle is the smell that brings me back to that place. For example, the smell of nutmeg is always tied to Jamaica, lemongrass to India, etc.” Not only is the candle idea delightful but look at the places she’s been! I also know that she’s gone to Spain, Costa Rica, the UK, Argentina, Germany and Canada. And that’s just the ones that I know how to spell.

When I wondered what country had impressed her most she told me that without a doubt it was India. Her description shows how wise she is about the world without missing out on the magic, “India is fascinating. India is an assault on every bit of your sensory organs. It hosts the most extreme of everything. The most beautiful, the most ugly… the richest and the poorest… all crammed together”. So for Megan it isn’t about enjoying a place in spite of its darker sides but embracing them as part of the country. She also told me that she hasn’t been disappointed by a place. That a lot of our experiences of places say more about us personally, where we are emotionally at that time and how ready we are to allow ourselves to experience it. See why I wanted to talk shop with her?

She’s planning a trip to China next year as part of her post graduate work. So what does she look forward to most in her visit to Asia? I’ll give you a hint, it’s not pasta. She’s looking for an insight into Chinese business. “I wonder, is it just success on the backs of the lower workers or is it some great strategy? How does this history play into the breed of success and predict the outcome of the economic climb?” Here she helped me learn about China’s increasing presence in Africa where Chinese companies are investing in infrastructure in return for mining rights. “What happens to the trade balance when purchase power increases in China? The environment? Is this why the Chinese are so interested in Africa?”

Those are questions I wouldn’t know how to answer but I love discussing the question. Megan’s passion has been studying different languages and cultures. It’s her hobby like my hobby is reading books about dead people. She has an ear for language and an eye for subtleties that set cultures apart. She feels it’s important to observe. We discussed the stereotypical ugly American traveler who does not blend in. “I think it’s great to be an American but you don’t need a megaphone to announce to every passing person”. This is one of the biggest complaints I’ve seen about American tourists worldwide. We comment on how something is not the same as in America instead of appreciating it for what it is. Sometimes we do this loudly. It’s not enough to visit somewhere and see things, you have to take them in. Allow them to change you. That’s part of what I’ve learned from Megan. I’d have to write about ten more pages to describe the rest.

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