Many, many stories have come from the month or two I spent in Florence, because traveling abroad is so incomparable to intentional, costly, adult travel and yields countless lessons you carry with you. But the story I never tell is one that my group of four re-hashes frequently and the fact that it falls under my travel telling radar is even more a testament to the lesson that was learned. I guarantee you can relate, and I encourage you to start sharing your untold tale when you think about what it truly taught you.
Because travel abroad is organized and our program planned everything accounting for our every need, there were constant opportunities for activities included in the cost of our trip. As students at a Christian college, we never quite grasped that these opportunities were optional—from running down the street hungover with pillows under our arms to make the bus every other weekend to thinking we’d be kicked out and sent home when we lost our tour guide in Rome, we could not catch on that the staff simply wanted us to have fun and enjoy our trip and gave us options to do so.
So when we were notified of a theatrical production on a random Tuesday night after class, we scrambled to arrive on time and get seats with our friends in the program. As with everything, we arrived sweating and panicked barely making it to the play and were even more of a wreck when we realized we were the only students who took up the offer.
We sat down awkwardly, questioned whether we were still allowed to back out, and leafed through the program…only to read what the heck we were seeing. The play had no words! Not only did it not have words; it had one character…throughout! We were held hostage at a play with only one actor and zero words while everyone else was at the same bar we went to every night having the same great time, all together. We’d been had.
When the play started we were so frustrated; we were antsy and restless and anxious to get out of there, but act by act we completely forgot about our attitudes. The show was hilarious. This single actor had completely overcome a monstrous challenge to create a quirky, unique masterpiece—a once in a lifetime performance. With no acting, singing or play writing understanding, ability or appreciation, we could feel what a feat this was.
We sat on the edge of our seats waiting for what was next, wide eyed during intermission over what else he could possibly come up with. We experienced one man’s creativity, humor and versatility while experiencing locals, Italian culture and community unity. The rest of the audience had paid for this, they’d heard about it in all the time it’d been playing, and they’d come to see for themselves. What we never considered was that our staff, who were locals themselves, had heard about it and decided to include us, to let us get a glimpse of what everyone here was laughing about.
And we will never forget it. We may forget what our tour guides said about major landmarks and attractions, what our professors taught us about Italian history, or what bars we had a good time at in the city, but we don’t forget the sounds of this play. We repeated these “lines” for days, the noises that said more than words and tickled us more than jokes or cynicism. I can still call me sister and make her laugh with one sound effect from this show.
And you realize, this is that out of the box, one of a kind experience only we had here. It’s the memory customized and specific to our particular trip that we didn’t plan or pay for but that made all the difference. And you give every future trip the benefit of the doubt, you say yes to unexpected opportunities and unforeseen openings, because you never know what will come of them. And when you don’t know, you learn and you’re never the same because of it.
You can’t add this to your itinerary, because it only occurs when you don’t, but you’ll know it when you’re there in the moment and you won’t have the moment until you plan the trip and you go. The rest is up to your destination and perhaps some thoughtful people along the way who know better than you there. It just might help to not be at the same bar with the same people every single night of your stay. Say yes to the alternative, even on a random Tuesday night.
- a little good here: The Florentine, an English magazine in Florence, recently published a great article on a ton of simple ways to volunteer a little bit of time in the city from cleaning up streets to distributing medicine to the elderly.
- a long way: In performing arts, a program called Creative Corner provides art, dance, music, science and English lessons in addition to community events, all for which they need volunteers’ help.
What random, unexpected things have made all the difference in your travels?