When you find yourself at any traveler hub, particularly at breakfast time, there is always a presence. Some might notice the cosmic energy of the world, karma or the awareness of nirvana but there is always another, equally benign presence which sits patiently, waiting for attention.
Almost everywhere you look will be scattered varieties like breeds of dog, some older and bearing the signs of age and love while others are fresh faced and cared for like new born babes. There are very few people without these beings to guide them through their travels and I fondly call my own Lou. Dog eared, falling apart and companion now for three months she is of course my copy of Lonely Planet and there have been times where I couldn’t have managed without her.
But still, it begs the questions, how firmly should we stick to the biblical words of our guide books?
Dear old Lou, bless her, puts up with a lot. She gets scribbled on, has pages torn out and is thrown willy nilly between bags, beds and floors as I travel. There is no doubt that we have formed a close bond in our journey together, we bounce the days plans off of each other, share advice and keep each other entertained on long train rides but when we spend too much time together, I start to feel a little guilty.
I begin to wonder: am I missing the point in traveling at all?
For what is travel but that sense of discovery, finding the unknown in the world? Sometimes, I watch travelers wander through the warrens of streets with their noses glued to their guide books, so much so that they miss out on the incidental moments which make a trip and they never find themselves accidentally lost on the back streets, befriending local to escape the maze and really seeing the everyday life.
As much as Lou and I get along, we have our moments of strife, usually around lunch time. She likes to make suggestions, seducing me with the suggestion that its the ‘locals favorite’ but whenever we arrive I find myself at an air conditioned, overly clean joint filled with tourists who have all listened to the same advice. After several reincarnations of the same story Lou and I decided it would be best to dine alone, I prefer to search out the shady rooms tucked into alleyways where I’m never quite sure what I’m ordering.
In fact, she has a tendency to pretend she is sharing some little known secret to do things the best way. Take the Taj Mahal for example, Lou thought it would be best to visit early in the morning, when it’s quiet and there are less tourists flocking around. In reality, the Taj is filled with western travelers in the early morning, all searching for that peace only to find that they have all listened to the same advice and can’t escape each other.
I guess I shouldn’t moan about her too much and she does have some more useful moments, particularly when it comes to finding places to stay. There is something nice about knowing a hotel that Lou recommends will be frequented by other travelers, meaning that there is always someone interesting to meet over dinner at night or chai in the morning. And I suppose, as much as the know it all attitude might be irritating at times, she does let me know useful things about the customs, culture plus her basic knowledge of the local lingo still far surpasses mine.
Yes, it is a pretty turbulent relationship and maybe, like any great agony aunt would suggest, we need to remember to have out time apart. Because traveling isn’t just about rushing between things and places but instead about the people and accidental moments that make memories special. So listen to Lou but don’t let her dictate your travels because then you will have missed the point of discovering the world at all.