Into every life some rain must fall. We had a truly cool thunderstorm in town this afternoon, and it got my thinking. I think we define ourselves more by the rain than the sunshine.
Or I am just a sucker for cool stories, and stories come from conflict and unplanned adventures rather than calm sunny days. I still believe that it is this ability to weather the storm and prove that the unplanned things that occur cannot beat us that is a common defining quality of a traveler. To survive and have a great story.
The Basis of a Story is Conflict
Sitting in a hostel talking to the new roommates. One tells a story of how she just came from the most beautiful beach with the nicest restaurants and the best weather. The pictures are amazing and I add it to my list of places to go see when I need a break. However the next roommate drags in all disheveled and drops a pack that looks like it has gone through a war zone onto an empty bed. “Let me just tell you what I’ve been up to,” she says. Ok, I was interested in the nice sites and weather of the first story, but I am just enthralled to hear this one. An hour of hearing about visa issues and crooked cab drivers and dark walks across Paris later, I realize how cool the story is. It’s like a novel of one trial after another followed by “and we finally got there.”
The worst archetype of the travel story is the “slideshow” with commentary. Your uncle Zeke talking about his week beach vacation with enough slides of him to make a full length documentary at speed. “This is one of us in front of a tree.” “Here is the tree without us.” as commentary hardly inspires interest no matter what the subject matter. The best types of stories are the real life stories that are just as exciting as movies and moreso that they are true. For a story to be like that, you almost need to wonder if the person telling it really will make it out of the situation, even though are sitting in front of you. For this to work out, you need conflict.
I have my fair share of stories like that. Sleeping outside of the Calais train station, accidentally walking into prisons, wandering off from numerous tours and countless overnight long distance trains, which seem to intrigue people but I love. So however annoying all the frustrations of traveling are, there is a part of my mind that keeps saying, “Yeah, but it will make a great story when you live through it.” I try to use that mindset and keep from shying away from something and just moving boldly.
Living Through It
Yup, I said “when you live through it”, not “if you live through it.” Pretty much assume you are going to make it through whatever hardship there is. Think of the story you can tell afterwords. Being optimistic doesn’t give you license to be overly stupid. Though I do realize a lot of good stories begin with “it seemed like a fine idea at the time.” Assume you are going to make it through, but strive to make sure this assumption comes true.
That which does not kill us, probably will try again. No wait, different quote. Our lives are filled with tribulations (some of our own making others not), and we should take the opportunity to both learn from them and strengthen ourselves off of them. By striving(even if that just means an abundance of patience) to make sure you live through things and have a great story, you strengthen yourself. By going through hardships, you teach yourself you can do it.
I plan to go to Greece in September. I am flying after being terrified of airplanes for 10 years. I am going to a place that is having weekly strikes. I am still totally looking forward to going. I’m bound and determined to make stories for myself. And if I can create the stories, then I’m going to make them that make me stronger as a person. A part of that trip is also a 2 day train trip back home. Working on building up my train stamina for the Trans Siberian.
The Stories are for Ourselves Anyway
Travelers stories are a great thing to be able to pull out at a bar over a few beers. Everyone has their set of stories that they tell to others. These are usually the condensed, cleaned up and embellished versions of some reality long ago. Sure this is a great part of travel, the hordes of adoring fans. But I kind of think the stories are more important to us ourselves than as shiny trophies to show to others.
I was once asked about the trials of travel. Did it not turn me off all of the bad things of travel? The hassle at the airports and the surly border guards with medical gloves. The grotty hotel rooms and the loneliness. The lack of language understanding and travel delays. My answer was something like the following:
“While I am in those situations, sure I don’t like them. They are annoying and sometimes I even wonder why I travel when stuff like this happens. But in the end they fade and become cool stories, and I know that I can survive more than I expected. And when you add to this sense the awesomeness of neat people and cool places, why wouldn’t I want to travel.”
So yeah, the story of being stuck on a train in the middle of the night on some border crossing wasn’t fun at the time, I still love telling it and knowing that I made it through and am stronger because of that. A last benefit is that the sun is so much more enjoyable and appreciated after a week of rain. Travel stories have so many high points, a few low points just makes them better. And a whole string of misdirections and conflic can make something as simple as making to a hostel a wonderful catharsis.
Back to the rain metaphor, by holding an umbrella you cannot prove yourself that you can be wet and you miss out on dancing in the rain. Feel the rain and enjoy it.
Rain stories anyone? None of your own, check my links for a travel blogger and read theirs.
On a side note, in looking for pictures for this post I realize I have almost none of rain, despite 3 weeks in Ireland at one point. Note to self, follow own advice and seek out rain (for pictures).
July 17, 2010 @ 6:57 am
Nope, definitely cold and foggy in February. I found it actually quite nice. Check the whole post of Venice pictures.
Thanks for the wonderful comment. Glad you found the link.
July 16, 2010 @ 10:27 pm
Love the picture at Venice at the top of your post. I never knew it got foggy there – I always imagined it to be one of those places that is hot and muggy all the time. It's also a great picture to illustrate your point. Stories need conflict, otherwise they are just boring. If the point of traveling is to enrich ourselves, then something has to happen to make us feel enriched. No better way to do that then through some kind of conflict, whether it be bad weather ruining the perfect day or surviving a freezing night outside a train station. That which does not kill us…. awesome post!
July 15, 2010 @ 3:04 am
Lovely post! I always say exactly the same thing – OK, so you totally just got scammed / missed your flight and need to sleep in the airport / are dreadfully lost / etc but THINK of the STORIES!
July 14, 2010 @ 7:11 pm
Nice. Now add a meeting with a foreign dignitary wearing your hot sauced shirt. 🙂 Tip: Touching chilis (or sauce from them) and then eyes, not a pleasant feeling.
The point about the post at least in my own head is that I often complain about the problems and wanted to remind myself that they really are ok and lead to good things (stories).
July 14, 2010 @ 5:13 pm
The basis of any good story IS conflict, I'm so happy to see you talk about that. As we start our own minimalist mobile adventure, I want to keep this in mind when I'm tempted to write a boring post.
I can't think of a good rain story right off, but I just got done shaking a bottle of hot sauce, not realizing that the cap wasn't screwed on. Hot sauce went flying all over the kitchen walls and all over my shirt. My first thought was, “huh, guess it's time to get rid of this shirt.” Raining hot sauce. 🙂
July 13, 2010 @ 10:22 pm
@Jessica @Brendan: Yes, that is one I took. It was Carnevale of 2004 so Feb in the fog and cold. I have a quite similar picture from the exact same bridge a day later where it is perfectly clear. As for contests, these are old pictures from an old camera, so I only have them in 640×480 which seems woefully small nowadays. Glad you enjoyed them.
Brendan van Son
July 13, 2010 @ 1:50 pm
That is amazing photo at the top of your post! You should really submit it for some contests!
Jessica, WhyGo Italy
July 13, 2010 @ 6:21 am
I love the picture at the top of this post… Did you take it? I know Venice is bitterly cold when it's foggy in the winter, but I love it then anyway. 🙂