I meet a lot of tourists on this little island. I know you find that hard to believe but I do. Some I meet when I take them out on kayak trips and others at the marina, and more just by going about my daily rounds to and fro on the rock. For the most part, tourists are easy to spot here. They are usually dressed completely wrong for the weather, or whatever activity they are attempting. Or they are overly dolled up to make an impression to someone when they are going out to eat or drink. But make no mistake, a tourist in Key West is easy to spot.
Many a time I’ve been approached by said tourists who are in need of directions. I have no problem with this and will help them to find their destination as best as I can, as will most other residents. On rare occasions I will volunteer information. It’s not uncommon to see a gaggle of confused looking people standing at a bus stop or staring at one of those useless maps that the cruise ships pass out to their passengers before setting them loose on the island. Said gaggle will be looking at said map, and staring at anything that remotely resembles something on the map, in hopes that they can find the treasure which they seek. You can see the look of relief on their faces when a local gives them the direction they need. I can relate. Key West, for as small as it is, can be a complicated and confusing place to navigate on land. Especially in Old Town where there are dozens of streets and alleys that criss cross all over. It took me a long time to learn my way around and sometimes I still find streets that I didn’t realize were here. But then, that was part of the fun.
But as I live here longer and longer I notice that there are different types of visitors. There are those who come into town and just fit right in. It’s like they have been here before or they are comfortable with the idea of traveling and exploring new places. Their visit is an adventure. They rarely need a map to get around and love the idea of getting “lost” in the maze of streets. They interact with the locals and when they return home, have nothing but a big smile on their faces and are already preparing for the next adventure.
Then there are those who are not so relaxed. These people are most uncomfortable being away from familiar territory. And I see far more of these types of visitors than the other kind. A good example was a couple I observed on the bus the other day. They were an older couple, even older than me, and I assumed were heading for Duval. The man was dressed in summer garb for the mainland. Collared shirt, tucked in tight of course, dark colors, dressy shoes with socks. He sat in the seat looking down forlornly at a map with a nervous look about him. He looked more like he was waiting in a dentist office for a root canal rather than on his way to tour Key West. I suspect that if you asked him at that moment he would rather have been back home sitting in his easy chair watching tv, as opposed to being on some wretched vacation. His wife was equally dressed in typical mainland garb and she was intently watching each and every goings on in the bus. When someone was talking she leaned in that direction with a look on her face not unlike that of some teacher in a classroom trying to find out who threw the piece of paper across the room. She seemed tense and looked like she was intent on finding something going on that was illegal, immoral, or just plain wrong where she comes from. The two of them did not appear to be having the vacation of a lifetime. It was more like a, “Let’s get this over with so we can go home,” type of reaction. Very sad.
Imagine saving up all that money to go someplace really cool and exotic, only to be completely intimidated by all the strangeness and unfamiliar surroundings. You can see it in a lot of the people who visit here. If you are down here go find a spot on Duval where you can watch the crowds walk by, get your self something tall and strong to drink, and just people watch. Those who are not enjoying themselves will stick out from the rest of the hive. They walk close together lest someone get separated from the herd and swept away into some horrendous fate. They talk and smile but nervously. Nowadays, many will be looking at their iPhones, texting, or whatever, rather than exploring the wonders of a new place. They look totally lost and out of their element. There is no sense of adventure, no desire to stray from the main road. The idea of vacationing in Key West may have sounded good when they were planning it back home, but now that they are here, it’s a scary and unfamiliar place. They are like a nervous kid posing for a picture and not quite sure what to do with his hands. They wind up eating at the chain restaurants because the menu’s are familiar. They may try some of the local places but only with the encouragement or recommendation of the hotel concierge or tour guide. And even then they are hesitant to taste anything they are not familiar with. They are so uncomfortable being away from home that they fail to appreciate the adventure and wonder of going someplace different and experiencing new and exciting things.
Personally, I love to travel. The idea of road trip is always something to look forward too. In fact I have one coming up at the end of May. It’s the same trip I do every year, fly up to visit family, but I still look forward to it, even the flying part. I love to people watch at the airports and see the same sorts that I see down here visiting. There are those who are enjoying their travel, even if it does mean going through Atlanta International, and those who seem totally lost, confused, and terrified about going someplace where they don’t know the people, the land, and are strangers to others. For them, the security of being home, wherever that may be, means they have some semblance of security and control over their lives. They know the neighbors, they know the places to eat and shop, they are known by others. Away from all that, they are just another face in the crowd and it’s scary to them.
For me, I love it. I’ve moved so many times, and travelled not nearly enough to be able to settle right in to wherever I happen to be going. I didn’t ride a motorcycle across the country for three weeks just so I could eat at all the fast food joints along the way. I hit the off the beaten path sorts of places. A down valley cafe near Aspen where Hunter Thompson once got kicked out of for setting off firecrackers. Best hamburger I ever had. Then there was the cook shed at a KOA in Wyoming that served up a steak you could cut with a spoon. Stuff like that is why I like to travel and experience new things. I know I can go just about anyplace and there will be a Wally Mart or a Wendy’s or any other homogenous chain store. I don’t want that. I want to see the local stuff. The little back street cafe that has some special local dish. The rustic fish camp that looks like it is ready to fall down, but has the best seafood within a hundred miles. I could give a Norwegian rat’s posterior about some cheap ass souvenir shop. I’d rather walk that hiking path along the Blue Ridge Parkway down to the waterfalls. There are way too many places to go and explore, so why not do it?
It just seems to be a shame to see people who get just a week or two off from their worker bee jobs waste that short time going on a trip to someplace different, and yet don’t have the ability to really enjoy themselves. Traveling can be one of the best experiences anyone can do but you have to have the mindset to do so. Sure, other places are strange, even scary. There can be an element of danger, but for the most part, it’s adventure. Different climates, different foods, different languages. A little diversity never hurt anyone.
If I were to give some tidbit of advice to anyone right now, I would say that they should take the opportunity to travel. Between jobs, just getting out of school, or tired of what you are doing? Sell it all, grab a backpack, and see the country, or the world. What do you have to lose? A year of worker bee wages? More struggle to pay debt on things you would rather not own? There is just so much out there to see and do. So many experiences that need to be…um…experienced.
A vacation, journey, or whatever you want to call it should not be a tedious chore that needs to be done and finished. A little insecurity is good now and then. Because when you travel, and experience different things, when you get out of your comfort zone, said comfort zone expands. The more you travel, the more you see, the more you experience, the more your outlook on life will change. At some point, all that travel and experiences will give you a completely mindset. Suddenly, settling into some worker bee job for the next 40 years don’t looks so attractive. The idea of going into debt for a house, a vehicle, and whatever other things you should have don’t make any sense. You’ll return from someplace and in a short time, you’ll be looking at maps, travel sites, and planning your next adventure. You’ll start to actually have a fulfilling life. One that you can share with others later on. Write about your travels. Start a blog like this one. Share your experiences. Encourage others to get off their asses and see the world. We spend way too much time working in useless jobs, to make money to buy even more useless things, and in the end, we sit in our pile of crap and wonder what might have been, if only we had taken the time to go and explore.
Don’t be the nervous couple on the bus. Be a traveler, an explorer, an adventurer. It’s way more better.