If all goes according to plan, by the time you receive this newsletter, I will have already been in Costa Rica for 2 days. My dad and I are backpacking this beautiful country together for a short while.
Seeing the Unseen
I’ve valued travel from a young age.
Perhaps it’s because of the inherent dual identity I have as a first generation Indian-American, growing up as a “normal” American kid, while maintaining my family’s deep Indian roots. Even though we didn’t grow up with much, the one thing my parents always prioritized was travel.
Unlike most other Indian families who we knew that took a trip back to India every year or two, we averaged once every seven years. This was an intentional move by my parents. A deliberate effort to see the unseen. There’s something so beautiful to me about that: Indian immigrants opting to venture to new cities and countries to learn from different cultures, rather than returning to the safety of their motherland.
In the times that we did go back, Mom and Dad made sure we saw every nook and cranny of the country. One time, they even took my brother and I out of school for 2 whole months. Ironically, we learned more from this experience than our formalized education could have offered.
We stood in the palaces of Agra where Mughal emperors once led from. Walked the roads where Gandhi peacefully protested. Visited tea farms and hill stations, breathing in the fresh mountain air. And of course, learned to bargain and proceeded to negotiate for everything, no speedy rickshaw ride or spicy mango too cheap to evade our persuasion.
In our travels, it really felt like we left no stone unturned.
As an adult, I have adopted this exploratory mentality myself and try to travel to a new country each year. During these backpacking trips, I always notice a sincere difference in conversation. When I leave the US, the way I connect with strangers completely changes, even when those conversations are with other people from the US.
We don’t ask about professions or exchange numbers. Hell, most of the time, we don’t even exchange names. We talk about our families. Our passions. Previous travels and how seeing the world makes us rich with a penniless pocket.
It’s like stripping ourselves of our physical identity pushes us to strip ourselves of more. It pushes us to release the pieces of our identities that we’ve collected over time, but don’t actually identify with. At least not as closely as we might identify with other parts of ourselves, like our hopes and dreams.
These types of conversations have made me feel closer to an absolute stranger than most people I know back home.
Yashmi Adani, one of Wayfinder’s newest voices — how cool is that, by the way — recently wrote a piece on this very idea in her newsletter Not Super Smart. When it comes to evaluating connections, here’s how she describes it:
connection = f (depth, time)
long = deep = good
short = shallow = bad
The solution? Take time out of the equation.
connection = f (depth)
Simple. Define depth with whatever makes the child in you feel loved and validated. Irrespective of the time involved. Let people walk in and out of your life. Give them space. A meditative view of friendships tells me that connections, among other things, are exactly what they are right now. And life’s really made up of millions of ‘right now’s [just another way of saying the present moment is really all we have, without sounding corny?]. Connections tend to flow beautifully when we let people come as they are, and love them from what we are in the moment.
She brings up a key point about the misconceptions we have around creating and maintaining connections. Yashmi highlights how our connections with each other don’t have to be a function of time, validating how I’ve made some of my deepest connections in these fleeting interactions abroad.
I hope that I’m making some of those connections in the exact moment that you read this. I hope I’m in some sandy hostel near the shores of Costa Rica, where they use surf boards as dinner tables and rickety bamboo stools as chairs. And when I return, I’ll share what I’ve learned from a new culture and people who (hopefully) will no longer be strangers.
Stories by Shiv is part of Wayfinder, a writer collective exploring questions that matter.