In that first moment after you book your plane ticket, you’re only thinking about all the grand adventures you’re going to have, all the beautiful places you’ll finally see with your own two eyes, and all the amazing stories you’ll have for when you return home. But then you get there, and you realize that there is so much more to a worthwhile journey than just picturesque scenes and five star hotels – in fact, you can have all that and more, and still be missing out on one crucial element: the locals.
Sure, you might have a great big camera, but you’re not snapping pictures of just anything on the streets – no, you want to get up close and personal. You didn’t come to India to see the Taj Mahal and then go to bed. You came to visit temples when worshippers are pouring in, you came to dance in traditional garb while your bindi shines enchantingly from your forehead, you came to learn how to say “hello” and “thank you” in the same tongue as the locals.
The tacky tourist label never fit you, for you are more of an explorer. You hold the world in the palm of your hands, and yet it is you who gets flipped upside down with every new trip. Without a second glance, you forget everything you know about home, and embrace the foreign, embrace the strange, the beautiful, the new.
You thought new destinations would open your eyes, but what you really found was people who opened your heart. I cannot describe in words how sweet it is to be welcomed into a place with open arms when you’ve only just arrived. It is the local people and the culture they share with you that make every trip worthwhile, after all. It makes you wonder how you will ever be able to live a life different than the one you’re living now; how you ever lived before now.
And it is these very same people who make it impossibly difficult to leave, with only the hope that you might someday cross paths again. But all journeys must end so that others might begin, and at the end of the day, the sun goes down and your plane leaves town. And as the place you called home and the people you called family disappear beneath a sultry sky, I hope you smile, remembering that though you are parted, you will always have the souvenir of their friendship tattooed across your heart – and that’s definitely a souvenir worth saving.