Most of the time, when we travel, we are touring. We are visiting places. We are going to specific destinations. We are seeing landmarks, or specific points of interest. Or we are going somewhere to take part in a certain event or activity.
Sometimes, we will speculate as to what it is like to live in a specific area. Maybe we will even interact with some locals, and ask some questions. But, even then, in a way, we are still touring. We are getting some amount of information regarding what day-to-day life is like, but we are really only getting a snapshot of a specific point in time, and some verbal information about what may make that point different from typical day-to-day experience.
Sometimes, when we travel specifically to visit people, people we know, we get a little more of a window into what life is like in a different place. For me, a metropolitan person, who has always lived in a city or suburban area, most of these kinds of trips involve traveling to a different city, or a suburb of a different city. While each city, metropolitan area, and region are unique from one another, there are still some basic similarities. I have a clear understanding of the differences between life in New York, Houston, Denver etc. But, I also understand that there are many similarities that make life in all those places distinct from life in a more sparsely populated area.
Nederland, Colorado is not too far from home for me. Nor is it your typical small town U.S.A. Positioned along the scenic Peak to Peak Highway, at 8200 feet elevation, and only about 40 minutes West of Boulder, it falls into the category of one of those quirky types of small towns.
This weekend turned out to be a unique experience for me. Sometimes when we visit people, we don’t really experience their typical life. There’s a specific event, or destination, and, in a way we all become tourists. This weekend, that did not happen. I ended up genuinely feeling as if I had spent some time in the day-to-day life those that live here!
The first, and most obvious difference living here is how we get around. To me, getting anywhere, whether it be between neighborhoods or to the center of town, involved what resembled a short hike to me. There was no driving, Ubers, light rail, or busses, just walking along a series of trails that felt, and also typically smelled as if I were on a camping trip.
I also began to notice, and even feel, a difference in energy. Things feel calmer, less urgent, less competitive. This, of course, is both good and bad. The good is the ability to relax, not feel like you are competing with everyone you see, and take time to enjoy some of the things around you. The flip side is that lines move slower, people move slower, and most things take a little longer. Even while enjoying the reprieve from the stress of everyday life, I recognized that, given that I wish Denver were faster moving than it is, I could never permanently move to a place like this. I did however, fully immerse myself in the experience while I was here.
The strangest thing that happened was finally getting a good understanding of a different perspective on a common conflict. The center of town was packed with what many people refer to as “leafers”. These are people who drive from the city to some nearby forested area to see fall colors. Living in Denver, I am technically one of them, as I had been nearly every year.
Immersed in the Nederland experience, I experienced this from the other side. Feeling the frustration of people dealing with things they don’t normally have to deal with, like waiting for a table at their favorite restaurant, traffic jammed up on all of the main roads, and a significant number of people in the lake, I began to understand why people who live in places like this don’t immediately calculate the benefits of tourism on their local economy on days like this.
This month, and for the remainder of 2016, one of my goals is to try harder to see things from the perspective of others. I just feel like a lot of things in my life, whether it be putting together a presentation with specific audience in mind, or interactions with people, will go a lot more smoothly if I genuinely make an effort to understand them from the perspective of others.
Travel has, once again, taught me a valuable lesson. To fully immerse myself in this experience, I had to, in a way, let go, of what I know, what I expect, and even what I want. If more of us, both in our travels, and in our day-to-day lives were to approach people, experiences, and issues, with much of this pre-concpetion taken out of our minds, we would likely have a more positive impact on the lives of one another. This doesn’t necessarily mean giving up on what we believe in, especially strongly held conviction. It means taking them out of our mind, for at the very least a few minutes, to hear what others have to say, and feel what others feel.