The difference between traveling and the journey

The beauty of travel exists not so much in the landscape as in the people who make their lives in that place.

When we engage with those people, if only to ask one genuine question or listen to a synopsis of their story, we carry that place back with us, not just in photos or trinkets, but in the parts that make us who we are.

Our recent day trip to the tourist-infested (us included) town of Saugatuck, Michigan, was not only memorable for the art, the weather, and the scenery, but for the conversations, however brief, we had with several residents.

The shop owner of Otavalito, a fair trade market www.otavalito.com, has been traveling to Ecuador for more than 25 years after visiting for the first time with her Celtic rock band. For the past 16 years, she has been selling the handmade products she brings back from her yearly visits. The top of her glass display case is covered with photos of her friends in Ecuador, and her shop is filled with music and bright colors.

Artist Janice Miles janicemilesgallery@msn.com and her husband sell her art in the little shop next to Otavalito. Janice’s accent and paintings tell the story of her life in England. My daughter compliments Janice on her lacy, green tights and asks her about her first painting. Excited to share, Janice hops up from her seat where she is sketching and rifles through the stacks of prints for sale, pulling out a quaint scene from a village street in the English countryside.

D at Mother Moon misses her two grandchildren who she began to raise alone when her daughter left two years ago. The children now live with their uncle, but Dixie wants them back, and this is the first time she has voiced it to anyone. We answer by telling her we will pray for this, and Dixie, who doesn’t believe whole-heartedly in all the New Age and magical products that surround us in the shop, exclaims Yes, would we please pray?

The physical therapist giving street massages and Nurse Della, a German shepherd mix, provide interesting company during the 15 minutes my daughter spends having a knot worked out of her neck. The therapist tells us about the day nine years ago he found Della lying on the highway with a shattered leg. Della is not just a companion but also a therapy dog at the local hospital. The therapist proudly shows us the dog’s hospital ID tag with a thumbnail photo of Della wearing a nurse’s hat. On this day, she is happy just to have her belly rubbed.

We also enjoyed just being the tourists. Arriving before 11 a.m. seems a good time to beat the rush of day trippers and have a chance to talk with the locals or enjoy the company of fellow travelers.

The French Guiana with cayenne is what I go back for. Mac is sipping a mocha.

Walking along the pier while eating frozen yogurt and balancing a spoon
Some of Michigan's beautiful lakeshore in South Haven

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Writer | creative non-fiction & YA fiction Developmental Editor | Moody Publishers

3 thoughts on “The difference between traveling and the journey

  1. Love this – I’m finally catching up on my friends’ blogs. Your girls look beautiful – so grown up! I love Saugatuck – and I remember our own fun visit there. Isn’t it nice to have daughters to enjoy shopping and roaming and snacking with???

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  2. Mandy! You are so right! We have just returned from Tennessee and its’ the people who served us there that left the biggest impression. The young college student that drove us up and down the hill to the pool daily and shared her story of why she enjoyed driving the short bus and meeting the tourists. Billy, our waiter at Texas Roadhouse, who packed us up with extra rolls and joked around with us during dinner. Dylan, the cute 17 year old who became infatuated with Olivia as she sped around his race track and later exchanged phone numbers with her. The beautiful Turkish woman studying mathematics at the university in Tennessee who chatted with me at Ober Gatlinburg. I’ll never forget the young man working in the t’shirt shop owned by his family in Bombay, India. He admitted to being very lazy and forced to come to Pigeon Forge by his mother. He is now grateful beyond words because America has been so good to him and he is safe. He is Hindu and appreciates the bond he has with Christians both here and at home because the Musslim people are forcing their way upon his family back home. He appreciates being able to work and looks forward to putting away enough American dollars to start his own family here in America and providing a safe place for his own children. I told him I was a Christian and would pray for the safety of his family and that he would continue to prosper here. He took my hand and thanked me and then slipped some taffy into my bag of t’shirts. As I said, I’ll never forget him or the kind people who welcomed us into their little corner of Tennessee.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your experience, Becky, and reinforcing what I said in the post. Engaging with people is something we could do every day, maybe traveling just creates a freer environment in which to do that. Mabye we are just more relaxed and adventuresome when we travel than when we are going about our daily routines of grocery shopping and running errands. Love your story about the Hindu man you met and glad you had a good trip!

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