The Traveler

Travel Photos

The traveler has a recognizable look. Hair in need of a trim, beard long enough that is doesn’t have to be shaved. The traveler wears a t-shirt, perhaps from a local brewery picked up in a small town along the way. Never one from Machu Picchu or the Eiffel Tower, although the traveler has certainly been to both of those places. His khaki’s hang on his hips, looking threadbare and comfortable; they could easily be slept in if needed. Well-worn but supportive sandals adorn the traveler’s feet; the type of shoes that would be equally comfortable hiking in Utah or meandering through Rome.

The backpack is a telltale sign of the traveler. But not just any pack. The traveler’s pack is frayed at the edge. The straps hang loosely from years of gravity pulling them towards the Earth. A carabineer dangles from one of those straps, ready to secure a water bottle, roll of duct tape, or a bag of snacks for the bus ride. The fabric, no matter the original color, is tinged with brown, the product of riding down dirt roads and through rainstorms on the roof of a bus.

When the traveler is faced with a delay in his travel plans, he calmly finds the quietest corner of the bus station, sets down his pack and uses it as a chair back, seat cushion, or pillow, depending on his preference that moment. He pulls out a worn paperback, maybe The Alchemist or Siddhartha, and reads in that corner, able to simultaneously blend in and ignore all of his surroundings. Hours may pass, but the traveler doesn’t get frustrated; it’s all part of the journey.

If the traveler finds himself in trouble, perhaps unexpectedly caught an airport in an unfamiliar city in the middle of the night, there’s no need for concern. He simply looks around for the other travelers and asks what they are planning to do. Together they ride in a $2 taxi to the only hostel in the city that still has available beds. The travelers share a room for the night, unconcerned with sleeping next to strangers. In the morning they may part ways or perhaps they will continue on together, for a day, a week, a month. No need to plan, the traveler take each day as it comes, making decisions along the way.

If you’re on the road and happen to see the traveler, buy him a beer and ask him for a story. You will hear about the teenage boy that appeared in the dunes while he was camel trekking in the Thar Desert in India or the woman in Honduras that invited him to eat with her family and taught him to make tortillas. It will be well worth the few dollars you spent on the beer. Maybe you will continue your vacation to the Holiday Inn and sit by the fenced-in pool. Or maybe his stories will inspire you to buy a backpack, grow a beard, and become a traveler yourself.

 

Heather Whelpley is a coach working with people that want to have a meaningful career and live up to their own potential, but feel stuck in their job. See her home page to learn more. She is also the host of Destination Soul Shine, a community dedicated to nourishing your soul and making your spirit shine. Like Destination Soul Shine on Facebook or follow us on Instagram @destinationsoulshine for resources to inspire you to live a meaningful, healthy, creative life. 

A Paris Sunset

Paris Sunset

I had visited Paris twice before; once as a 10-year-old on my first trip outside of the US and a second time as a college student after completing a semester in Spain. Both were whirlwind tours of the highlights – the Louvre, Musee D’Orsay, Eiffel Tour, Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur. This weekend, 13 years after my last visit, I had to no itinerary. My plan was simple – walk and wander.

I arrived in Paris at 4:30 pm on an October Friday and enacted the plan immediately. I dropped my suitcase in a worn room in a tired, but perfectly situated hotel in St. Germain du Pres and headed back out to the streets, camera in hand. The skies were gray, but the air was unseasonably balmy.   My jeans and casual burgundy suit jacket were too warm for the humidity hanging in the atmosphere and I began to sweat as I crossed the Seine towards Ile de St Louis. Autumn travelers crowded the narrow streets of the tiny island, licking ice cream cones and applauding street performers. I weaved through the crowds, pausing occasionally to snap a photo, no particular destination in mind.

I found my way to the right bank of the Seine and turned left in the direction of the Louvre. I walked along the surprisingly quiet sidewalk, the Seine flowing peacefully below to my left and the high wall of the Tuileries on my right. I enjoyed the movement after sitting all day at work and two hours on the train.

I glanced down the Seine through an opening in the trees that lined the sidewalk. I looked west, towards the Eiffel Tower in the distance, and saw a distinct break in the clouds along the western horizon. The walk and wander plan was immediately put on hold and I had a sudden and clear destination – make it to a bridge where I had a chance to see the sunset with a clear view of the Eiffel Tower. I quickly consulted my map, counted the bridges until the turn in the river that would afford me a view, and started to run. Three bridges to Pont Alexandre III. The running shoes I had unfashionably paired with my jeans and blazer now served me well. I clutched my purse tightly against my midsection to avoid jostling the Canon camera inside. The light sweat I had broken earlier began to stream down my face. I passed a few pedestrians, but I didn’t pause long enough to look at their faces and know whether they were bothered or confused by my sprint. I was focused only on making it to the bridge.

After several minutes of running along the Quai de Tuileries the road veered left and I knew I was close to my destination. I arrived at the Pont Alexandre III just in time to see the sun emerge from the clouds, its bright rays reaching out towards the top of the Eiffel Tower.

I paused for a moment to catch my breath and wipe the sweat from my forehead. I snapped a few pictures to capture the moment just in case the lighting unexpectedly deteriorated, but everything in the sky told me the show was just beginning.

After digitally preserving the scene, my eyes moved away from the sun and towards my fellow revelers. A young Parisian man leaned against the ledge of the bridge, as if he couldn’t be bothered to turn around and witness the sunset. He wore a fitted green jacket and tight cuffed beige pants, the kind of outfit that would be immediately recognizable as European anywhere in the US, where men prefer an extra inch or two in the circumference of their clothing. His right foot stood firmly on the ground and his left rested on the inside edge of a skateboard turned on its side. The cigarette that hung in his outstretched hand completed the picture.

An Asian woman stood to his right dressed for the season and not the weather in a beige trench coat and burgundy scarf. She snapped photos of herself in the sunset with the aide of a selfie stick, undoubtedly searching for the perfect Facebook profile pic or jealousy-inducing Snapchat to her friends at home. She delivered pose after pose – smiling, gazing dreamily towards the camera, head turned slightly in one direction, then the other. She even flaunted duck lips. I was so amused by this scene that I started taking photos of her. She didn’t notice.

Another man dressed head to toe in dark gray and carrying what can only be described as a purse spread out a large map along the railing of the bridge. He stared at it, perhaps planning his dinner location or plotting the way back to his hotel after the sunset was complete.

I transferred my attention westward as the sun sank closer to the horizon and adjusted the white balance on my camera to prepare for the perfect moment ahead. The empty spaces on the bridge filled with accumulating onlookers that had paused their evening plans to enjoy the show. Thick clouds hung eastward from Eiffel Tower, but there was a half circle of clear sky perfectly positioned above the Seine that created a frame for the live film unfolding before us. The sun flamed in orange, the fiery backlight accentuating the crisp profile of the Pont des Invalides in the foreground and the Eiffel Tower in the distance. A long barge of tourists glided under the bridge below me and added another texture of silhouette to the scene.

The rippled waters of the Seine flickered fuchsia and orange as the sun traversed the horizon. Wisps of clouds painted gold, mauve, and ginger streaks across the sky where the sun had just passed. I adjusted the aperture on my camera several times with the hope of capturing at least one photo that would accurately reflect the landscape around me.

The colors faded quickly after the sun disappeared. I tucked my camera back into my purse and enjoyed a few minutes taking in the view without my lens. I left the bridge and turned back in the direction of the Louvre with the sky still bright in the early dusk. The relatively short run became a rather long walk back to my hotel. The air chilled and I was grateful for the blazer that had caused me to sweat earlier. I considered tomorrow and wondered what surprises my walk and wander plan might reveal, but the city did not need to do anything else to impress. Three hours into the weekend and my trip to Paris was complete.