This is a guest article written by my good friend Matthew Spriegel.
As a traveler you may find yourself asking the question, “What does it take to really experience a new place?”
My first time traveling outside of North America, I found myself in the first several days, riding a bicycle around Hangzhou’s beautiful West Lake famous all around China for its romantic and majestic qualities. It was indeed breathtaking, but more importantly it swept me into a new reflection that would run consistently through my subsequent travels. The question I asked myself was, “What will it take to really experience this place?” I do not know what exactly drew the question into my mind, but perhaps it was the limited time I had available before my intended trip to another city in China. So as I rode around the lake by myself, I kept asking myself similar questions in more specific ways. The sequence of my questions may sound a bit anal, but the initial reflection has proved to be invaluable for the foundation of my personal traveling style. So on with the questions: “Do I ride fast or slow? Should I take a lot of pictures? Should I stop and try lots of food? Is it good to try and chat with the Chinese even though I can’t speak a lick of the language? What kind of cultural value comes from visiting a completely revamped piece of architecture? Would it be engaging to take a small boat around the lake?” And so the questions went on with my internal dialogue.
I found shortly thereafter that the single most important characteristic is staying conscious and aware of my surroundings while following my most genuine desires. If you hate Chinese tea, it is not going to be overly beneficial for your cross-cultural experience trying to choke back the beverage at a roadside tea shop (By the way, I love Chinese Tea :). That same afternoon, I got a flat tire on my bicycle, chatted with the most youthful sixty-three old man I have met to date, before being led into an old Chinese village by a couple that did not speak any English, where my flat tire was fixed by a bicycle expert for less than one U.S. dollar. To top off the day, that evening, I finally hit it off with a beautiful Spanish girl who had been staying at the same hostel (She became an important piece for my existential experience and would later pop in several more times during my world travels).
The main realization was that while being in a new place, avoid force of experiential learning and simply remain open-minded for the slew of new potential experiences at your finger tips. Now incorporating what I had learned in those first few days, special experiences I had never dreamt possible, surface and unravel before me everyday on this journey called LIFE. .