It’s never how you picture it, is it? The passage of time, that is. The inevitable change of faces, places and circumstance; it goes by far too fast for us to fathom. One minute it’s summer and then it’s winter. I can’t help but see it any other way.
I wrote the first installment of these travel articles back in September with Europe fresh off the platter, the sweet smell and humidity still lingering. I was as lean as a pup, happy as a kid, expectant and optimistic with whatever the world had for me. And then winter came and these stories, once just enjoyable, passing accounts, have become intrinsic to my survival. The characters, the plot, I shamelessly revisit over and over again, and they keep those fleeting moments alive for me. It’s as simple as that.
And with Christmas approaching, you’re hopefully going back to a home with the people who remind you of your own former moments of glory, and there isn’t a better time of year for that. So the people who bring you back home in mind, I thought I’d write about the people I’ve met on the road, the ones who have shaped me into the snot-nosed dreamer I am today.
My only sibling, two years my senior. Not only was he there for my first time abroad, he’s been travelling with me every year since. A character in a number of my stories, my brother has said “yes” to every wild plan and detour that I’ve offered. Offering a mature, inspired approach to our travels, the guy has put up with my shenanigans for years on end without the faintest whisper of protest.
Adam and Brienna
I met these two on the first day, the first hostel, and the first city I ever visited, Rome. We were all timid, nervous backpackers without the faintest idea of what were doing. We had similar itineraries, travelling through Italy and, as it happened, we somehow bumped into each other in every single city – even though we had no intentional plans of meeting up again. It’s the biggest practical example of “fate” that I’ve ever been a part of.
The reason why I ever went traveling in the first place, Heidi hired me for my guide job and facilitated the biggest turnaround in my spiritual growth. Beyond that, Heidi has let me sleep on her couch for weeks at a time when I was jobless, bought me dinner when I had no money, and has taken me to enumerable spots she loves around Belgium. Heidi is almost 40, works six months a year and travels the rest. I want to do what she does when I’m older.
We both worked at the same guide job but never did a trip together. In total, I’ve spent no more than two weeks with Neall over the last three years, but they’ve been a crazy two weeks. There’s always that person that bumps the night to an unspeakable level, and that person, for me, is Neall – insane, full of life, not a bad bone in his body. Thank you, Neall, wherever you are.
A Greek outfitter that runs a whitewater rafting and outdoor sport company in the Peloponnese mountains, Trifonas was a guy I looked up to because he does what he loves and every facet of his life exudes this passion. Beautiful girlfriend, great friends and family, unbelievable job, Trifonas has it all. He’d tell me stories of his travels, and the inspiration from this alone could fill a few books.
Woman on the boat, Amsterdam
My first summer was almost over. I’d been travelling for three months, and I decided to spend the last few days in Amsterdam to relax before I flew back to Canada. I was beat tired, lost and a little intimidated by the city, so I grabbed some cheap Indian food and sat on a small canal to eat. Nothing is worse than being lonely in a big city. Floating by in a small boat was a woman, middle-aged and wearing a modest summer dress. She saw me, felt how I was feeling, and gave me the warmest smile and wave I’ve ever received. I wasn’t lonely after that.
Dutch family, Netherlands
I was guiding a bike trip through the Netherlands and had to set up tents at the next campsite before the group arrived. I was new to this job and didn’t know what I was doing, and this Dutch family noticed and helped me. Afterwards, they invited me over for dinner and they gave me everything I wanted: food, drink, company. They said it was their family reunion and they were travelling through the Netherlands, and that, for the night, I was a part of their family. We traded travel stories and the like before my group arrived and I had to go, but not before I gave them some Canadian keepsakes for my gratitude.
You may have met this guy already in my travel article from last month. I met Didier while couchsurfing and we kicked it off right away. Didier was born blind from birth, but this didn’t stop him. He’s a successful, funny, fantastically intelligent individual who was, and continues to be, a big inspiration to me. We keep in touch, even now, and I’m planning on seeing him when I go back to the UK over the holidays.
Bee Professor, Athens
Yes, that’s right, a professor of bees. I met this man on the Athens metro, and he was curious as to where I was going and what I do. He told me that he has wanted to study and teach about bees ever since he was a child – he was nearly 60. He told me the importance of doing what you love, the importance of good teachers, and why you shouldn’t listen to critics. It was a 20-minute conversation, that’s all, but it’ll stick with me for many years to come.
I met Ben in Portugal at a surf hostel right at the end of my summer this year. We kicked it off right away and turned every day and every night into one gigantic amusing adventure. Along with my brother Andrew, we surfed all day and drank all night, shared stories about home and covered every topic under the sun. My travel-pack was completely ripped from baggage handlers, all my clothes were falling out, and I was due to fly back to Canada in a few days. Ben brought my pack to the beach and spent three hours sewing the thing until it was in top shape. I swear I could go to war with it and it would never rip again. Thanks Ben, you strange, crazy German.
Mom and Dad
I saved this for last because, to me, they’re the most important. To say these people are understanding is an understatement. They’re the best and biggest influence on my travel life and my home life. Mom and Dad immigrated to Canada when they were 21, so they get what it’s like to be alone in a new country, and were always there if I ever needed them. Unconditional love is a foreign thing in this self-serving generation, and these people give and give and never ask back.
So time flies by, and with winter coming, maybe you should think about the people that have turned life around for you. Better yet, write about them, even if it’s just for yourself, and reminisce about what they’ve done for you and your journey.
That’s all, folks. Go be with your families, go get inspired, and maybe, just maybe, plan your next trip. Happy holidays to all my readers, and thank you.