When I started visiting other cities in the United States, my focus was on the things to do at each destination. This influenced my decision to take a weeklong management training course at Washington DC two weeks ago and pay inflated prices to fly out to Temecula, California to attend a cousin’s wedding this past weekend. But when I left each city, I found myself questioning my perspective on travel—am I actually enjoying the travel more for the people than the places?
There have been prior trips where the people I met overshadowed the fun event we were at (East Coast and West Coast.) When I arrived in Washington, there were two goals to accomplish: to finish my training and to temporarily enjoy the city lifestyle after each day at work. That lifestyle—the opportunity to hit up a pro sports event, or some nice restaurant, or a concert in the evening after a productive day at work—has become my American Dream after almost two years of living in a rural town, and what better way to get a taste of the Dream than at our nation’s capital? I had dinner at my DC favorite, Ted’s Bulletin, squeezed in a couple scenic runs, and watched the Washington Capitals (lose 5-0 to Dallas) and the Washington Nationals home opener (a 2-1 loss to Atlanta). These nights were much better than my usual evening routine of hiding away in the apartment, playing video games and eating ice cream alone.
But when I left Washington, the sadness at the end of the trip was not because of the loss of the big city perks. I was most disappointed about leaving the 29 coworkers I met at the training course, all of whom I’ll (likely) never see again because they are based in the Beltway. I learned a lot more in the course than expected because of the diversity in the class and the good-hearted nature of everyone there. The five coworkers I shared a table with—the instructors divided the 30 of us into five groups of six—kept me motivated and happy to show up to work each morning. You know you’re in a good place with good people when each morning starts off so bright.
(For the sake of transparency, yes, I found myself attracted to the coworker who sat next to me, so she was a big factor in this positive outlook. And yes, at the end of the week, I told her I would have asked her out for drinks if I didn’t have to leave. And yes, I told her because I love awkward endings.)
In California, I looked forward to taking my parents to In-N-Out for dinner and showing them the Los Angeles I’ve grown to love from three consecutive years of vacationing there—the mountains, Griffith Observatory, and driving on a freeway. My only concern was the flood of relatives’ names and faces I’d have to learn at the ceremony and reception, most of whom I hadn’t seen since I was two years old, when my parents lived in San Bernardino, and whether they would be judgmental for my ignorance regarding most of the family tree.
My relatives proved me wrong with how the kindness that they showered on my family and me. Between the outdoor wedding, the reception, listening to as many stories as possible from each relative—it was an emotional roller coaster of happiness and getting choked up. The five hours at the ceremony and reception went by too quickly; there were still so many more stories to exchange, more laughs to have, and more wedding cake slices to eat. My newfound relatives (who knew extended family could be so cool?!), rather than the far-too-short 24 hours I had to explore Southern California with my parents before the wedding, consumed my thoughts as I flew out of LAX.
The evolution of my perspective on travel is probably down to a combination of maturing and the relative isolation I live in. This new perspective is also a gentle reminder to appreciate the time I get to spend with the familiar people I love and the new people I meet, no matter how brief that time may be.