An aerial view of a temple off the coast with mountains in the distance

I don’t remember why or how the events of the day occurred, but I do remember the overwhelmed tears welling in my eyes as I was locked outside a turnstile trying to navigate Rio de Janeiro and the indistinct Portuguese in raised voices from people who were trying to explain it to me.

People passed by me, brushing me with their shoulders, as I tried to communicate with these sweet Brazilian women. I was frustrated with myself for being the typical tourist, helpless. To my surprise, the women ended up kindly helping me and sending me on with a smile. I remember sighing as I relaxed into my metro seat and feeling surprised by their kindness.

Modern day travel tends to revolve around the perfect Instagram photo, the most dreamy destination or the curation of the most enviable, picturesque experience. Yet, hiccups and misadventures along the way are inevitable. They ground us to true humanity and the reality of the mystery of the foreign streets we walk. While our day-to-day lives tend to aim for comfort and self-sufficiency, the most honest parts of travel possess a uniquely freeing discomfort.

The most honest parts of travel possess a uniquely freeing discomfort.

My more recent travels found me wandering the streets of Paris alone for a few days. It was something I had dreamed of for some time, and something I felt (overly) confident I could do. Equipped with my out-of-practice French minor and a new pair of loafers, I was determined to have an ideal solo experience in one of my favorite cities. I spent my first evening wandering aimlessly, butchering my attempts at French and feeling my gut twist in discomfort.

What now? How do I eat by myself? Where should I go?

My lonely, extroverted self meandered the city haphazardly, returning to my Airbnb with an unsettledness that felt like defeat. The following morning, I woke with a determination to own the experience, regardless of what it looked like, and I spent my morning reading in a cafe and befriending the woman sitting next to me. She was from Norway, also by herself and glad to have some conversation. 

I woke with a determination to own the experience, regardless of what it looked like.

From this conversation and a handful of other stories of connecting people along my travels, what I learned is this: We will miss the kindness and beauty in people, different cultures and humanity if we are too self-sufficient. We can only embrace our travel experiences as much as we are willing to own our discomfort.

The idyllic moments might make for a good post, but the misadventures are the stories that turn to memories that last. They can define our travels for better or worse, depending on our willingness to be vulnerable. Mishaps become adventures. Inconveniences become an opportunity to see humanity deeply and truly.

Have you ever had something go wrong while traveling? How did you handle it and bounce back?

Image via Coco Tran, Darling Issue No. 19

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