Travel is not a damned checklist

B.C. Kowalski
Mar 16 · 3 min read
At Prieto in Tulum. The shop owner is super sweet and we still have contact through Instagram on occasion. I only wish my Spanish had been better so I could have gotten to know her even more!

I remember on a trip about ten years ago with my Japanese ex traveling through Kyoto and Osaka. In Kyoto, we went on a whirlwind tour to get to as many temples as possible in the allotted time. I thought it would be more fun to simply meander around and enjoy a couple temples we happened to come across but she explained that this was not the Japanese way and shuffled me along. Sigh.

The temples were beautiful, but one of my favorite memories came from encountering a pair of fellows I met selling tabi (those cool boots ninjas wear) and some other trinkets. My Japanese had become good enough at that point that I could tell them I was from Wisconsin, and explain it was near the Great Lakes (most Japanese seem to have heard of that if not Wisconsin). Those times when my Japanese allowed me to have conversations with the locals (learning a shop in Nikko I visited had been in the man’s family for 400 years — wow) are some of my most rewarding experiences. I experienced the same in Mexico with Spanish. People really open up when you can at least start in their language, even if eventually we switch to English.

Whether Mexico or Thailand, I found the most fun were not found on the tourist checklists. In Thailand I stayed with a Thai friend, biked the city of Phuket with him and his lady friend, finding awesome little spots to eat, or just chilling over a coffee. I got to see his family shop and meet his nanny who now works there. She didn’t speak much English but I’ll never forget how every time I saw her she would say “so happy, every day!” with a big smile. In Mexico I was with a yoga group, the members becoming my good friends. One of my favorite photos is one our teacher took of me and my new good friend Nayeli in a yoga pose together hand to hand smiling at each other. The friends I made on the trip are what made it one of my favorite. I hugged her for five minutes solid the day I left. She didn’t want to let go. Neither did I.

I find this hard to explain to certain people. When people ask about my travels, they want to hear me run down the checklist. I suppose I can run down a few things that fit that mold, but frankly it’s not what made those trips special. Some get it. Many don’t. I’d usually rather not talk about my trips at all.

If I have one struggle with travel philosophy, it’s photography. I am a photographer at my core. It’s a job, an obsession, as passion, etc etc. I am also a big fan of one-bag travel, and my camera and giant lens don’t exactly fit that motif. My compromise mostly has been my iphone, which has a decent camera and fits into my pocket. As the old saw in photography goes, the best camera is the one you got. I know enough about composition, lighting, post productions and such to take a decent photo with the iphone. Honestly people can’t always tell the difference. But I think the key is to be selective, take the photo you want and get back to enjoying your travels.

I feel strongly about this, but to me at the end of the day it’s not about the tourist boxes you’ve checked off at the end of the day, it’s the people you met. Those are my fondest and most vivid memory of my travels so far, and I can’t wait to experience more of this.

B.C. Kowalski

Written by

Author. Journalist. Photographer. Thinker. Yogi. Geek.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade