David’s note – If you are just tuning in, let me get you up to speed here. Back in December, I decided to write about the first big group tour to Europe that I had a part in planning. The year is 1997 and we’ve just traveled all day on a bus from Paris to the Alsace region of France.
As it turned out we did a lot of driving today. The hours added up with the trucker’s strike, taking the back-roads, and the long distances to travel. However, getting off the highway and out into the countryside was a good idea.
Often when traveling in foreign countries, and especially on a bus tour, you tend not to notice the places between destinations. It’s just so easy to get on that bus each morning, let the driver drive, and forget about everything other than where you’re going next. This happened to me thirty years ago on my first trip to Europe. We’d all have a great time for a day or two at each destination, but when it came to our “travel” days all we could do was to sleep on the bus. At times many of us didn’t even know in which direction we were traveling or how far it was. I remember traveling from Tel Aviv to the Goland Heights, sleeping all the way, not knowing how far it was, in what direction it was, or how long it would take us. Basically we all just rode the bus, slept from one tourist sight to the next, and repeated the process day after day.
Getting off the highway for the first time gave me a new perspective on travel. I realized there were people in France living just like I do at home in my small rural town. As we traveled that day from Chartres to Colmar, my outlook and perspective changed too. France is a big country, especially when you start driving through it, and there is a lot of diversity. Until that day, my only perception of France was that which I got while visiting Paris. No wonder we have preconceived ideas about the French people! Paris is wonderful, but it is not a sound representation of the whole country just as New York City is not what immediately comes to mind when we Americans think about the USA.
Since that trip in 1997, I’ve done a lot of driving in France. Many times I’ve rented a car just so I could see and experience the country. Driving really makes you experience the trip. You can’t sleep at the wheel, you have to be alert, so consequently you begin to notice the little things. Kids playing in the school yards, teenagers hanging out, women visiting and shopping, men gathering for a drink or chat at the local bar… it’s the same stuff we do at our homes. The only difference is it is done in a different manner.
I guess the entire point here is that when traveling we should try to see things from a perspective other than as a tourist. There are a lot of people in this world and traveling makes us realize that we really aren’t all that different.