Patience: it’s on my mind this week.
“The best things come to those who wait.” “You don’t know patience until you have kids.” I’ve heard these themes from time to time, and throughout my life. It seems odd to discuss it in the travel realm, though, when parents have already given themselves the top award for learning this “virtue,” and there are occupations that one must draw it from unthinkable depths in order to be successful (quickly, pet & child photographers come to mind). Oh, but you’ll need it, prospective traveler, for both practical and “perspective” purposes.
Practically speaking, as a tourist visiting popular sights, you’re probably going to get stuck in the crowds. Endless, nonsensical ticket lines (ahem, Florence), museum-swarming tour groups, and – of course! – the dreaded airport. And that’s not necessarily it. If you’re like me – originally a product of rural America – you must also learn to tolerate any kind of city crowd, whether on public transportation or simply walking down the street at lunch hour (*deep breaths*). I recall boarding a bus in Rome during rush hour so hopelessly packed that I had to block out the smells and send my brain to a happy place. And then, with the door finally about to shut, a lady literally sprinted towards the bus and leapt into the pile, landing a direct blow on the happiness I had found.
Aside from bruises and mental happy places, what can you do? Organized, advance planning is one major traveler’s tool: many major sights allow you to book your ticket long in advance, which often results in bypassing those who just decided to show up. The trade-off, if you consider it as such, is that your days may become planned in full, leaving little wiggle room for more spontaneous individuals. And this becomes especially true when your time in a given place is limited. I’d recommend reviewing your list of “must-sees,” determining which are most crowded, and at least booking the busiest of those in advance. In fact, some sights are so popular that it’s almost essential (I’m thinking Alhambra), lest you miss out entirely even after waiting in line. And research options in bigger cities, like Paris and Rome, which in the past have offered one pass that covers entry to multiple sights – and allows you to bypass the lines.
So do your research! Travel during off-peak hours when possible. And check a sight’s operating hours – especially large museums like the Louvre – and visit in the evening when the tour groups have accomplished their agenda and others are putting on their finest dinner outfits. In some cases, you might even find reduced or free admissions during this time. And it goes beyond city sights: once, simply as a result of circumstance, we arrived at the Giant’s Causeway in the evening were rewarded with no lines, no buses, beautiful evening light, and unhampered freedom to explore without stepping on the back of a stranger’s shoe. It was amazing!
Somewhere up above, I also mentioned patience in terms of your perspective, though I’m unsure if that’s quite the perfect word. Though common sense for some, it is still overlooked by many: when you leave home, things and people may very well be quite different than what you’re used to. And it’s okay to observe, perhaps analyze, but ultimately to let it be. For example, restaurant service trends towards being much, much slower in some European cities (I’m picking on Italy again, but also experienced it in Paris). These are cultures which still greatly value the dining experience, and this extra time gives you the opportunity to *GASP* have meaningful conversations without constant interruption (from the server, who is generally paid quite different than servers here in the US).
Sure, it takes some adjustment, and going out to eat is most certainly not the only mindset shift that’s necessary; it may be needed for all sorts of cultural norms, country-specific regulatory structures, and even the “human condition,” generally speaking. And I’m someone who has yet to truly leave my travel comfort zone, when considered big picture: there’s the rest of a huge world full of mind-blowing destinations out there. If you allow it, your patience and understanding of other cultures has the fascinating potential to punch holes through the barriers of your worldview, and may send you home just a little bit different than you were before. So take deep breaths, expect the unexpected, and draw on your well of patience to understand these new destinations.