Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

The uncertainty of tourism

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less travelled by,

And that has made all the difference.”

The poet Robert Frost inspiringly wrote about the limitations of the adventurous route. Indeed, taking the route less travelled can make a difference, but it is not always necessary. Strolling through the main streets of common tourist areas, things can still unravel in unusual ways – it just requires a bit more observation and patience.

My weekend getaways to Berlin and Prague inspired me in ways more powerful than I could have imagined. I have done solo travel before, therefore meeting new people is no longer a strange experience. The people I have met on such trips tend to be more open-minded, seasoned, and more worldly. I usually stay in touch with these people, since you never know in which part of the world you might meet them again.

it is also important to be flexible and remain open-minded

I arrived in Berlin in the dark, after transiting at Brussels. First destination: Brandenburg Gate. It was a snap decision. The gate itself was spectacular at night, illuminated with light. You do not need to go to a nightclub or any particular hipster neighbourhood to discover the vibe of Berlin in the evening. You find wonder in just wandering around, breathing in the city’s air rather than constantly looking for things to do or see.

Later at the hostel, I met some of my roommates, two of whom were from the Czech Republic. I immediately took the opportunity to learn about what it was like living in one of the oldest, historical capitals of Europe. Obtaining advice from locals is the best thing you can do, and of course, pre-trip preparation and researching the place is important to get the most out of a trip. But it is also important to be flexible and remain open-minded.

a lady handed me a leaflet that was in English

The next day, I continued to wander around. Without realising, I ended up by the gate again, however this time it was different. There were more crowds, with groups gathering and taking pictures with loved ones. I approached with a smile, and a lady handed me a leaflet that was in English.

Being inquisitive, I started a conversation. She told me that her father had been missing in Syria for over five years. Government forces had ambushed him in 2013 in his home, since at the time he was a supporter of the Arab Spring demonstrations. His neighbours had seen it, and so her mother went to Syria to investigate further. To her dismay, most of the information obtained was unreliable, even after having paid for it. Since then, she’s had no further information about her father. What a story, I left feeling very sympathetic.

In an age where ‘anyone with a cell-phone can be a journalist’, the least I can do is try to make the world a bit more aware of those who are innocent

I looked back at all the other people in the group, suddenly picturing the thousands of deaths during the war, the hundreds of families displaced and torn apart, the children targeted with chemical weapons and dying of starvation. I felt a sudden chill, followed by frustration, and so went back to the woman. An unplanned moment of inspiration and empowerment, alongside a sense of compulsion and obligation, because the least I could do was offer reassurance that someone still cared. She said it meant a lot to her. In an age where ‘anyone with a cell-phone can be a journalist’, the least I can do is try to make the world a bit more aware of those who are innocent, yet still suffer the heavy loss of family in such situations.

That interaction was a powerful moment for me. You never know how a trip can make, or even unmake you. Being a bit more patient and observant can lead to entirely different sensations. Had I not approached her in the first place, had I not returned the second time, things would not have unfolded the same way.

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