When I was little, I used to hate my name. Beatriz. Growing up in the U.S., most people couldn’t pronounce it correctly, the “Z” always threw them off. It’s not a common name at all in the U.S., so when I would introduce myself to people, I often got responses like “Wow, you don’t hear that name very often!” or my favorite, “That was my great-grandmother’s name!”. Now that I am older, I really appreciate and love my name. It’s unusual, at least in this part of the world, and I like that. But the biggest reason I love my name is that it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. My parents could not have picked a more perfect name for me to “grow into”. So thanks Mom and Dad!
So a while back I was looking up names and their meanings and of course looked up my own. “Beatriz” is just the Spanish variation of Beatrice and Beatrix. While now it means “bringer of joy” or “she who blesses” (which is nice), it is derived from the ancient Latin word Viator or Viatrix, which means “traveler” or “voyager”. Boom. I made a living out of traveling and transplanted myself somewhere new. Traveling is my passion. I’m a voyager (bonus: that makes you happy). Additionally, Beatrice was Dante’s guide through paradise in his Divine Comedy. I work as a guide in Tuscany (some people would call Tuscany paradise, no?) Dante and Beatrice were from Florence. I live in Florence. Wooo! This is getting kinda creepy. But see what I mean? My parents were prophetic in naming me Beatriz. Good work guys!
So I was born to travel, I love it so much and it is a huge part of who I am. I do it with a happy heart and an open mind. So let me get to my point….
For my entire adult life I have worked as a tour leader or in the tourism industry in some capacity, mostly here in Italy. It’s been a dream job, really. I may not do this job forever but I have loved it, even if many times it has tried my patience and made me feel frustration and annoyance.
When I first landed this dream job of leading hiking and biking tours around Europe, I was introduced to a whole new kinds of person: A tourist. Tourists and travelers vary; some are so cool (yay Canadians!) and others are scary (I’ll get to this later). Granted, there are many kinds of people in the world, and we all have different life experiences and we can’t all be the same. We all have fears and insecurities, and these always come out when we are outside of our comfort zone. Naturally, when we travel to foreign countries, no matter how wound-up or laid back you are, you will occasionally experience moments of awkwardness, discomfort, full-blown fear, or anxiety. As much as I like visiting foreign places, I too have experienced that anxiety in the pit of my stomach when I have felt lost, confused, ripped off, or unsafe in some way. But you have to remember that when everything seems strange and foreign and out of control to you, you’re still in control of yourself and your own attitude. Buck up, remember your capacities as a smart, responsible adult, and solve whatever situation you are in. Usually, it’s never as bad as your head makes it out to be. This was one thing that made me fall in love with traveling. It wasn’t just the places I visited or the people I met. It was everything I discovered about myself, and finding out what I’m made of.
In my many years of working in this industry I have met so many different kinds of people. I have worked with high-end luxury tour operators and more budget-friendly tour operators and have seen folks from all walks of life. To be honest, I have really liked most of the people I have met. Most people are so awe-struck by what they are seeing and doing, that a lot of the satisfaction from my job came from watching other people’s wonder and amazement. I have loved seeing the expression on people’s faces the first time they walk into the Piazza del Campo in Siena, or when they finished climbing the killer 11-kilometer hill up to Volterra on their bike. I loved the expression on their faces when they took their first sip of Brunello or devouring their tiramisù after swearing they couldn’t possibly eat another bite.
But I have also met people who made me wish I could pack their bags for them, pat them on the head, and send them back home and tell them to start over, because they are doing it all wrong. My friend Tony Pandola (whose essay inspired this post), who has also worked as a tour leader, wrote an amazing essay while he was traveling in Iceland this year. He entered it into a local contest in Iceland. In this essay, he had to answer the question “What makes a good tourist?” He brilliantly summed up what many of us who have worked in tourism know to be true: Being a good tourist means “surrendering completely to the reality of the place you came to experience, instead of wishing it were more like the place you came from. It’s the wisdom to know what’s out of your control (like the weather) and what’s absolutely within it (like your attitude). It’s smiling and saying hello to the hut warden, asking her name and where she comes from, before asking her tomorrow’s forecast… It’s knowing when to forget about the camera and just be completely present and in the moment. It’s the foresight to see that the most uncomfortable or unfortunate situations you find yourself in will soon be your favorite stories to relive. It’s the hardiness to push on when it’s time to push on, and the flexibility to change plans when it’s time to change plans… It’s recognizing that a place doesn’t owe you anything simply because you worked hard, saved your money and bought a plane ticket.”
My point is that so many people spend their precious vacation time and hard-earned money to go on a trip that they did not enjoy or did not really experience thoroughly, and not because the place they visited was horrible or unfriendly. So much disappointment and disillusionment from traveling and visiting foreign places comes from within the traveler’s own head. I think it is so important, before you go anywhere, to go really deep inside yourself and figure out what you want from a trip. Not all trips are relaxing vacations, nor are they always the adrenaline-packed adventure you read about somewhere. Go inside yourself and get rid of your expectations, prejudices, fears and biases. Without doing this first, you are more likely to encounter feelings like annoyance, fear, and anxiety on a trip, rather than wonder, amazement, and gratitude. Marcel Proust said one of the truest things about traveling: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
This post was getting a bit long so I decided that I am making it into two parts. I hope I made a point without rambling too much in this first part, and in the next part, I am going to talk about all the ones that are doing it wrong. It’s meant to be lighthearted and funny, but true at the same time. So stay tuned…