Welcome back to WellTraveled Wednesday!
Today, I would like for you to meet Theodora.
Theodora and I met in Rome, Italy during my Spring 2012 semester abroad. I remember walking down a dingy path right along the Tiber River in complete amazement that so many people lived here beneath the foliage and waste discarded from the streets up above. To the naked eye, many of these devastating and unsanitary, living conditions went unnoticed. Yet, on the coldest of Roman nights and snow-filled winter mornings while much of the city was safe behind closed doors, those living on the streets faced the elements with little choice otherwise.
I first noticed Theodora because she had all the basic amenities of a house - a bedroom, kitchen, and dining room - tucked away under one of the bridges crossing the river. Her arrangement was simple, yet impressive for she made a clear effort to keep her belongings neat and tidy. Our first exchange was rather brief and could not have lasted longer than a few minutes. It was our second interaction when I heard her life story that would change my life for the better. Little did I know that this unconventional encounter would become one of the pillars for why I always opt in on the road less traveled.
Theodora’s story began in Hungary, the country where she was raised and where her mother lived at the time of our conversation. I learned that Theodora had battled a rough past with substance abuse, but after a life-changing dream one afternoon, she gave up that lifestyle and started encouraging others to do the same. She credited this dream as an answer to her prayers and admitted that it was the first time in a long time that she felt safe and at peace.
So, why am I introducing Theodora to you today?
In short, Theodora taught me the importance of adding value to others’ lives by sharing my story and living every day with a desire to have genuine interactions with each person that I meet. Her warm and welcoming personality contrasted the grim, uninviting path that led to her living quarters. Who would have thought that such a moving encounter awaited there underneath a bridge halfway around the world? I know I didn’t. My encounter with Theodora represents the breadth of opportunity in taking the unconventional route - better known as the road less traveled.
Millions of tourists visit Rome throughout the year and frequent the more well-known stops such as the Colosseum, the Vatican, and the Trevi Fountain. And while these sites provide great snapshots of Rome’s storied past, I would make the case that the road less traveled offers an even more stimulating travel experience...an experience that could very well change your life. What is more is that this unconventional route takes on a different nature depending on where you travel. In Rome, it was embarking on a photography project to bring attention to the homeless crisis while in Switzerland, it was tackling the Swiss Alps solo on a snowboarding adventure. And for you, the road less traveled might look completely different, but what matters most is being open to the route that may veer from the traditional way of experiencing a place.
What do you say? Are you ready for the road less traveled on your next adventure? If so, here are three quick tips to set you off in the right direction:
Be vulnerable - Taking the road less traveled requires an open-minded approach to the world of travel. Social media may disagree but here’s the truth - not everyone’s trip to the islands must include sandy beaches and palm trees. The unconventional route requires an unconventional approach!
Be attentive - I am thankful for my encounter with Theodora, but I could have easily looked right past that opportunity if I was not intentionally aware of my environment. Every place that you travel, there are doors of opportunity all around you to experience more than the traditional, tourist highlight reel.
Be persistent - It took two visits to Theodora’s quarters to have the exchange that I shared with you above. If I had not gone back after the first time, this blog post may have looked completely different. No matter the obstacles - unless what you’re trying to do is illegal - remain determined on your path to unconventional travel.
Educators/Parents - Can you help your students or children identify unique experiences in their local community? If you have a small group, see how many different ideas they can come up with.
Students - Did you sign up to take the road less traveled? If that answer is yes, we want to encourage someone else. After your next travel experience - in your community, in your state, or even in a different country - share your unconventional journey with a friend or classmate.
Stay Educated. Stay Empowered. Stay WellTraveled.