AFTER nearly a year in perpetual transit, hopping between the far-flung spots on 2019's 52 Places to Go List, many questions are not easy to answer.

Maybe a more cohesive picture of a once-in-a-lifetime year will crystallize with time. For now, the best I can do is draw out the moments that float on the surface of my memory, the ones I'm most grateful for, as they taught me invaluable lessons not only about the world, but also about myself.

And isn't that why we travel?

'WHEN I said Yes to Goat-Carcass Games and Urban Lions' :
By the third-hour in a field on the outskirts of Samarkand, Uzbekistan, my hair had taken on the hue of the dust that filled the air in roaming clouds.

Every time I smiled, which was often, more dust poured into my mouth. Two hundred men on horseback galloped back and forth across the dry grass, in pursuit of their target : a goat carcass stuffed full of sand.

Shouts from the riders, the whinnying of horses and the cheers of thousands of spectators filled the air. At one point, being the only foreigner - and so a guest of honor - I was invited to ride on the truck that drove onto the field to drop the goat and start each round of a sport that originated with the nomadic herders who inhabited these steppes 1,000 years ago.

Six months later and 5,000 miles away, in a small suburb of Dakar, Senegal, ''false lions'' - men channeling the spirit of the animal - growled, leapt and twirled in elaborate costumes.

Drums thundered at earsplitting volumes and children shrieked in delight as the lions chased them through the streets.

There's a tendency to plan our travels down to the minute. We want to make sure that we are getting the most out of a trip that uses up our valuable-money and vacation time. Toward the beginning of the year, I spent hours planning each stop - going over notes on the plane ride and sketching out what each day might look like.

By my final stop, I barely knew where I was going to stay until the day before I arrived. The sweet spot is probably somewhere in between, with enough planning to to know where you're going but enough flexibility to say yes to the unexpected.

New friends and currents of serendipity brought me to horses and the lions - and gave me two experiences I'll never forget.

When I Became A Member Of The Guild

Hanging from the zipper of my camera bag is a small, bronze key. It grants me access to the backdoor of the Christian IN's Guild clubhouse in the Danish city of Aalberg. Over the past year, I've accumulated soccer jerseys, paintings and handwritten poem about an Italian horse, but this key, a symbol of my membership in a Danish society with roots in World War II, has to be the oddest gift.

How I got it is just one of many examples of how dropping your guard and letting strangers into your life can lead to experiences that land far outside the realm of conventional tourism.

It started with Kit Sorensen, whom I met on my first afternoon in Aalborg. By the evening, she had taken off work for the remainder of the week to show me around.

Together, we explored World War II bunkers and the city-within-a-city of Fjordbyen. Sensing that I craved a home-cooked meal, she invited me to her family's house, where I made even more friends -and got invited by a stranger to to join the Christian IV's Guild because he felt that ''I had what it takes.''

When traveling alone, it's up to you how alone you really are. Sit at a bar and take a break from your phone, and in minutes you'll be getting a list of things to do from a local - as I did in Munich, in Vietnam, in Tunis. You might be invited to their homes - as I was in Georgia, Puerto Rico, Bulgaria.

In a quiet bar in the small Japanese city of Takamatsu, you might find yourself the only customer going on a deep=dive into salsa and jazz with a cat-loving bartender whom you would have never known if you hadn't smiled and said ''hello.''

There are walls that as a man traveling alone I didn't have to put up.Being ethnically ambiguous was also, it turns out, my superpower letting me blend into the streets of so many places around the world and walk home at night without getting a second glance from locals.

One's experience of the world so often depends on one's identity, and I can speak only to mine.

At the same time, I believe that in general travelers will encounter kindness for more often than hostility. An open mind a willingness to learn and an acknowledgement of our own ignorance about a new place or culture flings the doors that separate us wide open.

This delightful post continues to Part 2.The World Students Society thanks author Sebastian Modar : ''52 Places Traveler''.


Post a Comment

Grace A Comment!