I never thought I’d be the type of traveller that would get in a car with a stranger. Paranoia and mistrust of most things is a pretty prevalent character trait in my family. Yet for some unknown reason, I stepped out of my comfort zone and into a 1996 red Camry, watching certainty disappear into the rolling hills of Tuscany.
What does it mean to travel outside of your comfort zone? For some people it could mean not booking their hotels ahead of time, eating something that doesn’t look edible, or even just getting on a plane to begin with. How do we know where our line of comfort begins and where it ends—or whether we even need to have one?
My friend and I were starving. We had just arrived to this strange resort 20 kilometres outside of Florence and none of the on-site restaurants were open. We struck up a conversation with one of the waiters who had just finished his shift and within a few minutes he was offering to take us for a döner that was a short drive outside of the resort. I mean, it wasn’t the rustic Italian meal I had been dreaming of, but anything would do at that point. As we walked up to the car my friend and I shot one other that look. You know, the “we probably shouldn’t be doing this” look—yet we continued to walk towards the car. She insisted on sitting shotgun just in case she had to take the wheel to save us—our imaginations can get carried away with us at times. Once we were buckled in and squeezed shoulder-to-shoulder with our new friends, the driver informed us that there was a change of plans. He would be taking us to his mother’s inn where there was some leftover food from a dinner she just prepared. I heard the sound of the automatic locks and my friend swallowing. Great. This must be code for “they’re going to kill us.” Did we just make a huge mistake?
Those were the longest ten minutes of my life. I remember trying to take in the jaw- dropping vista, but thoughts of my parents getting the news that I had gone missing were blocking the view. Suddenly we pulled up to a rocky road and the car slowed to a stop. I held my breath. This was it. He was going to kill us here. Our driver turned the engine off and opened the door, and the automatic lights lit up the car. He turned around and, in a loud voice, warmly welcomed us to his home.
With trepidation we walked towards his house. As we turned the corner we caught the twinkle of casually strung lights dancing across a table prepared with Italian delicacies. Michel (our new friend) carried out olive oil and pecorino (made by his neighbour), while his friend Sebastian began to serve us pigeon from a cast-iron pot. For the next three hours we spoke in broken English about politics, religion, love and celebrities, all the while filling our bellies with the rustic Italian foods I had dreamed of. It was surreal and to this day is one of the best travel experiences I have ever had.
That’s the beauty in travel: that around a corner there’s an experience waiting to be found. One that could possibly change you forever.
I’m not suggesting that you need to get into a car with a stranger to truly experience travelling. Definitely not. Perhaps, just once in a while, challenge that nagging voice that may be telling you to only follow what’s certain.
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