This post is a guest post written by Katy Schlegel, the Founder and CEO of Mariposa Skies, a social enterprise that supports fashion artisans from all over the world. Katy loves storytelling and sharing the stories of the amazing artisans she has met during her travels from around the world. Katy's company not only supports local artisans from places like Bali and Morocco, but she also donates a percentage of proceeds to non-profit organizations she believes in. Check her out on Instagram here!
One of the life lessons I continually learn while traveling is it is all about the connection. Since this is what I take with me each time I travel, I wanted to share with you the five ways I have found to create true connection while traveling.
1. Learn the language
The first is to learn the language. Now you don’t need to be fluent, but phrases, especially greetings as well as thank you are so important. When you take time to learn the language, it's a sign of respect that will take you a long way. It shows you are willing to go outside of yourself, for a taste of who they are. When I first lived in Buenos Aires, I had a difficult time feeling welcome. I believe the main reason I finally was welcomed was because I learned the language. When I started to speak like a local it threw people for a loop. I obviously looked like a foreigner, with my blond hair and blue eyes, but I endeared myself to locals by using their own language.
The second way I connect to people while traveling requires seeking volunteer opportunities through platforms such as WorkAway or WWOOF. Volunteering gives you an opportunity to connect with locals as well as travelers, while working alongside of them. My experience took me to a small finca (farm) in San Rafael, Argentina. While I was there I worked with people from all over the world and what brought us together was this beautiful experience. Every moment on the finca was accompanied with an unreal feeling. There I was in the middle of Argentina on this farm, looking at the sky that seemed to be more vast than the one I knew back home. I felt so small but incredibly triumphant. My clothes were filthy, my skin was dirty, and I smelled of the earth; but I had never been so happy! And the reason was not from the work that I had done, though very proud of it I was, but I was happy because of the people I had met and what each of them taught me.
3. support local artisans
The third way in which I seek out connection is by purchasing local fashion and art made by local artisans. For me, in particular, learning about the fashion of the culture opens so many doors to learning. It not only is a great way to bring home one of a kind pieces, but by connecting to the makers- the artisans- you also have a story to tell. It gives what you wear more meaning. Often times, local artisans incorporate their own sense of culture into the piece of fashion or art. I have this amazing pair of boots from a local designer in Ubud, Bali. Her name is Ketut Lastri. I always receive compliments on them and when people ask me where I got them- I get to tell her story of how she is one of the only woman business owners in Ubud, Bali. That the fabric she uses in her designs is a traditional Balinese pattern. You see, I have the opportunity to give her a voice and connect her story through the fashion I buy while traveling and then wear back home.
4. embrace Customs & Culture
The fourth way is by observing and partaking in the customs of the culture. When I was in Brazil I had an opportunity to learn Samba. If you have ever seen Samba, you know it’s not easy to pick up. I do dance, but my hips do not move that way naturally! I knew by observing how it plays a huge part in Brazilian culture. I saw first hand how it connects the entire country when it comes to Carnaval. When I signed up for lessons, little did I know that my dance instructor would be willing to open up and share even more of Brazil with me. Through this experience, I was able to see the true and beautiful culture that is the Carioca’s (people from Rio de Janeiro) spirit: one filled with love and acceptance.
5. Pay it forward
The fifth and final way is the simple act of paying it forward. When you are shown an act of kindness from a stranger while traveling, pass it along to the next. I learned this after my wallet was stolen in Buenos Aires. It was my first week there and the events that played out could have gone terribly wrong. I had only pennies left, but the kindness of a stranger at the train ticket office let me have a ticket for just that. To make matters worse, I didn’t know the area very well so I missed my stop. I had to rely, yet again, on the kindness of a grandmother who bought me a ticket and told me what stop to get off on. I will never forget the people who helped me. Since that time, I go out of my way to help people when I travel. It is a way of showing my gratitude to those who helped me during difficult times.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, for me, connection is the most important lesson one can learn while traveling. Without it, a country is just another place, a person is just another face, and a thing is just that, a thing. When all is said and done, those connections you experienced while traveling create the stories of your life. After all, that is what brings us together as human beings, the ability to connect to one another.