We’re sharing some of the Passion Passport team’s most memorable travel stories in our “Staff Stories” series. To go along with our Twitter chat, this week’s theme is Unexpected Travel experiences!
Michelle (business development)
In 2014, I escaped from New York City. I sold my clothes, packed my things into little boxes, and told everyone I was headed for Guatemala. The goal was a month of Spanish classes in the mountains and I packed my bag with that in mind. Stuffed with jeans, a sweater, boots, wool socks, and a book of 5,001 Spanish verbs, there wasn’t much room for mind-changing.
Except that I changed my mind.
Despite my long-standing plan to head south, I realized that my heart was really in Cambodia. I’d wanted to visit since my first solo trip to Vietnam in 2007 and every time I went online to book the ticket to Central America, I looked up flights to Cambodia instead.
I’d already packed my apartment. My Guatemala-bound bag was filled with wool socks. But, in an unexpected move, I scrapped the plan. I bought a ticket to Siem Reap and took a last minute road trip from Florida to New Jersey (that’s an entirely different story). On the day of my flight, I had visa photos taken on my way to the post office. At the post office, I mailed the sweater, the socks, and book full of verbs to a friend.
And then, in an unexpected move I couldn’t have guessed even a week before, a cab took me to JFK to catch a flight to Cambodia.
Author’s note: I did make my way to Guatemala about a year later. My Spanish is still subpar.
The unexpected unfolds every day when I walk down the street. Riding the subway in NYC or roaming the roads of Berlin, my attention draws to how someone’s bright red lip contrasts their navy shirt, or how two friends seem to have unconsciously matched their outfits in pink and khaki. I observe the sartorial landscape and ask myself, “what can a single outfit communicate about one person and their everyday culture?”
For years, I’ve taken portraits of strangers based on these silent surprises, whether it’s the layering of different patterns and textures, or the striking mood an outfit exudes.
Fashion is a language everyone speaks without realizing it and I learn surprising new words on the street every day.
Being a movie star was never a goal of mine. Yet there I was, on a film set in Vietnam, waiting for my cue.
My friends and I were asked if we were interested in being in a film that was being shot nearby to our hostel. No details were given,
but we accepted instantly. Expecting the movie to be a low budget indie film, we were instead met with beautiful sets, a hair/make-up team, and a famous Vietnamese actress.
Only a few on set spoke English. Our roles were to walk around the set conversing with others at a party. To us, “conversing” meant nodding at things we didn’t understand and repeating the only Vietnamese word we knew (“hello”) over and over. I stuck out like a sore thumb in my bright colored clothing and hair crafted to look like a bird’s nest, rising three inches above my head. We were laughed at often, and many of the women on set were fascinated with pinching my cheeks.
In the end, the experience was a rewarding one. I made many Vietnamese friends my age, comparing the vast differences of our lives. I learned how exhausting it is to be in the film business, and how much work it takes to put the whole thing together. For 14 hours of work, I made $30 (the cost of a week’s worth of accommodation at our hostel).
The movie will soon be in Vietnamese theaters this spring. Stay tuned!
I’d only been out of the country for a few days when I met Ian.
My grandmother — Nana — and I were in London, heading across town to meet a family friend for tea, when we saw an elderly man painting a watercolor of Big Ben. I snapped a picture of him and he turned around to say hello. The conversation that followed — about how he couldn’t figure out how to work his email, American politics, his career as an architect, and his suspicions about why his wife hadn’t gone to play bridge with her friends that night — was surprisingly normal, but absolutely charming.
My expectations for what it was like to travel abroad were established by my chance encounter with Ian. That one interaction affected my semester abroad, my summer in Europe, and all the traveling I will do in the future.
A little over a year after I met Ian in 2015, I found myself back in London and knew I needed to see if he was still there. So I set out, searching Parliament Square until I saw something that made the entire trip worth it. An easel, a small Union Jack flag, and a painter sitting beneath the statue of George Canning.
Everywhere I go, I look for an Ian — a single moment or a person I couldn’t have expected that somehow changes the entire experience for me. I have no idea if Ian will be there on future trips to London, but I know I’ll look for him just the same.
What has been your most unexpected travel experience? Share your stories with us!