While volunteering at check-in during a recent commencement ceremony, I observed something I thought, at that moment, to be odd. The director of the check-in, a kind gentleman, wrangled astonishingly late, newly graduated students into the arena and made a game of this phenomenon.
He walked up and down the tables asking each volunteer to take a guess as to how many people would show up during the ten minute interval between “oh, you can definitely make it,” to “run, you really might not walk across the stage.” Being that this was my first time volunteering, I didn’t know how these events usually turned out, so I naively and shyly guessed four.
It was amazing to me just how competitive everyone became. Those who guessed that only one person would check-in late rejoiced when that one person came and went, then dismayed when the second person followed. And so it went, students running in a panic to and from our tables, volunteers overcome with glee and then disappointment when their predictions weren’t quite right.
In hindsight, I understand why the director did it. The volunteers weren’t getting paid and they took a good chunk out of their Saturday afternoon to ask a student’s last name then hand each one a card with brief directions. This little game spiced things up and gave us something to look forward to.
I have observed this behavior throughout much of the American culture. Perhaps due to our individualistic tendencies, we can’t help but compete with one another. My car is better than yours, my job pays more, my child is getting better grades. All the while, our boasts and brags are intensified through the continued use of social media.
As a traveler and observer, it has become wildly apparent that this behavior exists among fellow travelers as well. Sadly, some only roam to check-in at the Eiffel Tower, create a Facebook album with a clever title in another language, or Instagram yet another photo of a delicious foreign dish. And because of this, we lose sight of the real joy that travel brings us.
I’ll admit, I’ve been guilty of it. When I first studied and lived abroad, I would recount nearly every day’s happenings for my Facebook followers. I drank wine, I visited cathedrals, I made Italian friends. Instead of truly cherishing each and every moment I spent there, no matter how big or small, I was preoccupied with how I would cleverly phrase a status or tweet to really get the point across that I was actually living this.
And as time has gone on, I’ve come to realize this is no way to travel. Instead of living behind a camera lens, I take time to appreciate my surroundings, the people I’m with, and the fact that I may never be in that place again. Yes, I still use social networking sites to keep in touch with friends and family while away, but I do my best not to boast about the experiences I’ve had or exhaust these websites and the functions they serve.
But it gets even better! Not only will your travel experiences be richer and more rewarding if you stay clear of over-use, you will be able to actually talk about what you did and where you went (and this is shocking) in person! Yes, an actual face-to-face conversation about what you and your friends or family members have been up to since you’ve been gone. Trust me, it’s so much more rewarding to tell a story knowing your friends haven’t already read about it via tweet or status update.
If you’re wondering how the competition at graduation turned out, four people did actually show up late to check-in; I suppose my guess was a good one after all. My prize? A blue ball-point pen.