It’s about who you’re with, not where you’re going

jaimequebec janis Mcmath

[dropcap]E[/dropcap]veryone, at some point in their lives, fantasizes about travelling the world and exploring different cultures. I am no exception. I would find nothing more fulfilling than the life of an explorer: constantly travelling, learning new languages, and immersing myself into different cultures. That is the reason that, on my high school road trip to Ottawa, Montreal, and Quebec City, is an experience I wouldn’t exchange for anything else. That fast and fleeting trip, which was about four years ago now, when I was 16, transformed my travel dreams into a reality.

My experiences provoked a life-changing moment for me about the significance other people have in our lives. This trip allowed me to see how, by and large, a culture is based off the people within it. As someone who prefers her own company rather than large group settings, it was jarring to realize how important locals are when you are getting to know a city. As intriguing as the new culture was, it was the people I travelled with and the new people I encountered that made the experience life changing.

Being on the bus was an experience in and of itself. Hours were spent traveling to cities and moving about within them. The bus rides in between our destinations were as every bit exciting as the cities themselves. The energy on the road was electric. We spent countless hours laughing and being silly. I always smile when I think of how we all formed a line on the isle of the bus to sing and dance to some cheesy Brazilian pop song. I cringe but laugh at all the immature things we did, like taking pictures of ourselves “smoking” fake cigarettes we bought in a gift shop and sending those photos to our parents.

Despite our childish antics, this was still a time of great personal growth for me. It felt like a more confident and social personality was replacing the quiet, shy person I was before. This trip helped me re-invent who I was and how I engaged with the world around me.

It was the people I travelled with that made the experience life changing

The most interesting thing about francophone cities in Canada is that they all have very different personalities. Ottawa was calm and serene. Montreal was vibrant and chic. Quebec City was quirky and intriguing. It felt like each city was a different country. I remember the trips in fragments. I remember eating deep-fried beaver tails and poutine, speaking my terrible French frequently, interacting with street artists who were drawing cartoon portraits of people, and marvelling at the centennial flame.

While most tourists try to blend in, our group embraced the experience of being a tourist by wearing white hoodies with J’aime Quebec written across the chest. In Montreal, we danced on the streets as the locals laughed and took pictures. In Ottawa, my friends teased me because I could never move fast enough for a decent jumping picture.

All the cities I visited were breathtakingly beautiful and aesthetically pleasing. The food was amazing and the attractions were captivating. But it’s people that created the space for me to feel free to break out of my shell that made this experience what it was.

Would I have discovered my love for travel if my travel companions were uptight and anti-social? Would I have laughed as hard if the locals did not laugh along? Would I have shown my weird and silly side if other people did not embrace those things?

I don’t know. All I am sure of is that my impression of the cities were influenced by the company I traveled with and the locals that shared their culture with me. I am lucky to have been around a group of people that were open and positive.

If you travel the way I did, you’ll never want to come home.