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How growing up a country mouse prepared me for life as a city mouse

My best friend from my childhood is named Bobi Jo. Boooooooobi Jo, E-I-E-I-O. Bobi still lives in my hometown, works at the same place that she did her college internship, and drives what is, basically, the latest model of the first car she ever bought brand new. She smokes, has a regional accent, and religiously goes to the town’s baseball games – just like we did when we were in high school. Her daughter just started at the same school where that Bobi & I met when we were 12 years old. She’s all heart and I adore her. However, we shouldn’t be friends.

Bobi is not a travel risk-taker. I suspect that the farthest that she has ever traveled was from Pennsylvania to Texas – both times to vacation with me. She asked me what “coach” meant when she booked her flight seats to visit me in Austin in 2015. When I go home, we meet at the same bar owned by a guy we went to school with and she talks about the minor soap opera that is Centre Country(same stage, same players) and I talk about my travels. She thinks its crazy that I go places where I can’t read the signs and don’t know a single soul but, what she doesn’t realize, is that I’m just like her. As it turns out, growing up in the country prepared me for a life of exploration that my city dwelling compadres often don’t possess.

I have a sense of direction

I should be thanking the Girl Scouts and 4H club for this one. You’d be surprised how many people can’t properly read a map or orient themselves in new terrain without loads of signage. Don’t get me wrong; I love google maps but, when the compass is going crazy or being connected just isn’t an option, its good to know how to find your way(and your way back). I’ve learned that the same principles of finding your way down a series of unmarked country roads will apply to most cities. Noting landmarks and subtle changes in the landscape are second nature. At this point in our societal evolution, most cities around the planet have developed with a few standard criteria that give you context clues for the “wilds” of foreign lands. There are plenty of signs, both literally and metaphorical, in the city so, if you can find your way around a small town, then you can find your way around the planet.

Just call me Ms.Gyver

There is a reason that the phrase used to ubiquitously describe to fix anything with anything  is “duck tape & bailing wire.” You don’t find bailing wire in the city, honey! Did I tell you about the time that I lit a campfire on the beach in South Africa so we could all eat that evening? Did I beat on my chest and howl at the moon afterward because I am a fire-goddess? You know it! I could write a book (well, maybe a pamphlet) on 50 ways to braid your hair when you don’t have shampoo left or even a brush but you do have tons of humidity! Vaseline fixes pretty much everything. So do safety pins, Ziploc bags, and hair bands. Move over, Mr. McGyver. There is a new Sheriff in town…at least for a couple of days.

We ain’t fancy

No one in the country is rich. Even the people that I once thought were rich were, compared to city folk, not particularly wealthy. In my hometown, they opened a Red Lobster restaurant in 2011. 2011! We got a real* hotel around the same time. Until then, thought that a Motel 8 or Holiday Inn were the gold standard of vacation lodgings until I worked at a Crowne Plaza resort when I was in college. It’s a simpler life outside city limits with fewer trappings and options but it gave me a clear view of what is essential and what is a “convenience”. This is particularly useful when you have to pack your bag for three weeks but you still have to be able to carry it yourself from tiny shuttle boat to island dock. Most of the world is living lives not so different from the life I grew up in rural, central Pennsylvania. A time without personal smartphones that fostered a talent to create hours of self- entertainment. I still don’t bat an eye when I hear it will be a 4+ hour car/train/bus journey to our next destination. Most of the world is, in reality, remote, rural and relaxed. Because I don’t expect a concierge and an array of tiny soaps when I travel, that means that destinations where the hospitality is not much more than a clean room with running (sometimes hot) water still seems totally acceptable to me.

A country girl has your back

In the country, people smile as you pass people on the street. You talk to the person in line at the grocery behind you. They look you in the eyes. When I travel, I have zero awkwardness in approaching someone to ask for help. On the flip side, while its good to be able to spot a friendly soul if you need help, a stranger approaching you on the street may not be as kind-hearted. There are traveler skills that I have picked up living in the city. Keep your belongings close to you and know where you are going before you walk out the door. Trust your gut instincts to stay safe and learn to say “No, thank you” directly and firmly.

That warning stated, in general, I have zero awkwardness in approaching someone to ask for help. The rule I learned growing up in rural America is that women are the ones to ask for help; especially if you are a woman in need of help. They will almost always know what the answer is to the question that you are trying to ask in a combination of hand gestures and broken words…or they will do their best to find someone who can help you. Woman to Woman – a country girl has your back.

A few years ago, I arrived in Vinales, Cuba on the weekend of Easter Sunday.  A tiny but self-sufficient rural community, they were having a town carnival with food stalls, rickety kiddy rides, and games of chance to win silly, cheap prizes. Whole families were in the streets, visiting with neighbors, having a bit of dinner, dressed in their “best” jeans. At the center of the festival was the church where the local children’s choir was singing songs in Espanol; some of them still dressed in ti y uniforms from an unseen parade. It was a scene I instantly recognized if you swap out church and Spanish for a volunteer fire hall and loud American laughter. Not a thought of cultural differences or being a stranger in a strange land entered my mind. I felt myself relaxed deep in my soul as I tucked into juicy, roast pork and a slightly warm beer. I could swear that I’d never travel from home at all.

*real = has an indoor pool. Any pool, for that matter. We aren’t picky.

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