Yes, “I’m a f*cking tourist.”  That’s what the jogger mumbled at me as I was walking on the sidewalk of a not-so-tourist-like neighborhood in Spain.  I love exploring beyond the obvious.

Crazy is what they called us to our face and behind our backs.  It was probably not the best time to travel to Europe, given the global pandemic and a war in Ukraine.  Ukraine is about as far away as South Carolina is from us here in New Hampshire, but we faced use it or lose it situation – a pair of first-class, round-trip tickets from Boston to Barcelona had to be used by May 2022, so off we went!  The airline did not survive the pandemic; gratefully we survived flying on a bankrupt airline.

My husband and I are two reasonably healthy older adults who recently spent two weeks on our own in Spain and a week on the world’s largest cruise ship.  The Wonder of the Seas hosts almost 7,000 guests; it was just over 55 percent full.

Here’s seven random lessons and observations:

1 – An abundance of patience and expecting uncertainty was required.  Each location had different Covid rules.  We spent lots of time figuring out how to comply and get tested. We were grateful that we had consistently negative results.  Testing costs ($20-$200), wait times (0-180 minutes), locations, and hours open varied.

2 – We were out of our comfort zone. We were strangers in a strange land, not speaking the language or knowing the culture.  I studied Spanish in high school and had completed 100 days on Duolingo, an app for the world’s most popular way to learn another language.  We didn’t speak Catalan, Spanish, French, or Italian.   I gained confidence understanding Spanish as we went along, and could say important things such as, ‘I don’t speak the language’ and ‘Where is the bathroom?’  My husband, a Boston driver by birth, met his match in a seven-lane rotary, with no painted lines, at rush hour in Valencia, Spain.

3 – I project manage everything.  I had goals and over planned.  I easily lived out of one carry-on bag, a gorgeous backpack, and my pocketbook.  And still, I overpacked!  We stayed overnight in seven different venues!  Airbnb’s and/or hotels in five different locations.  By the end of our adventure, I had achieved two goals!  Being able to walk a mile carrying all my stuff, and to carry all my stuff up the 59 ancient marble steps up to our third floor Airbnb in Valencia, Spain.

4 – History has a huge influence on today.   Spain, Italy and France are wise elders.  Their history goes back thousands of years longer than New England, where I grew up and live now.  After visiting the Spain/Catalan History Museum, my head was spinning with who conquered whom and for how long.  All the images I’ve seen in movies about castles, kings and queens, dictators, civil wars, worker rebellions – even car chase scenes – are there.  Their history includes genocides, migrations in and out, religious wars.  There were more churches and castles of all shapes and styles than I’ve ever seen.   The results are modern cities that have been rebuilt, built over, and redesigned.  A mishmash of breathtaking and patchwork in various states of perfection.

5 – Influence doesn’t always work as you think it does.  The United States is like a petulant teenager, who wants and gets all the attention, deserved or not. Pieces of the USA culture are evidenced everywhere, like the busker in Spain singing Stephen Foster’s Oh! Susanna (oh don’t you cry for me) from the deep south.  The McDonald’s in Spain serves croissants, but no Egg McMuffins.  Diet Coke is instead Coke Zero, since marketers determined the word diet did not appeal to macho males who see dieting as a woman’s thing.

6 – Physical Walls are a thing of the past. Every place we visited had a wall.  Walls caused dissent and division. You were either in or out. Living the life in between required knowledge of the culture inside the wall, so you didn’t lose a limb or your life.  In Barcelona, thousands of deaths were attributed to the wall in the 19th century, because the walls kept disease inside the overgrown city.  Most walls have since been torn down or repurposed.  They are beautiful to visit, especially the seven picturesque walled cities in Spain.  I wonder, do these lessons of physical walls apply to software such as Firewalls, Pay walls, Agile walls, and Security walls?

7 – People and sites made it worthwhile.  We were tourists.  We are Americans.  We were in the minority.  We didn’t speak the language or know the culture.  I learned as much as I could before going, and the rest we figured out as we went.  We relied on wonderful and helpful people to assist us in all things, from reading a menu to finding an Airbnb hidden down an ancient alley.  We met many interesting travelers along the way.  One was a charming family of four who have been traveling for a year!  What an experience for the children.  I’m in awe!

For the privilege to explore and travel, I will continue to risk being “a f*cking tourist.”  I believe traveling makes us better people and stronger leaders.  Everywhere we go, we gain enhanced cultural awareness, practice problem solving, and get out of our comfort zones, which builds confidence and bridges.