In a restaurant in Tulum with a guy from Canada and a girl from Switzerland, I make a joke about my dinner order. You see, this particular restaurant serves chips and a generous portion of pickled carrots, peppers, garlic, and onions with every meal. My joke is that, if I only order a smoothie, I’ll still get to eat a large portion of chips and pickled vegetables, so why pay for a whole meal? This is backpacker logic at its finest.
It hadn’t occurred to me that one of them would take my joke to heart. At the end of the meal, the Canadian offers to pay for my meal (aka a smoothie). I object and insist that I’m not actually strapped for cash; I can surely afford the smoothie. I also try to placate him by telling him that I had already eaten a substantial quantity of al pastor tacos not too long before this meal, so I wasn’t even really hungry.
But this combined with the fact that I look younger than I am and that I’ve been traveling for so long probably sent the message that I was a young, starving backpacker trying to get by any way I could. He took this information and made an assumption about me.
I didn’t know how to explain, in that moment, that I actually work while I travel and that I generally have enough money to get me by, even in the pricey restaurants of Tulum. But traveling for so long has ingrained into me a kind of closed wallet policy. I would rather eat $2 tacos al pastor at a roadside cart than a $7 meal in a restaurant. I would rather sleep in a bus station than pay for a hostel if I’m in transit. But also, al pastor tacos… YUM.
However, he couldn’t (or wouldn’t) shake the image of me as a starving wanderer. And so I got a free smoothie.
In any case, it got me thinking. When constantly on the move, the chance to frequently befriend new people for short periods of time becomes the norm, and so does the habit of making initial assumptions. I certainly am guilty of this, too. However, it never fails to delight me when someone new surprises me by not being what I expected.
This continuous revelation of unexpected human traits has also enabled me to reconcile myself. Being able and eager to make chasm-crossing leaps from one extreme personality trait to the next, it’s safe to say that I often surprise myself as well. At times I’m the party monster under your bed at night, popping out and screaming, “I’m Brittany Bitch!” while awkwardly white girl twerking to some generic, misogynistic song I can’t get enough of. Other times, nothing is more appealing than hiding myself away from the world with a good book and the subtle sounds of solitude. With the absurd amount of human qualities in every corner of the world and in every curve of a single psyche, it’s really not unique that I embody these opposing traits, so it also surprises me that this surprises me at all. Yeah, try sorting that one out.
Because of the constant and unavoidable confrontation with new experiences every day, we continuously learn how to adapt, or to be a different person from one moment to the next. The beauty of human nature is our complexity and our ability to transform.
However, that night, I had unintentionally transformed into the starving backpacker version of myself. But maybe a more likely explanation is that I brought out the generous traveler in him, or that that’s who he had decided to be that night with his new companions.
In any case, I paid it forward the next night. Hanging out with two 18 and 20-year-old girls from Ireland and France, respectively, who actually were young, cash-strapped backpackers, I bought a boatload of tequila and beer for us to share. After all, what’s the point of having a frugal, antisocial side if you can’t compliment it by blowing your cash every now and then on some new friends at a Full Moon Party in Mexico?