The last few weeks, whenever a fellow traveler caught me alone, their curiosity got the best of them. They’d lean in close and shrug quietly “Soooo…what’s traveling with your sister really like?”
They’d point to her, Rori, usually on the other side of the room, or wandering around outside the hostel, or maybe sleeping in a nearby bunk bed. My answer was always the same. “Traveling with my sister is exactly what you’d expect.”
Then I’d look over at my 19 year old sister and remember that I was her age when I backpacked Europe for the first time. It’s strange watching her make the same mistakes that I used to. It’s like looking through my own eyes 4 years ago, but seeing the world as I am now.
The start of the backpacking trip was an adjustment for Rori. She hated getting lost, especially when we had our backpacks on. To be fair, anyone could get frustrated in sweltering heat, with low blood sugar, and walking instructions in an unknown language. After one cranky bus ride (that’s all it took), we started packing snacks and downloaded an offline GPS map.
Rori also didn’t understand my insistence to plan our hostels or bus routes at least a day in advance. Not until we were racing through Dubrovnik and just barely caught our bus in the nick of time. As the bus zoomed away, Rori grinned at me, “Whew! That was close!”
Then there was the time that we decided to create a photo documentary of the “wild” animals of Europe. We only found pigeons, cats, and dogs, which meant that no one’s pet was safe from our camera. Locals were amused (or annoyed, difficult to tell) when we named every small dog we saw “Scruffy” and asked for a photo. The pictures turned out…exactly how you’d expect.
We visited Plitvice National Park in Croatia, and Rori plowed through the field of tourists who walked “too slow”. As we wandered back into Zagreb, some very awkward dancers- I’m talking jazz hands here- had Rori and I hysterically laughing.
That night, we ate cheesy strukle for dinner with a boy we met minutes before. He was getting ready to move to London and marry his girlfriend of 2 months! Throughout the trip, we loved learning the stories of other travelers we met on the road.
And don’t get me wrong, we had many moments where we drove each other absolutely crazy. Rori loved poking her head into any scenic photos I wanted to take. My picture would be set up perfectly, the light reflecting off my subject just right and then – boing! Rori. On the other hand, I was equally guilty of pushing her buttons with the perfect snide comments.
As the trip wore on, I watched Rori come out of her shell. If I left her alone, I’d catch her laughing with fellow travelers. She became our master navigator, deftly interpreting public transportation in the foreign language of the day. One night, Rori even played the piano for a room full of strangers- something I’ve never seen her do back home.
And I changed too. Rori got me hooked on at least 2 cups of coffee a day. I learned to be more considerate- like no shoes on her bed, or to walk slower so we could “enjoy the scenery.” I always appreciated how Rori and I could sit peacefully in silence after a long day exploring together.
Fellow travelers would often express that we made them miss their siblings. That always made me smile and hug my sister a little tighter.
On our first morning in Prague, Rori and I were searching for a café that was specially recommended to us. After 20 minutes of wandering in confused circles, we gave up, and decided to just take coffee from the first place we stumbled upon.
As we rounded the corner, there it was, the place that just moments before we had been eagerly searching for. As soon as we stopped looking, we found it. It became our spot in Prague.
Perhaps the essence of traveling with my little sister was described a few minutes before she left to go home. As Rori boarded the airport shuttle, she told me, “Lexi, everything wonderful happens to you while you’re not looking for it. That’s what traveling taught me.”
It’s me who’s learning the life lessons from Rori, after all.