Almost two weeks ago, as I grabbed a slice of pizza from a small cafe on my way home from a long walk, I met another American fellow. He had arrived into Playa del Carmen (the town where I am living) the day before for a 12-day vacation with his wife. At first glance, with his Nike t-shirt, New Balance sneakers and knee-high beige socks, Alfred looked like just another tourist in this well-touristy region of Mexico.

We spent about ten minutes chatting when I met him, although our conversation consisted only of endless complaints that he felt the need to share with me. He complained about the slow and ‘lazy’ pace of life in Mexico, about the terrible food, the lack of constant hot water in his hotel room, the poverty, the heavy presence of machine-gun totting police, the lack of English spoken, the pushy street vendors, the maniacal driving methods of the locals, the stray dogs and more…and he had only been in the country for less than 24 hours!

Finally, with visible anger on his face, he ended his rant by stating, “I think I made a huge mistake by choosing Mexico for a vacation.” A few moments later, we parted ways.

And then eleven days passed by…

Yesterday, I ran into Alfred once again as I was walking down the main street in town. I must admit that as soon as we made eye contact, I cringed at the thought of listening to more negativity and complaints about his vacation.

Nonetheless, I walked over to him and shook his hand. He told me that his vacation had come to an end and that he was heading home the following morning. And then he shocked me by stating, “You know what? This has been the best vacation I’ve ever been on!” This time there was no expression of anger on his face, only a genuinely stress-free smile.

Over the next ten minutes, I again listened to him run through a list of what his experience in Mexico had been like, although now, the list was remarkably different.

Alfred enthusiastically spoke about the cleanliness of the streets and how safe he felt at all times of the day and night. He had enjoyed learning a handful of Spanish and using it to interact with people he met. He didn’t mention the poverty, although he spoke about a wonderful meal he ate at a small, family-run restaurant right in the middle of that very area he had originally found so disturbing. He now found Mexicans to be friendly, generous and caring and he explained that never before had he felt so relaxed and calm in all his life. He repeatedly mentioned the freshness of the air down here and how breathing had never been so enjoyable before. He went on and on…and on…

After finally exhausting his extensive list of everything that was absolutely perfect with his visit to Playa del Carmen, he shook his head and stated, “My original impression of Mexico was all wrong. I love it here and I want to come back.”

Not only is this a true story, but I didn’t even mention that Alfred is 85 years old! I’m not exactly sure why, but that fact seems to make this story even more uplifting.

Alfred’s vacation can be looked at in one of two ways. Was it just that, a vacation, and nothing more? Or was it an exploration that will have some long-lasting positive effects?

I think, that even despite the knee-high socks, Al’s an explorer. Or at least he is now.

He left Mexico with a completely different, and opposite, mindset from the one he had when he arrived. And I’m certain that as soon as he landed back home in the USA this morning, he was eager to tell his family and friends all about his positive experiences. After all, his eagerness was more than apparent during our short conversation and I was barely more than a complete stranger to him.

And as he retells the story of his love affair with Mexico, there is a solid chance that some of those listening to him speak will be challenged to view this country and its people from a completely fresh perspective. Who knows? Perhaps someone will even decide to visit Mexico based upon what they hear.

But even if all that results from Alfred’s newly discovered respect for Mexico is one person’s altered impression or one person planning a vacation, it starts what could end up as a never-ending chain of horizon broadening. Once begun, this process of turning negative impressions into positive ones repeats itself over and over again and even better, it’s impossibly difficult stop.

I’ve met world travelers who’ve spent years on the road who have been less open-minded and less affected by their adventures than 85 year old Alfred. So if a man well past the age where one’s personal world views are typically solidified and unchangeable can turn a twelve day vacation into an eye-opening life lesson…I’m confident there’s hope indeed for a community of global citizens to make some serious, future-altering positive change.

How do you approach your vacations? As simple vacations, or as potential challenges to your current world view? Share your thoughts below!