Hands down, the main reason I do this, all of this, adventure after adventure: for you, for the people out there I’m meant to meet! Sure, we have our best friends we’ve grown up with and will know till we’re old and decrepit. And we love them, whole-heartedly. But first off, you can never have too many friends, and meeting new people is one of life’s greatest adventures! And when you travel, its the best way to not only fight off the ever fearful spectre of being alone, but save a buck and earn some valuable experience.
Now, anyone who knows me knows that I am about as social a butterfly as there can be. For me, this comes natural. One thing that baffles me is that when we are at home, we are so afraid to go say hello to a stranger. Be it the fear of rejection or just shyness, we don’t do it in our familiar territory. But when on the road, it seems almost inherent that you say hi to a fellow traveler. If not for a need to speak in a language you understand, or because you really want a drink and its just too awkward to drink alone, going up to someone for something as simple as a light or a drink can lead to friendships that cross oceans.
Here is an example. I was in Rome, Italy in the summer of 2011. I was traveling with my friend Donna, who I met in 2010 in Glasgow, Scotland. We stayed at a hostel in Rome and the very last day, as we were leaving, a nice guy by the name of Jody came up to me and said hello. He was from a small town outside Rome and was in the capital to finalize his visa to come to America to teach special needs kids in a small town in Maine. We only had five minutes to chat, we we’re on the way out to head south to Sorrento, Italy.
After a quick “hello, where are you from, what are you doing” (standard hostel fare), I realized this guy was really interesting and fun and I said to him, “hey, here is my info, if you are ever in NYC, come visit me. Since you’re going to be in Maine, its not a far trip and I would love to show you around”. Sure enough, that Xmas 2011, Jody contacts me and says he is coming to NYC for the first time and would like to hang out. I say “come on down, stay with me!” Now, not everyone is as open as I am to having travelers stay in their home, but just know that it’s generally safe and worth the experience. If you want to be a seasoned traveller, its almost a pre-requisite, for the reasons below.
So Jody says to me “I am with two girls from Holland, one is in the same program, and the other is her friend. Can they come as well?” My roommate was away so I had the place to myself so I said sure, the more the better. I LOVE Holland too, the people there are so inviting, so I was looking forward to meeting new people. Jody showed up and introduced me to Tammerly Jane and Sofie. We immediately bonded and though, as of his arrival, I now knew Jody in person for about a total of 10 minutes, that special bond between travelers just kicked in! I got my guests settled and we went out to the bar for drinks and dinner. We came back later that night with a great buzz, took some really fun photos of us with pillows in our stomachs, running and bumping into each other, and finally, crashed for the night. The next day we had a great breakfast at a Brooklyn diner and I said goodbye, but that night would turn into some amazing and still on-going adventures.
Now the reason I tell this story is because I want to highlight the ripple effect of making friends on the road. So, a few days after our Xmas party night, I left for Israel for a wedding and a following month long trip around Europe. Now, whenever I go overseas, I typically go for at least a month. I will write more about this and why (sublet my apartment allowing me extra $ to travel, and if you go that far, you want to have time to see things.. etc..), but now that I had met Tammerly and Sofie, I decided to add Holland to my trip. Tammerly offered me her couch if I came to visit her in Leiden (a smalltown outside Amsterdam) and when planning a trip, sometimes the best destinations are the spontaneous ones. Perfect because I found a cheap flight home from Amsterdam and not only do I get to hang out with a new friend, I’ve got a free place to stay and I get to visit Amsterdam, one of my favorite cities!
Since then, fast forward to 2014, Tammerly has visited me again in NYC and stayed with me (was super fun to show her the town, and we had more time than just one night. And by now, we had become good friends), I have stayed with her two more times while passing through Holland, and Jody has visited NYC many times and become a part of my local crew. He is beloved in our little circle of friends now he is currently exploring South America for a year. Since I will be heading that way later in 2014 or 2015, I look forward to his experience to help craft my own South America trip (the best travel advice comes from your friends, firsthand), and I know he will introduce me to a million people so, before I even leave, I will have friends and fellow travelers to make that trip an adventure. I will probably have places to stay, people to show me the true local experience, and I wont be alone in a new land. This will make my trip not only in-expensive, but no doubt will lead to some interesting and crazy nights! All of this because I said hi to stranger for five minutes in passing!
I could go on and on about the countless times I have, while on the road or at home, said hi to a random person and we ended up having a 5am rager, or we explored a city together, or even just helped each other with advice and travel tips. From people whom I met for just a few hours, like young Amine who I met on a train from Casablanca to Marrakesh (he shared with me great stories about his friends and life in Western Sahara and Morocco), to Sarah and Jonathan (from Australia and America) who I met at a bar randomly in Rome and partied with for a few days, its amazing how those experiences can last for years to come. I look forward to hopefully seeing Amine again this year and accepting his offer to stay in his home (and he is always welcome in mine), to kicking it again with Jonathan in San Fran. Thanks to the internet of 2014, its possible to keep these experiences alive and always have something and someone to look forward to.
So talk to that person next to you, don’t be shy. If you are traveling, say hi to a fellow traveler. Trust me, they want to say hi to you as badly as you want to say hi to them. Who knows, you may even meet your future wife or husband! Or at the least, a travel buddy for life!