People travel for many reasons. Some leave their homes in search of new ones. Some set out with the hopes of learning a new language or experiencing different cultures, or both. Others just leave the safety and familiarity of home in search of anything new.
Regardless of the goals that we originally set out with, there is one thing that most come to realize – it is the people that make travelling worthwhile.
You can witness a thousand glorious sunsets, climb dozens of mountains or explore ancient cities, but the things that you remember are the people you meet and the memories you make with them.
Other Travellers Make it all Worthwhile
Engaging with other travellers can be as simple as saying hello to the person next to you or stopping to have a conversation with a complete stranger while you watch the sunset one evening. Asking strangers if you can join their table for dinner or inviting an individual or group to dine at yours can be the start of great friendships and memories – I’ve started many friendships from simply asking another traveller seated in a restaurant if I can join them for a meal.
Sometimes you’ll have no more than an hour of time to learn about each other while your paths cross momentarily, but sometimes you can find yourself with a few days, a week, or even a month to learn about each other and share in adventures as your traversing paths are aligned.
Maybe all you learn is where the best restaurants in town are or where to get the best frozen chocolate covered banana, hopefully though you’ll learn who they are and what they are all about. Sometimes you will find a simple conversation can change the direction you were headed that day, that week or for your trip as a whole, or perhaps even the course of your life.
I have found myself with the sun warming my backside after having spent countless hours engrossed in conversation with a fellow traveller about each of our hopes and dreams since the sun set before us hours earlier.
You can gain wisdom or reminders of lost lessons from new friends along your travels. “Follow your passions,” I was told by Michal Pearl Waldfogel. Once in a while you meet someone who reminds you to slow down and live in the present rather than always rushing forward in time.
Occasionally you will be reminded of your humanity and mortality as you console a new friend who’s just lost someone dear to them back home. Life can throw you a curve ball once in a while and strangers you’ve just met can become lifelong friends.
While travelling through Central America I found myself running into some of the same people again and again, often several months and countries apart. My Dutch travel buddy for three weeks in Mexico became an even stronger friend over the four months we both spent in Xela, Guatemala. Several fellow students from the Spanish school (PLQ) I studied at in Xela have also popped up along the way. I’ve dubbed them my road family and I find there is something profoundly special about rolling into a new city and seeing a familiar face.
Locals Make Travel Worthwhile
Connecting with local people can take your trip off the beaten path and to a whole new level. Don’t let your nerves or new traveller jitters cause you to overlook the potential opportunities that could come from getting to know locals.
More often than not you’ll learn more about the places you are visiting from those who actually live there – things that you would never find in a guide book or on the internet.
- Try couchsurfing. It may take you into cities and experiences you hadn’t expected.
- Talk to the locals. If you’re lucky you may get an invitation into their homes and their hearts – you could end up sharing a meal, a laugh and even learn a few words in a new language. You may not know their language, but hospitality knows no boundaries. They can share their culture and their way of life (which more often than not will be far different than your own) without even the need for words.
- Open your heart. You may have never imagined dating a local you meet while travelling, yet you may just find a connection if you’re open to it.
- Get some perspective. Meeting locals can often be a humbling experience. For example, you may find that what you paid for your dorm that night is more than what 80% of people in the world have to live off of each day. A harsh perspective that can make you realize that you don’t need everything you thought you did. This type of realization will have you rethinking the way you live when you return to your home or find new roots elsewhere.
While in Leon I happened upon a wood carver working on some replacement pieces for a 400 year old church. My discussions with him lead to four hours and four hundred photos of him working on his art, and an invitation to his home in the city as well as to his home in the country. I was the fortunate recipient of all that hospitality from nothing more than stopping to admire his work and taking the time to talk to him.
If you really thought I was only talking about travelling abroad, think again. What could you have gained from talking to that person standing in the line up at the grocery store yesterday?
Open your heart and your mind. Start a conversation. Put on a smile. Say yes instead of no. You’ll meet someone new, have an adventure, share a story, laugh, cry, live.
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