In preparation for my trip to Southeast Asia, I've been reading the Lonely Planet. I don't tend to overplan my holidays or rely solely on guides, but I find them a good starting point when I'm feeling overwhelmed by all my travel options, not to mention a great source of inspiration.
The other day I read a testimonial by one of the contributors saying that one of the things she loves about Asia is the friendliness and the generosity of all the people she met, regardless of whether they were locals or fellow tourists.
It made me think of what I have loved most about my experiences overseas so far, and I realised I'd have to agree with her wholeheartedly. Sure, the food always a huge thrill to me - I get a big kick out of trying the local cuisine and it's always a highlight (sometimes the goal) of my trip. The beauty of the landscape and the natural environment is also another major plus that I hang on to afterwards - how could I not, when every continent has its own unique character?
But by far, the kindness of strangers and the fun of making new friends sits at the top of the list of highlights for me. Before stepping foot in Europe, I was pretty worried about the possibility of becoming lonely - in a big unfamiliar place by myself, not knowing who to trust, would I alienate myself? Would I come across as unapproachable, or fail to engage if people did try to connect?
Very quickly my anxieties faded away as I realised how easy it is to meet people while travelling. Whether it's a super nice roommate in a hostel, or a friendly couple sitting at the table next to you in a restaurant, or a chatty ticket handler at the museum - travelling brings people together. Fellow tourists are just as keen as you are to make connections, and they're up for anything. Locals hear your accent and ask you where you're from, want to show off their hometown.
Without even trying I found myself chatting away with randoms in Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, Barcelona. It was a very pleasant and welcome surprise! Sometimes if we got along really well, we forged deeper memories together, going on walking tours, visiting the beach, shopping, sightseeing, drinking. But even if we didn't, I still got a huge sense of the warm and fuzzies every time I got an unexpected smile from a stranger, and something about it alleviated my social fears. Each and every positive encounter I had boosted my spirits, no matter how brief it was. It helped me reach out to the citizens of whatever city or town I was visiting, and also to be more open to them reaching out to me, even to welcome me. It's a nice feeling, right?
And that's the beauty of travelling - it's more than just seeing a new place. It's about putting myself in the shoes of someone else from another culture, and being a part of their community, even if only for a little while.
It's fascinating thinking about how a physical space can shape the lives and mentalities of the people who occupy it - and I'm certainly not talking about deep philosophical reflections here. I'm just talking about the subconscious appreciation travelling gives me - appreciation for all the countless things in the world I haven't experienced yet, and the little kudos I can't help feeling because I had the courage to seek new experiences while others either can't or won't. Most importantly, it gives me an appreciation for all the things I left behind back home and never noticed before.
The perspective and the gratitude it gives me is so much more worthwhile than that great wine I had or how pretty that building was (though those things are rather awesome too).
Have you had similar experiences meeting new people on holiday? What does it give you? I'd love to hear your stories, please share below. smile emoticon