When I tell stories about my experiences traveling, the first thing I want to talk about is people. I want to talk about Cicine, the French-Algerian crêperie owner in Paris who served my friends and me Moroccan mint tea in patterned shot glasses, dispensed nightly advice and stories, and gave us boxes of dates and instructions to eat them stuffed with butter.
Or I want to mention Keri, the sassy British bombshell on my Contiki tour group in Greece who lost her bathing suit bottoms during a tubing ride off the shore of Ios and made me laugh so hard I cried. Or I talk about Brian, the adorable French rugby player who offered to walk my friend Laura and me home and texted us to make sure we arrived safely.
I'd want to talk about the reserved Rastafarian from South Africa who told me it would be all right when I abseiled off the top of Sentinel Mountain and gave me a hug at the bottom. I could talk about Sarah, the energetic Australian with a giant smile who offered me soup and words of kindness when I was seasick in Greece.
I’d talk about Pete, the friendly San Francisco Lyft driver with a fresh haircut who drove me and Kyle home, doled out multiple fist bumps, and made us laugh when it was late and we were tired. I could talk about Jean-Pierre, the eighty-something year old man who ate socca with Charlotte and me in Nice and said he would have loved to flirt with us when he was younger.
I’d talk about Callan—a vibrant and compassionate coordinator of One Heart Source’s teaching program in South Africa—who wore one dreadlock in her long blonde hair, taught me how to make ginger tea, and inspired me daily with the gratitude and patience she displayed. I could bring up Fernando, the sweet multi-lingual Brazilian guy who lived in my Parisian foyer, spoke perfect English, and was always available to offer a listening ear or good bear hug. I would talk about Odile, the beautiful French mother and teacher who invited me to her home every week in Bourges to cook and eat and practice languages together.
These people, and so many, many more, have impacted my life in ways they probably have no idea about. Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve had the opportunity to meet people who have made me laugh, made me think, and made me cry. I’ve spent time with people who have enlightened me, who have shown me beauty, who have taught me new skills, who have lent me comfort, who have challenged me, and who have given me a sense of peace when I was fearful.
These relationships show up in different forms each time. Some of my dearest friendships in this world are people whom I met and bonded with while I was traveling. Some are people I think fondly of from afar. Others are people with whom I’ve shared deep conversations, people whose advice or words float in a permanent space in my mind. Some are people I laughed, cried, and told inside jokes with, people who I know will always be there to reconnect with when the opportunity abounds. Others are strangers who have unknowingly and generously shown me humanity’s innate kindness before moving on with their day. Some are people I reference in conversation to others with opening lines like “This guy I used to know” or “This person I met.” Some are people who inexplicably looked straight to my core and understood me on a soul-level.
Travel has the ability to facilitate human connection like few other circumstances can. Because the nature of travel is transient, connection on the road happens in bright, intense, and profound bursts. Each traveler has an awareness of impermanence that opens his mind and heart to adventure and new ways of examining the world; that impermanence creates a sense of simultaneous urgency to discover and a cool acceptance of whatever happens. When we travel with open minds and hearts, not only are we comfortable saying yes to people we might otherwise disregard at home, we are compelled to say yes to them. We are insatiably curious to know more, to forge a bond that leaves us changed and glad about it.
Everyone moving through the world is crossing paths. Sometimes our paths cross for just a few seconds or minutes. Sometimes our paths cross for days or weeks or months. Other times we initiate the crossings, again and again throughout life. Each person we have the good fortune of crossing paths with, however fleeting that crossing is, has the potential to influence our lives in a lasting and positive way if we let them.
If there’s one thing travel has taught me, it’s that the capacity to open our hearts to the people we meet often determines how enriched we will be by them. Let us all remain open to the people who show up in our lives. Let us be grateful for them, even long after their physical presence is gone. Let us be examples of what it looks like to move through the world with the quiet, reassuring knowledge that we are all connected.
I'd to know: what memorable connections have you made while traveling?