I recently opened up my inbox to find this:
“Hi Matt, I see you’re planning a trip to England in July – if you’d like to come west to Bristol, do let me know – I’d be happy to host you for a couple of days, show you Bristol & point you in the right direction for the rest of the West Country.”
This is another reason why I love traveling – the strangers who are willing to open up their world, and their homes, to you. As I recently wrote on Matador, travel is not only about the places you go. It’s also about the people you meet along the way.
Since starting this blog in March, I’ve met some fascinating people. I’ve been wandering the blogosphere as much as I’ve been wandering the world, and the people have been great. I’ve gotten tips on web design, writing, blogging, and site promotion, and have begun to publish some work.
Importantly, though, I’ve met people like the author of this e-mail. People who have no idea who I am, but who are willing to show me around or put me up for a night in their corner of the globe. So as much as I travel for the places and their locals, I also travel for the travelers.
There’s a spirit about them. They are open, they are friendly, they are accepting. They understand you and your vagabond lifestyle more than your office co-workers because they have been there. They know the highs, the lows, the joy, and the pain. They’ll jump on a plane with you to fly to Honduras when you need someone to go with, and they’ll give you names of people in Auckland who will show you around. This is why travel blogs have devout reader communities, sites like Matador are flourishing, and Couchsurfing is booming. Travelers are all about the people.
Travelers want to meet people – any people. They aren’t afraid of strangers. In fact, the fact that you’re a stranger makes it better. I’ve met two fellow Boston vagabonds and, despite only knowing them via e-mail, we’ll be heading out to dinner next week. Dinner with complete strangers. Sounds like an amazing time.
But why is this so? Because, in order to go out into the world, you need to be open-minded. It’s the only way to get through the day. In order to make new friends, you need to be hyperactively happy and friendly. You have to be OK with finding a roommate on a bus, or finding your best friend in a hostel. And you have to look for the better angels of our nature.
When I was in Vietnam, I chatted with two Brits for a couple of minutes, then ended up biking the Mekong Delta with them. Now, I’ll go visit them in England next month. All because I said “hello” when I sat down in my guesthouse.
One of the hardest things I’ve had to deal with back at home has been the lack of openness in other people. I can see the look on people’s faces – “why is he so friendly? What’s his ulterior motive?” Everyone is taken aback by the fact that when I ask “How are you?” I really want more than just “fine.” I want your life story.
When I go out at night and strike up random conversations, people look for my ulterior motive and are sometimes shocked when they realize I don’t have one. Yet those conversations never last long, because people here seem to be on their guard. They’re always protecting themselves from a make-believe enemy.
But on the road, once you’ve made friends, your bonds never seem to break. Facebook, Myspace, and e-mail let you stay in touch with people like never before. So despite not having seen some people in two years and having only met them for a day, they are eagerly awaiting my arrival in Europe to pick up where we left off. Because that’s just who we are. We’re travelers. We want to experience the world and everyone in it.
So travel for the places. Travel for the locals. But don’t forget to travel for the travelers, too. You’ll rarely find a more open and welcoming group of people.