“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.”
Since starting this blog in March, I’ve met fascinating, helpful, open-minded people in the blogosphere as much as I have by wandering the world. I’ve gotten tips on web design, writing, blogging, and site promotion.
More importantly, I’ve met people like the author of that email. People who have no idea who I am but want to show me around or put me up for a night in their corner of the globe. I’ve learned though this new blog and the Couchsurfing community that the openness of travelers can be found everywhere.
This is another reason why I love traveling: so many strangers are willing to open up their world — and their homes — to you.
Travel is not about the places you go but the people you meet along the way. Whether you’re a blogger and someone is emailing you to visit them or you just meet a stranger on the street, the world is full of people who want to show visitors the best their country has to offer. Most of us take pride in our home and love showing it off to people. It’s innate.
Those curious about the world understand you and your vagabond lifestyle more than your office coworkers, 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.
Travelers also want to meet people — any people. They aren’t afraid of strangers. In fact, that you’re a stranger often makes it better. I met two fellow Bostonian vagabonds and, despite only knowing them via email, we’re going to dinner next week. Dinner with complete strangers. Sounds like an amazing time!
But why is this so? Why are we so open to strangers?
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.
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 visit them in England next month (where we plan more bike rides). All because I said “hello” when I sat down in my guesthouse.
One of the hardest things I’ve had to deal with back home has been the lack of openness in other people. When I strike up random conversations, people look for my ulterior motive (and are sometimes shocked when they realize I don’t have one). I can see the look on their faces: “Why is he so friendly?” They are taken aback by the fact that when I ask “How are you?” I really want more than just “fine.” I want your life story.
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, Skype, and email let you stay in touch 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.
And that’s another reason why I love travel.