What Does 'Meeting People' Mean When Traveling Alone?
I've traveled solo for four years and during that time I've learned how to navigate cities, languages, public transportation systems, booking hostels, catching flights, dining alone at restaurants and drinking alone in bars among a ton of other interesting skills. However, something I didn't anticipate was how interesting and sometimes awkward it would be to meet new people. During some trips I'd meet fellow backpackers at hostel breakfasts and we'd discuss our plans for the day and join up to spend the day together wandering around the city. Other times, I'd meet people while on walking tours taking in the sights of a city for the first time and after the tour ended we'd continue together on our shared adventure. Every time I left for a solo trip I'd wonder whether this was going to be the trip where I'd travel alone... like, totally alone, where I'd meet no one, the entire time.
(By the way, it's totally OK to travel alone and be alone the entire time. Solo travel is what YOU make of it. Your trip is your trip. No one else's.)
In the beginning it worried me that I was going to spend an entire trip alone without anyone to talk to or anyone to hang out with. However, I only needed to reinterpret what "traveling alone" meant to me and how I interpreted "meeting people" while on a trip. Did meeting people only mean meeting people who would later become "travel buddies" and eventually "friends" and thus really close? Or did meeting people mean regular interactions and talking with people who were simply living their lives? It took me a while to finally realize that, unless traveling to a remote place, I'd always have the opportunity to meet plenty of people to talk to at some point during the trip and sometimes, the people in the what I thought of as the littlest interactions carried just as much significance as the people I'd continued to be friends with in the months following a trip.
Once I built up the courage and opened myself up to people living their lives, it stopped feeling like I was drifting through a crowd. People were everywhere -- waiters at restaurants, bartenders, bus drivers, security officers, shopkeepers, booksellers, tour guides, street entertainers, museum curators and hostel staff, to start. I'd only be alone as I interpreted "alone" to be. There were a few people who guided me on my journey when asked, not only in places to visit but in conversations. After a long train ride I went to a bar in York and the bartender kindly invited me to stay for a wee bit and we chatted while he closed down and offered me a half pint of Guinness and a free steak pie. That time in Amsterdam when I bought a few inexpensive rings from a shopkeeper and then asked her if she could recommend a few restaurants for dinner, to which she did and I went off and had a lovely steak and wine dinner at sunset on the canal on my last night. The woman I met in a bar in London who excitedly gave me a few recommendations on places to check out. The conversation I had on Christmas with a woman who played holiday music where we exchanged details of our lives and life advice. The guy seated in my row on my red eye to London I struck up a conversation with who wrote down a list of his favorite places to see.
I thought when people asked, "Who did you meet?" they'd meant who did I become friends with, who did I keep in contact with, who did I become close to. And yet, some of the happiest memories were the fleeting moments where I didn't exchange names with the people I'd met. We didn't really share anything beyond our moment of interaction. The American couple I met while walking the Torchlight Procession in Scotland. The Irish couple I had a lovely time with in Amsterdam who introduced me to the beautiful shot called Baby Guinness. The American couple I met (at the same bar in York where I'd met the bartender) who invited me for chips and conversation. The wild group of people dancing freely next to me at Hogmanay.
All the people I talked to yet we didn't exchange contact information. All of the little moments missed in obvious recollections. All of the unnamed people who are continuing their lives a world away from my own. All of the interactions that could have happened, all of the possible outcomes, all of the moments that could have been and yet that moment, that particular crossroad was what was.
Maybe we didn't need to keep in touch because those moments were all that were needed in our lives. I've realized I can share a story with people anywhere, around the world. I can ask for recommendations and realize a door has been opened, one I could never have found on my own. It's in these tiny interactions while traveling that I've come to find so mesmerizing.
I’ve had moments of soul-crushing loneliness while traveling, and yet, in finding people to talk to, in breaking down to open up, it truly helped. I searched deeper within to comfort myself, and I also felt comfort from others who opened up and shared moments of their lives with me in conversation. Those moments are ones I’ve come to cherish, time and time again.
Who do I want to meet? Anyone with a story to tell.
This post was originally published on my personal Facebook page.