As I sat down rummaging through the travel postcards and souvenirs I’ve kept from my previous Euro-trip, I paused at one particular photo. It was nothing special or extraordinary, but for some reason it caught my attention. It was one of those candid photos where I was laughing about something that I don’t exactly remember. But what I didn’t forget was the feeling of content: being at the right place at the right time. I felt connected to the people and to the world around me. The ground, the air, the trees, the sky, it felt so carefree yet so alive.
Reminiscing down memory lane has made me realized how much I have grown as a person since I started backpacking. However, that’s a story for another time. What inspired me to share today is, in fact, the strangers that I’ve met and the lessons they have taught me along the way. You see, traveling is a unifying bond that ties people together because we often have a similar understanding and are seeking unanimously for a bigger picture. Whether that be adventure, self-discovery, comfort, or escape, we are constantly striving with our hearts forward, in search of something to complete us.
Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things: air, sleep, dreams, sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it. ― Cesare Pavese
In the past two years, I can confidently say that I have felt the most connected to myself when I was interacting with strangers abroad. It’s ironic, isn’t it? Searching for pieces of yourself while conversing with people who had zero clue as to who you are and what you do. But they have provided me with insight and lessons on my path to self-discovery that no one else has been able to offer.
Here are three lessons I’ve learned while being abroad:
TRAVELING WITH STRANGERS ALLOWS COLLABORATION & SPARKS CREATIVITY
It’s often when we find ourselves trapped in our everyday commitments that we start losing the adventurous side of ourselves. We are prone to talking to strangers when we travel because of our curiosity. We crave their experience and knowledge as we believe that they can teach us something new and exciting. We allow collaboration to happen. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a task or a project, it can simply be exchanging stories. We are collaborating with each other to learn more about each other’s journeys and experiences by creating itineraries, by solving unexpected travel issues, or by coordinating a small gathering. That, in itself, allows us to work alongside with different perspectives and brilliant minds which can, in turn, spark creativity. Creativity comes through new and exciting experiences, and traveling is the best creative stimulant we have in this world. Sometimes, as research suggests, “all that’s needed for a creative boost is a fresh cultural scene“. That alone can feed your creative soul with nourishment for weeks, months, or even years.
TRAVELING WITH STRANGERS REMOVES OUR INHIBITIONS
Instead of confining ourselves to mediocrity and daily routines, we adapt to new surroundings and step out of our comfort zones when we travel. Why? Because we are suddenly thrown into a new culture, a new environment, and a new way of life. We allow the world to see the real us when we travel. No makeup, no hair curlers, no to-do lists, no stress. Nobody has their guard up. Nobody to question us or our motives. It’s us and them in a judgment free zone. In that moment, we are who we exactly are. We can share freely about our journey, experiences, and stories without a care in the world. Perhaps it’s because of the notion we will never see these people again, or perhaps it is who we are beneath all the baggage and misguided expectations. According to Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, studies show “cross-cultural experiences have the potential to strengthen a person’s sense of self. It is the ability to engage with people from different backgrounds than yourself, and the ability to get out of your own social comfort zone is helping you to build a strong and acculturated sense of your own self“. When we travel, we become fearless, adventurous, and the best versions of ourselves.
TRAVELING WITH STRANGERS TEACHES US TO LET GO
We meet hundreds and thousands of people when we travel. Some cross our paths for a day, while some stay for months. However, we have to say our goodbyes and let go at the end of the day. We walk away with a memory. We walk away with a special experience or bond. We walk away with the best versions of each other. But as we walk away, we learn that it’s the importance of letting go that allows us to appreciate what we had in the first place. Life isn’t about holding onto people or onto things, but rather about honoring and rejoicing the value that they add into our lives. By letting go of those things or people, we are recognizing their presence and impact to our lives in an appreciative way.
The truth is, we are all connected one way or another. Whether it is a person, an object, or with oneself; I like to think we are apart of something bigger in the universe. That everything said or done can affect someone else’s story, and so on, so forth. Martin Luther King Jr. once said,
Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality. ― Martin Luther King Jr
I truly believe that you meet people for a reason, no matter the size or the gravity of impact. By connecting with strangers around the world, we are finding bits of ourselves in different cultures, countries, and most importantly, the people. It is the people we meet that makes travel so much richer and purposeful. They shape our memories of a specific place or event. They exude vibrancy. They teach us lessons and shed light on our ignorance. It is those strangers that can relight a fire inside us again and teach us the meaning of living life to the fullest. It is those strangers who encourage us to open our eyes and hearts to the endless opportunities and possibilities that this Earth has to offer.
So I urge you to step out of your comfort zone the next time you travel and be brave. Take time to talk to a stranger and learn about them. It just might surprise you.
The more I travelled, the more I realized that fear makes strangers of people who should be friends. – Shirley MacLaine