I realized recently that while I have been to many pretty places and seen amazing things, my life was unchanged by those sights. However, I have been affected by the people that I have met traveling. I started to wonder why this was, if others felt the same way, and how this changed the way I traveled.
Personally, I love meeting new people. I will approach a stranger if I find them interesting or need to ask for directions. To really make a friend or have an engaging conversation can be difficult and takes courage. In all honesty, not all travelers make the effort to get to know the people of a place. Especially shorter trips or vacations can mean trying to see many of the sites, without meeting the people. I believe there is no wrong way to travel, but for my own growth I often enjoy the people rather than the place. So I have changed the way I travel to fit this value. I now know that I prefer small guesthouses or cosy hostels that invite conversation rather than hotels or huge hostels. Planning less 'to do' and leaving time to simply explore and possibly speak to the strangers around me allows for a better exploration of a place. Also, I prefer slower travel for this reason, to stop and really integrate into the society and culture (although I know that this is not always possible).
Over this last summer I made more of an effort to meet more locals, often starting up conversations with strangers. I always have had the intention to meet people abroad, but putting myself in an unknown situation with a stranger can be uncomfortable. I understand this, but I don't think that the discomfort should be an excuse not to meet locals as well as other travelers. Personal growth happens through newness and the natural discomfort that comes with it. Thus, there can be benefits to accepting and confronting this challenge when abroad. In the same way that traveling takes us to places we have never been, interpersonal interactions with new people change us as they open our minds to unchartered territory.
Because now, when I think of my best memories from traveling or my favorite places, they are inevitably linked to my ability in those places to make a true connection with others.
I was curious to see if others traveled with an emphasis on the people in the same way that I do. So I reached out and gained some intrigued thoughts on the subject:
"I believe we are the collection of everyone we meet, and pieces of us are in pieces of others. Meeting people that we feel instantly in sync with is just us connecting to a previously unknown piece of us. Meeting more people increases our ability of knowing our 'self' more completely.” -Melody Smith of Every Country Couple
I found this idea from Melody to be beautiful and true. The people we surround ourselves with has an impact on what our values and personality is. But I also think that a large part of meeting people is that we are gaining insights that we did not previously have, thus adding to our cognizance and not just 'uncovering' it. However, the idea that we can know ourselves better through others is an interesting observation. I do think that other people can serve as a lens by which we can take a step back and examine our actions and selves from a perspective different than our own. What Melody seems to be conveying is larger than this--that meeting someone new could awaken and make aware a part of ourselves that lays dormant. This makes me think of my time in the south of France, with good people that helped me to understand how I could use my skill set and my passions to the greatest benefit. Over the dinners that we would cook together, we often discussed our futures, and my friends would probe me to examine what I really wanted and how to accomplish it. Their perspective, that of people who did not feel tied to the rat race, gave me a new and intriguing way of looking at them.
"One of the main reasons I travel is definitely to meet people. I'm always trying to see the world through a lens that isn't my own so I absolutely love meeting new people. I believe that there is always going to be something that is or someone who is new to me that I can learn from. Connecting with people during my travels allows me not only to discover new spots in a city but also to discover new life stories. We as humans are naturally social beings so I think we tend to gravitate towards being around other people. Seeing the sights, eating amazing food, visiting museums, etc. is always much more fun and engaging when you are with others! And someone is always going to want to play the role of tour guide (that's usually me!) Also, the conversations I've had with the people I've met during my travels have really shown me that there are no barriers (culture, language, beliefs, etc.) to making human connections if you stay open minded. We already all have at least one thing in common: we all live on this Earth! PS. I met an Austrian guy in Paris this past June and we've been talking everyday since! " -Genie Patra of Gallivanting Bean
Genie touches perfectly on why I decided to explore this topic in depth. With travel comes the realization the world is very big and very much unknown to us. Thus, traveling is very much a tool of learning. Also she points out that humans are drawn to other humans, and often having another person to experience a place with brings new value to what you are seeing. When I first read this, I thought that maybe it contrasted with my love of traveling alone which sometimes means that I experience a new place on my own. But I observe and meet new people when abroad, and more so if I'm traveling solo. And there are times when I go to a museum or cafe alone and enjoy my time greatly. So I think it is important to acknowledge that a balance of time between being with others or by yourself is healthy; just as it is in life at home.
"While I was traveling around Norway, I didn't visit even one of the museums in the country. I figured out that it will be lost time for me. I simply prefer to observe the life of the people and learn from them. Even not that much of communicating with the locals but just observing the life and making the connections - why they are how they are and so on... Like this, I gain enormous knowledge about the world and the people in it and become much more tolerant...Sites are beautiful and interesting to visit but they don't evoke emotions. Other people do. :) " -Gerie Vladeva of When Woman Travels
I love museums, but what Gerie is getting at is a way of traveling I often find myself falling into. I do often engage in conversations, but there will always be moments where I people watch in a park or observe locals at a hole in the wall restaurant. You can learn a lot when you stop to look, breaking down stereotypes and expectations with simple truth.
Personally, an intriguing, unusual, or beautiful site can evoke my emotions and cause me to feel differently. But, landscapes and glass museum cases have never caused me to change my course of action--the inspiring and intelligent people I have met abroad have.
Not everyone travels in the same way, but if you don’t travel for the people, I suggest you try it. It can be refreshing to hear something other than what’s in the guidebooks. My experiences abroad have been truly amazing, mainly due to the people I have met. So I challenge you next time you are in a foreign country to find a spot in a cafe or park and observe the locals and maybe even strike up a conversation.