“I think that we kind of love everybody that we meet, really.” said the owner of the Wren’s Nest cafe, guitar atop his lap, as he introduced his next song. It was open mic night in Dingle, Ireland and as the songs had gone on the atmosphere in the room had continued to grow warmer, not in temperature but in comfort. At this moment I couldn’t help but agree with his words. I was in my first month of solo travel around the world and the adjustment to life on the road definitely came with lonely moments.
When you set out to travel, there’s a lot of different things you’re looking forward to: exploring new places, seeing historic sites for the first time, trying new cuisines. While you can look forward to meeting new people as well, it’s harder to envision these new relationships with the same clarity as the sites you’re going to see. Perhaps that’s why I’m always so surprised by the relationships you can form on the road. They always seem to exceed my expectations because I wasn’t expecting enough before I set out.
I did expect to have my breath taken away by the Cliffs of Moher. I didn’t expect to be brought to tears by the amazing singing voice of a boy who couldn’t have been more than 13 at this same open mic. I didn’t expect to cry at the bus stop as I left my very first destination because I was so sad to leave my new Brazilian friends. I didn’t expect that after months of traveling alone the people I met in each place would quickly come to be a large determinate of how good or bad my experience was in each particular place.
Travel is about a lot of things, but at the heart of it all it’s about people. When you look back on where you’ve been you will look most fondly at some of the places where you made real connections with people. Long after you’ve returned home all the wonderful foods you’ve eaten will long have been digested, the many churches or temples or monuments you’ve seen will begin to blur together but the connections you made with other human beings will stay with you.
In the end the lessons you learn during travel don’t come from landscapes or museums, they come from other human beings who taught you about a new way of life or who gave you the courage to try something new.
At this moment I loved the Irish sisters from Cork who were kind enough to invite me out that night to find myself at this open mic night instead of calling it early at the hostel. I loved every friendly person I’d met in my first 3 weeks who had invited me to grab a pint or walk around a new city. And I loved all the people I had reached out to as well for being so excited to explore a new place or accompany me on a day trip.
Traveling alone can definitely put you in a lot of vulnerable positions. You enter each new location with uncertainty until you hear that first “Hi, where are you from?” You rely on strangers to help you figure out the public transportation system, find an ATM and get something to eat. Don’t get me wrong, I think solo travel can be an extremely transformative experience that everyone should try. But one of the greatest advantages of traveling on your own is the opportunity to forge deeper connections with people.
Part of this trip is about me being alone, about getting more comfortable doing things by myself, spending time by myself and taking some work days to get things done. But if I were to spend 7 months by myself I would become an extremely unhappy person. In the end I simply wouldn’t make it through this trip without the kindness of complete strangers whether they just wave hello or spend a week discovering a new city with me.
And for that I do love everyone that I meet. From the local who gave me suggestions on an ice cream flavor to the new friends I went to the open mic with that night, without them it would be a very lonely trip indeed. When I return home it will be with memories made all over the world, a new network of friends living in towns all across the planet who truly came to shape my journey and a life filled with a whole lot more people.