“People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home.”
Dagobert D. Runes
Isn’t that (sadly) true?
Typical scene on the London Underground: A business man is reading a newspaper, a teenage boy is damaging his ears by listening to some loud music on his headphones. A girl is painting her nails, playing Ruzzle on her smartphone, or putting on some makeup (usually all of the above together).
What do these people have in common? They regard conversation as a contagious disease. If someone dares to talk to them, they immediately label that person as a weirdo or simply annoying. They might fake a smile, mumble something just to cut off the conversation and immediately rush back to their very important book or even more important Ruzzle game.
The word “They” also included me. I was no exception. The routine completely destroyed one of my basic needs as a human being: socializing.
Sounds awful, and it was as awful as it could get in a big city like London.
In the safety of our home town, we don’t bother interacting with strangers. We actually “fear” them to a certain degree. What was your mother’s first lesson? “Don’t talk to strangers! Don’t accept anything from strangers”.
We get brainwashed since when we were young: Stranger equals danger.
We have our trusted friends anyway, why bother talking to random people on the bus? We are too busy, too tired or too rushed. We need to finish that crucial email or report, list our priorities for the day, or mentally go through the main points for that meeting with our boss.
We don’t have time for trivial conversations with strangers .
WHY TRAVEL CHANGES EVERYTHING:
As soon as we take off for our journey the perspective suddenly changes.
Good news, when we travel we have all the time in the world!
What we tried to avoid for years is now all we need: meeting new people to share our latest adventures, having meaningful conversations and learning from each other.
That’s the amazing aspect of traveling:
We finally regain our true human nature, we get hold of the young toddler trapped inside us, with an insatiable curiosity towards the adventure and the unknown.
We are wowed by the simplest things in life again and we become more open and receptive. Does this sound familiar to you? I bet it does. As this is one of the main differences between being a traveler or just ticking off places from our bucket list. The switch doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time, patience, and willingness to learn the lessons down the road. Through people.
WE ARE ALL STRANGERS. UNTIL WE BECOME FRIENDS
In the beginning, we might be more cautious, but as times goes by and we learn how to open up again, things become smoother and sometimes we even decide to continue our journey with someone who was a total stranger only ten minutes before. Yes, strangers, until we become friends and travel mates!
Traveling solo for months made it easy for me to meet some of the most amazing people out there, and while talking to them a recurrent pattern emerged:
The people you meet can make or break your journey. Yes, people are THAT important.
HOW THE TRIP CAN CHANGE OUR APPROACH TO PEOPLE
The people we meet on the road can share incredible life experiences with us, change our point of view, open our mind, create new challenges and deeply transform our way of seeing things. They will drag you out of your comfort zone, force you to face your fears and slap you in the face (literally or not) if needed.
How can people transform us this way during our travels? Simple. Because traveling itself is slowly changing us, and our way to see the world.
I don’t know you, but I’ve never felt more in touch with my real self than when I’m on the road. I do what I really want. I dare more, I have lesser fears.
In simple words: I’m FREE.
This switch of behavior, from diffident to open, will attract the right people to you. It’s when you are yourself that the right people will come to you. Effortlessly.
In the beginning, I thought it was magic. Luckily for you is not. Positivity attracts positive people.
If travel is the salad of your life, the people you’ll meet on the road will be the salt and vinegar in it.
You would probably enjoy yourself anyway, but it wouldn’t have the same taste!
FOUR ENCOUNTERS THAT CHANGED MY LIFE ON THE ROAD
And why they were so important for my journey and personal growth
Apologies if I’m about to hurt someone’s feelings, but I’m fed up with lists of the top 10 types of people you will meet on the road or the top 10 types of travelers you’ll find in hostels. There is some degree of truth in these lists, but more often than not, they are a collection of clichés.
Everybody has a unique story to tell.
Behind the cliché, I’m 100% sure that even the 20-year-old drunk backpacker on his “meaningless gap year” can teach me something. Yes, that’s right. Who am I and what do I really know about other people’s life to make such a strong statement anyway?
That’s the real problem. Generalizing. I hate it.
Sometimes we should throw our prejudices in the garbage and simply TALK. Ask questions, be genuinely curious. I had one of the most incredible lessons from a guy that my friends immediately labeled as “a drunk retarded backpacker”. Nothing could be further from the reality of who he really was.
Prejudice is poison for the traveler.
To avoid yet another cliché’ list, I created a special one, where I include real life people and real stories.
The people I will describe in here were not perfect or particularly enlightened. They were normal individuals like you and me. Troubled, peaceful people, young, old, often nice, sometimes rude people. They all helped me to change my perspective and my approach to people in my every day life.
I omitted some of the names for privacy reasons. For some of the people, I don’t even have a name: our conversations were not based on trivial info like names, we simply listened to each other stories during the few hours/minutes we spent together.
No matter for how long someone crosses your path. People can change your life forever, with a few touching words,a kind gesture or even with a simple look.
1 | KINDNESS LESSON: THE OLD LADY AND THE THREE STREET VENDOR GIRLS IN CORON
Stories of genuine kindness. Those small gestures that make the difference.
One day I got lost (what’s new here?!) and I asked an old woman where I could find the biggest shopping center in town. Not only she joined me on the tricycle, but before I could even reach for my wallet, she paid my fee and left the vehicle with a big smile on her face.
And what about the three girls in Coron? Sam, Ayah and Jam this is for you! 🙂 Back from a three days expedition in the wild and remote islands of Coron, I was tired, thirsty and looking like a bum. I was buying some groceries at the market when I stumbled upon these young ladies. They offered me water, warm hugs and insisted on escorting me to the shops to make sure I was OK.
These girls didn’t want anything in return. I specify this as I’ve heard so many stories of tourists complaining that when traveling in less developed countries, the locals always treat us like we are walking ATMs. This is not always true.
I could fill 200 pages with similar stories: The family who invited us to their home party in Carabao, the Thai Immigration officer that offered us shelter and food during our first night in Bangkok and so many other incredible people.
….And they say the world is a bad place.
Why don’t we just switch the TV off from time to time and talk to our neighbor, to the homeless man on the street or simply travel for a bit? Nice people are everywhere, but they don’t make it to the news. Go out and you’ll find them.
2 | PREJUDICE LESSON: D. THE YOUNG AUSTRALIAN BACKPACKER
I met D. on a party Island in Thailand. He’s the guy that my friends labeled as “a drunk retarded backpacker”. His cheerful manners and looks indicated that my friends were probably right.
When he asked me to take a walk on the beach, I accepted only to discover that behind that shallow appearance was a very troubled, sad yet brave person. We just spent a few hours together, I let him do all the talking as I knew how much he needed someone who truly listened to him at that moment.
I won’t go into the details of our conversation but I will never forget it. It completely changed my perspective. I finally got rid of my prejudice and saw a real person behind the mask. It was an enlightening experience.
From that point on, I always try to avoid judging someone or placing them in a silly travel category based on first impressions.
3 | LIFE LESSON: THE HOMELESS KID IN CAMBODIA AND YOUNG ANGELICA IN MANILA
The kid was so small and skinny that it was difficult to guess his age. Barefoot and wearing worn out clothes, he approached me and my friend as we were about to have dinner in a local street restaurant. His eyes resembled the ones of a puppy, awaiting for a piece of meat under the table. I ordered a sprite, and the little kid asked if he could have it. Of course, I gave it to him and before I could ask him anything, he ran away smiling.
That was his dinner. A stupid sprite. I felt so guilty.
That was the first time I stared right into the eyes of poverty. The real one. I wish I could have given the poor kid something to eat as well but he was gone too fast. When I think of him I feel ashamed. Ashamed of my stupid western complaints. Ashamed that all I could give him was a damn stupid sprite.
One day I found a box from an association for homeless kids, and when no one was looking, I put some money in it. And still felt ashamed, as the only thing I could do was putting some stupid money in a box.
When I met Angelica in the Manila’s slums, my feelings of guilt were even stronger. I took several pictures of this cheeky little girl. Because she asked me to. It was her moment of glory.
Her hands, feet, and face were dirty with charcoal, as she is a worker at the big deposit nearby. What struck me the most about her was the look in her eyes. They were the eyes of an adult. Not much was left of the kids innocence on her face. It’s difficult to put into words how she deeply moved me, but as per the Cambodian kid, she gave me a life lesson, the hard way.
Both of the kids were no longer kids. They suffered, yet they didn’t know what the alternative was. They didn’t even know that they were among the poorest people I’ve ever seen.That was their reality. Every day.
Yet, they kept smiling. If this is not a lesson, I don’t know what is.
4 | BRAVENESS LESSON: THE TWO SOLO BACKPACKERS LADIES IN THEIR SIXTIES
Miss K. from England and Miss L. from Australia didn’t know each other, and that’s a real shame as they could have been the perfect travel mates. They both took off, backpack on their shoulders as solo travelers .They were both over sixty. Amazing.
Miss K: When I first met her in a Guest House in Siem Reap, I listened to her story in awe. I was 35 and complaining about the heaviness of my backpack and the unbearable heat, and she cheerfully replied by telling me about her bicycle ride at the Angkor Wat temples.
Despite the 30 years that separated us: I was clearly the older one.
Miss L.: I was in a 10-bed dorm in Rome when I met Miss L. from Australia. As soon as I entered the room she immediately started a conversation and grabbed my attention with her travel tales and her relaxed aura.
She didn’t seem to have a single problem in her life (turned out that it wasn’t exactly like that, she was a very strong woman and strong people seldom complain about their problems).
She was just coming back from the Inca trail in Peru. Fresh as a spring rose she was. My jaw dropped (and yes, she showed me the pictures proof that she really climbed the mountain to the top). At some point she politely excused herself, she reached for her backpack, put on a night-gown, brushed her hair, and wished me a goodnight to me.
It was a bit early (around 8 pm) and I still had to grab something to eat. I was concerned about the noises I’d make when I’d be back. She gave me a relaxed smile and with her calm voice (and funny Australian accent) she told me “Oh dear, don’t worry about me! I have my eye mask and my ear plugs, you can make as much noise as you want!”.
Wow. Now That’s what I call a real traveler.
These two women were plain awesomeness. They were the concrete prove that everything is possible,that it’s never too late to do what makes you happy.
They also had something else in common, other than their age: Their calm, relaxed and peaceful aura.It was contagious. Being around them I was very relaxed and in peace with myself. They looked happy, yet their stories were filled with troubles and sorrow.
What was the secret of these two extraordinary ladies then? Their mindset.
AFTER ALL TO BE REAL TRAVELERS AND HAPPY PEOPLE ALL WE NEED IS THE RIGHT MINDSET.
To overcome the prejudice and the fear of the stranger, to understand that it’s not what we own that will give us happiness, as even the poorest can be happy (sometimes happier than us) and that with the right mind-set there is no limit to what we can achieve.
SO HOW YOUR APPROACH TOWARDS PEOPLE CHANGED DURING YOUR TRIP? I’D LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU AND THE SPECIAL PEOPLE YOU MET ON THE ROAD!
If you liked the article feel free to like it and share it 🙂
Thanks for reading!
Interesting post! Thanks for sharing!
Amazing stories! I’ve also met truly incredible people during my travels and I see my hometown differently after traveling. You see the things that you wouldn’t notice before. Traveling is indeed life changing!
Indeed life changing, but only if you travel with an open mind! I saw people coming back home from traveling the world and they didn’t change at all. Quite sad as it defies the meaning of this kind of travel (I’m not talking about holidays when you just want to relax and that’s fine)
This was a super interesting article! I recently wrote an article on my blog, Trek with Derk, about the best psychological techniques that you can implement into your travels, so that you can better connect with locals.
It’s crazy because you are very much right! Approaching people helps with so many things such as, lonliness, home-sickness, and the lack of being able to enjoy the city to its full potential. You learn things you wouldn’t have known if you hadn’t approached them.
I visited León, Mexico, and I came across this local. Within a matter of days, he treated me like family. I don’t know what I did, but I realized that he was one of the very few locals that have offered themselves to me as if I were his true brother. He even called me his only brother in the U.S.!
So, a trip or even a simple “hello” can change the way you want to travel. Don’t ever miss out on the locals because they are what makes each and every place even more beautiful!
Thanks for sharing your experience Dereck!
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Really great and inspiring post. We love travelling but you’re right – it’s the people that leave that lasting impression. Travel takes you out of your comfort zone, allows you to meet and speak to people you never would – therefore making you a better person.
Glad you have the same views as mine. People are the main reason I travel! 🙂
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I was just actually hunting for random tips and tricks on taking good travel photographs for my upcoming trip when this post caught my attention. I’ve been to different places also but always with company so I never had that chance to talk to some random people and listen to their stories except when asking for directions when I think we are lost. My interaction would always be asking “Manong, saan po yung ” and a “Salamat po”. I always tell myself to be what you call a “traveler” but I always end up a “tourist”. Point well made on generalizing. I think that’s what keeps me from achieving a traveler’s mentality. Great post! I hope I could meet someone like you in one of my future travels. 🙂
Thanks Parl! I’m glad you stumbled upon this post as it’s one of my favourite too… it’s not always easy to be a “real traveler” but certainly possible 🙂
This is what I mean by the other comments about traveler elitism. I guess the quote “Travel is fatal to prejudice..” happens on a different timeline for everyone.
Do you not see how prejudice (and arrogant) it is to even create your little box of “real travelers” and “fake travelers”, “tourists”, etc. Who are we to say that a person on a 5day visit in a tourist city can’t have a similarly enlightening “drunken backpacker” experience? Oh but they’re just a tourist. (and yes, I understand that a lot of people do the tourist thing and never experience some of the deeper offerings of cultures etc, but as soon as we pick up the measuring rod and start holding it up to them and others… how can we be upset when their measurements come back on us? “what are you doing with your life” you just sit around while we work hard” you must be rich”… the stuff we are all sick of and get all the time)
I quit my career job to travel, learn, and live simply. And if someone else is inspired by my lifestyle to get out of their comfort zone (no matter the “way” they choose to do so) then that’s great! But the last message I want to send my friends and family is that if they don’t do it “my way”, or “this way”, then they are just fake travel wannabes. It’s this trap of elitism for travelers, and especially travel bloggers, that really causes a regression from the lessons that travel should be teaching us.
Hey, Thanks for your comment. I actually appreciate when someone takes the time to write such a thorough comment trying to make a point.
I think you are referring to my other blog post about “Why Travel is not a vacation” (and I’ll get there after replying to this).
I’m well known to be an honest person so I tell you what I did after reading this message: I had to read this blog post again. Seriously.
The point I was trying to make here wasn’t degrading the figure of the “tourist” (most people hate that some travel bloggers separate tourists from travelers), I was simply saying that by traveling (sorry I can’t call it a vacation, because in my case it isn’t) I met so many incredible people, and I’ve changed.
That’s all. I used the word Tourist twice in a blog post of more than 3000 words. You probably are a bit (or a lot) annoyed by travel bloggers making this distinction? It’s not a sarcastic remark.
I’m genuinely asking, as your comment felt like filled with anger to me and I don’t understand why, when the message here was simply sharing a positive travel experience (well, more than one really).
I’ve been traveling for ages, since age 19, staying put for years, working 9 to 5 jobs, taking vacations, being a tourist and being a semi disastrous Indiana Jones. I’m not saying that I’m better than others.
Actually, maybe not here but somewhere else in the blog, I even stated that traveling is not for everyone.
My brother hates traveling, he has his job, his house and he’s happy like that. Who am I to judge?
I only make the distinction between travelers and tourists for the way they approach things. But this is MY PERSONAL opinion, totally questionable. It’s not the supreme truth.
So let’s put this straight. For me a tourist is someone who goes to X place (no matter for how long) and stays in a 5 star resort with animation, going out just with the guides for the fear of the unknown.
At least that was me being a tourist, and sometimes I still am. I just want to fricking relax and do nothing adventurous, and that’s fine.
Being a traveler for me is simply getting out of my comfort zone and get scared of the unknown. And this can happen even on a 5-day vacation. The timing is not the point. The mindset is.
So Travelers are better than tourists? No.Yes. Who knows. Who cares? I only said that for my personality, the “traveler” experience (meaning getting out of my comfort zone, even if it’s my fricking backyard so to speak) is more rewarding.
I know my English isn’t helping to get my point across, but I tried my best.
Traveling definitely has a way of doing this. I think it’s all about bringing consciousness to one’s interactions with others! Humanity is all around us, if we open our eyes.
Well said! Being open minded is all we need to realize that we are surrounded by incredible people. Every single day!
Cielia, very thoughtful post. It’s amazing how often we get lost in our routines and our habits only to leave them all behind when we travel. I truly enjoyed ‘meeting’ all the wonderful people you have encountered on your travels…it’s a nice reminder that connecting with other people gives meaning to our adventures. It’s usually the stories and the people that I remember from my travels…and the exact activity/location are secondary memories. Thanks for your gentle nudge encouraging us to reach out to people when traveling. Do you have any tips for starting conversations with completes strangers..especially for the shy ones of us?
Thanks for your comment!You are right, the best memories are related to people more than places.. As for your question, there is not a proper advice here. Sometimes it’s the locals that come to me and talk, sometimes it takes a smile, or asking a simple question to start a conversation..
I can be shy sometimes, or a bit more introvert and i realized that it is all in our attitude. If we are happy, smiling and relaxed, people tend to approach us easily. Sometimes no one would dare talking to me as I had a sign on my forehead saying “leave me alone!”.
People can sense whether you are willing to connect or not, i tested so many times and the way I feel influence a lot my interaction with people.
So my only suggestion is, being happy and relax and people will come to you! (that is if you are shy, otherwise you just go and talk!) 🙂
Thanks for the tips… I’ll try happy & relaxed on my next trip and see who I can strike up a conversation with. Cheers!
Well said and the only way to travel. Also works good close to home. I traveled the world for 4 yrs in the navy then 20 more as a merchant seaman. The last 20 years I have been a home body in the Pacific Northwest. My point is the travel advice you give in your article is good advice if you are 10 miles from home or 10,000 miles from home. The people you allow into your travels are going to be a huge part of your travel memories.
Thanks for the great article. I look forward to reading lots more from you.
you are totally right. No matter the distance, as I did in the last sentence of my article, it all depends on the right mindset and how you approach to your travels and travel memories!
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This article really resonated with me particularly the parts about the young Australian and the poor street kids. I’m in India at the moment and the poverty is extreme, it’s a constant reminder to put my petty problems into perspective. Just a couple of days ago it really hit me that when the wi-fi/power went out I got upset that I couldn’t finish what I was doing and decided to go for a walk. To walk out onto the street with beggars and homeless people was a real wake-up call to what I was actually complaining about.
Your story is a classic example on how we can really change our way to look at our silly problems just by going out and not just look at the world, but truly SEE it with different eyes. Well said!
Memorable moments and people come, when a traveler is open to them and willing to accept any kind of adventure, I guess.
And I can see your experiences are only a proof of it 😉
Hugs and lots of like-minded spirits on your trips!
Thanks Ivana!being open minded and listen to people’s stories is the key to make the most out of our experiences as real travelers 🙂
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Clelia, this is a fantastic article! Before I left to start traveling I was so closed off to the world and the people around me! I call it “headphones-in-sunglasses-on-don’t-fucking-talk-to-me” attitude that I had. Being raised in DC that is just the way it was always…and if I did flash a kind smile at someone I was a weirdo. But travel definitely changed this! Awesome feature and I will be including it on my blog =)
Hey Ryan, thanks for your comment!glad to see how many other people can relate.. it’s very sad how routine is killing our socializaion skills. Luckily for us, travels can change this 🙂
Amazing article, I can relate so much. I live in London and you described the underground scene perfectly. I also love traveling and I am much more open when I’m on the road.
Thanks for the great post! I love your blog…this is my first comment but I’ve been following you for a while and your stories are always so inspirational!
Thanks Leila! I know, London can be horrible for socializing. I felt so alienated when I was living there. Thanks for following my adventures “in silence”, I appreciate it, even more now with your toughtful comment.
This is one of the most profound and insightful posts I have read on a travel blog. You have an amazing talent to see people in totally neutral manner. Not many people can do that as we are conditioned to form an opinion at first glance. This article will be printed and carried on my travels to remind me that the real treasure is the people, not the place.
Vaeltaja, what a toughtful comment, thank you for appreciating my article. It is not easy for me to share these intimate, sometimes painful experiences, but I think it is important for people to know..
And you are right, I also say that the real treasure is the people not the places, well said!
Thank you for sharing your reflections Clelia. It’s great to know you’re not only out there to travel and see the good and fabulous sites and share the photos. Too often, some travel bloggers just present what’s best and attractive in the places they visit. Your giving a social dimension to your blogs makes you the real traveler. Keep it up.
Thanks for your comment Jonan, you nailed it. Travel bloggers are not only visiting beautiful places, we also see what’s on the other side of the world and we learn a few lessons in the way. It is important for us to show all sides of reality. Not easy, but necessary.
Very thoughtful. Traveling is learning and hopefully most people gain from this experience. After my round the world trip being back in Germany I saw people around me with different eyes. For example I used to get every week my meal from an Indian restaurant next door. All these years I just ordered the same meal, paid and left. This time I looked at the waiter. I smiled back and said i haven’t been here for a long time. I was surprised he remembered me after not being there for almost 2 years. I asked him from which part in India he comes from and we starte talking. I told him about my travels in India and asked him if he were homesick. Sometimes, he said. The people are so cold here. From that point on i started to see the people around me with different eyes. We ignore our complete surroundings at home and when we travel we are so all so open-minded. Strange, isn’t it?
Great article, Clelia, I can so relate to it. Beautiful photos, as always!
Keep up the great work!
Hey Sab, obviously I could subscribe every single word you say. The story about the indian is one of the many examples on how traveling can permanently change our way to see the world. It happened the same to me when I was back in Italy. As I always say, people should travel more and watch less TV!