One of the biggest things I have learned on my RTW trip is to appreciate even the briefest of connections. As an introvert, I tend to seek out deeper relationships. We introverts detest small talk and prefer to invest our limited social energy in a small circle of close friends. That luxury doesn’t exist when you’re constantly on the road. In fact, with many of the people that have stood out in my travels, we never even exchanged names.Nonetheless, they made so many aspects of my trip easier and became the unsung angels of the road.
Giving directions in Iceland
The more I travel, the more desensitized I become to my mistakes. On my first morning in Iceland, however, I was so pissed at myself for leaving my basic black cardigan at home. I knew some things would go wrong over the course of the year, but seriously? I couldn’t make it 12 hours in? While I was brooding by the Lake Tjornin, someone mistook me for a local and asked for directions. Having noticed the museum he was searching for on my walk, I actually knew the answer, and my spirits were instantly lifted. Making a mistake doesn’t make you a bad traveler.
Returning my key in Barcelona
Wandering through the Boqueria market on La Rambla, I noticed something unusual. I was far more likely and felt more comfortable to make purchases from a female vendor. It was the first of several instances that forced me to confront how little I trust strange men, for better or for worse. The second came that night as I returned to my hostel. I was a bit nervous to hear a man call after me on the street after dark. Right as I approached my door, however, he caught up to me holding out my hostel keycard, which had fallen out of my bag when I pulled out my phone. The pros of staying in a more residential neighborhood rather than a touristy one.
Getting around a strike in Italy
My last morning in Naples, I was eating breakfast in the courtyard of my hostel when a fellow guest came out and asked everyone in the area if they knew about the train strike. Um, no. I went inside to get help from the front desk in checking the status of my booked train to the Amalfi Coast. Fortunately, it was still scheduled to depart as planned. But, gosh, if it had been cancelled and I didn’t know until after I turned up at the station? Not only did this fellow’s announcement about the strike help many people with their logistics, it was a total icebreaker for the group and many of us spent the rest of the morning chatting while we waited for our respective departure times. I even met someone who had also just begun a year-long RTW trip.
Finding a nuclear bunker in Croatia
I’m not sure anywhere I’ve stayed has been as much of an adventure as the Atomic Bunker Hostel in Zagreb. Just finding the place was a bit of a scavenger hunt. The directions given to me by the hostel were not accurate, so god bless the local fellow who noticed me walking up and down the street with my backpack. As he showed me the way, he talked about his experience living in the area and watching this hostel open. He said he wouldn’t necessarily want to walk down that street by himself – he definitely didn’t think I should. And man was he right. The tunnel leading to the bunker was not well marked or lit at all. I had been wary at first of accepting a strange man’s help, but he wound up being my absolute savior.
Finding the bus in Croatia
Flixbus sells tickets in Croatia, but turns out they don’t operate the actual buses. I learned this when I arrived at the Zagreb station and couldn’t tell which platform I needed to be on. I overhead a guy muttering to himself looking for the same bus as me and struck up a conversation. I wouldn’t have quite known what to do by myself, nor he, but together we split up the station and checked each platform until we found where we needed to go.
Getting to the airport in Athens
I thought I was so smart going to the airport straight from the docks at Piraeus when my time in Greece was done. My ferry from Santorini wasn’t due to get in until midnight. I certainly wasn’t going to go seek out a hostel that time of night. So color me surprised when several stops from the airport, the metro closed and everyone had to get off the train in lord-knows-where. How was I to get to the airport now? Fortunately, a French couple was in same situation. We started talking and figuring out together what our options were, and ultimately agreed to share a cab. Taxi fare to the airport is a flat rate of nearly 40 euro. I would have never been able to pay for that by myself – I don’t think I even had that much cash on me. Being able to split the fare, and not being alone in a strange part of Athens by myself at 1am were both total godsends.
An offering in India
If I never see the assholes that were at my hostel in Delhi ever again, it will be too soon. The student program that took over the dorms made the situation nearly unbearable, with men constantly in and out of my women’s dorm at all hours without even knocking, frequent PDA from couples, and a leader of the program actually shaking his finger in my face telling me I was full of shit and bad at my job when I had to politely decline an invitation to go out because of work.
The final straw came when a girl was making out with her boyfriend in the bed next to mine well after midnight. I tried to ignore it and just go to sleep, but then she started telling him she was tired and wanted him to leave. He wouldn’t listen. For the next hour, they alternated between weakly whispered arguments and more kissing and more of her telling him to stop. I finally felt my blood boil, shot up from my bed, and snapped, “Hey, if you won’t believe she wants you to go, believe that I do. It is 2am and this is a women’s dorm. Get out.”
Clearly none of these people were angels, so why am I recounting the story? I wasn’t the only unwilling observer to their little affair d’amour. That evening a rather shy girl checked in to another bunk in the room, and was also trying to sleep during that unsavory scene. The next morning, just she and I were present. I was packing and she wandered over, holding out a Ferrero Rocher in her palm. I smiled and thanked her, and she went back about her business. We never exchanged another word, but it was such a nice gesture and I felt like it was coming from a ‘Thank you for being the hostel bitch and getting that guy out of here.’ place.
Public restrooms in Bangkok
Wandering Chatuchak market, I took a break at an indoor shopping mall to use the restroom. I often carry toilet paper, but didn’t have any in my bag that day. There was none in the bathroom stalls, and no paper towels in the dispenser by the sink. An older woman noticed me poking around, and handed me a wad out of her own purse. It was such a brief moment and a simple gesture, but I honestly think that kind of thing exemplifies being welcomed into a country.
Tubing in Laos
This was really not something I should have done by myself. Tubing in Vang Vieng has a bit of a reputation. Before the Lao government cracked down on illegal drug use, over-serving at bars, and dangerous rope swings on the Nam Song River, several travelers actually lost their lives while partaking in this backpacking rite of passage. These days it is safer by far, but I still almost lost my tube trying to get in the river by myself at the start point. At a mere five feet and trying to juggle the dry bag with my clothes, I managed to capsize, go under the water dry bag and all, and nearly lose my tube to the current. I wasn’t in any physical danger, but it also wasn’t among my more graceful moments on the road. I managed to catch my tube, but got a little help on reentry from a fellow who had been on my tuktuk to the riverside.
These are just a few moments that helped teach me it’s okay to be no more than ships passing in the night. Not every connection you make has to become a lifelong friend. You can have positive experiences with the people you meet in travel and never see them again, never even know their names, and it takes nothing away from either of you. I’ve certainly met other people who I befriended for a few days, and a couple with whom I’ve stayed in touch. But these people who helped me through my trip without even a name to put to the face deserve a little recognition.
We introverts notoriously detest small talk. Learn how to connect with introverts while you travel.
Have you had a stranger help you on a trip? Tell me in the comments!