One of the greatest parts of travel is the connections you make with people. Connecting with the locals in a new place can easily be the highlight of a trip, but travelers shouldn’t discount the opportunity to connect with other travelers, especially those of the same nationality. It’s an incredible opportunity to bond with people that you wouldn’t otherwise hang out with if you were back home. All of a sudden, speaking the same language and a love for travel is all you need to have in common to become best friends for the day or week. It may not immediately help you dive into the culture of a place, but it can allow for unique experiences that wouldn’t happen back home.
Back in 2006 I took a trip to Europe with a couple of friends of mine, Erin and Troy. Towards the end of my three week portion of the trip we arrived in the Barcelona train station without a place to stay. This was pretty typical of our trip as we didn’t do much planning as to where we were going to go or when we were going to be there. The flexibility of a trip like that makes for a really good time, but it can also create challenges along the way. Arriving in Barcelona with no place to stay during the busy summer months created one of those challenges. It turned out that the only hostel with availability was on the outskirts of town accessible by the metro which shut down early in the evening. Of course we were hoping to stay closer to La Rambla and the heart of the city. We certainly weren’t excited that we’d be calling it an early night every night just so we could catch the metro back to our hostel, but it looked to be our only option. After our 30 minute metro ride and our 15 minute hike up a mountain (hill) we found plenty of others who were also quite disappointed with the location of their accommodation for at least one night. Erin, Troy, and I made friends with a couple of girls from Texas who were sharing our dorm room with us. We decided if we could find a hotel room with a better location and split it five ways, it would probably be close to the same price we were paying to stay in the hostel. We ended up finding a hotel with availability for the next few nights in a great location within walking distance of most of the places we wanted to be. It couldn’t have worked out any better, except for the part where Troy’s bag got jacked while we were in a Burger King, but that’s another story. If I was traveling anywhere in the States there’s very little chance I would have decided to share a hotel room with a couple of strangers I just met. But when I was on the other side of the world, it seemed like a perfectly logical thing to do. Hanging out with them turned out to be quite invaluable. The girls were Hispanic, and their first language was Spanish. When Troy’s bag was stolen they were lifesavers in helping us talk to the authorities and learn what we needed to do to file a police report and get him a new passport. By traveling abroad, not only do you have the opportunity to experience other cultures, you also get the chance to connect with different types of Americans in ways you otherwise wouldn’t.
A few days ago Dawn and I met Greg, a saxophone player from New Orleans, St. Louis, New York, and most recently Tennessee. He’s in town for three weeks playing at a jazz club at the St. Regis Doha. He was looking for a place to go to church, and so we gave him a ride. Later we invited him out to dinner (which didn’t quite happen), and he invited us to come watch him perform. His set was great, and it’s most likely something that wouldn’t have happened had we been in the States. The opportunity to network and connect with people from the States with all kinds of different backgrounds and interests is greatly enhanced by being in a place where, although there are a number of us, Americans are a serious minority.
While I’m enjoying interacting with people from all around the world, I’m also really enjoying the connections I’m making with other Americans who are 8000 miles away from their home as well.