The beauty of travel is…

“…a simple smile from a stranger in a strange land and the tiny, fleeting, cross-cultural connection that is shared as a result”

I read this on Wandering Earl‘s facebook page, a permanent traveler since 1999, and it puts into words the reason why I enjoy solo travel.

Staring at the end of the world ships in the night

Staring at the end of the world

I recently started believing that moments shared with strangers are magical in their own way.

I used to think that relationships, such as true friendships, are forever and that destiny has something good in stock for everyone. That moments are best when shared with someone you care about and who means something to you, someone who knows you and who you know well. Everybody wants to cross into the New Year with someone who matters.

But travel, especially solo travel, has changed this idea.

Despite often traveling with someone else, some of the most magical moments of connection with another human being have happened with a complete stranger, someone I did not know for longer than a week, and, often times, with someone I would not have much in common beyond that brief moment. These serendipitous situations rarely happen when you are with someone, they are more likely to occur when you are alone.

I watched the bright fluorescent plankton in the darkest of nights under a tropical storm in Solomon Islands with someone I did not know much about 7 days prior. I spent 5 days in Tonga’s Vava’u archipelago riding a scooter, watching rugby, diving and coming face to face with humpback whales in the company of someone who I would now call my friend but whom, at that point, knew for less than 24h. I saw the sun rise above the Burmese temples of Bagan with an Aussie couple I had shaken hands with that same morning. I cruised along Vanuatu’s beaches with an Aussie girl I met on a tour and got high on kava with a pair of crazy Kiwi girls that invited me over for a drink the night before. I had my first white water rafting experience with a incredible leisure entrepreneur full of energy and as much an ADD sufferer as me but with whom I may have crossed only an hour’s conversation before. I celebrated my birthday’s night in Apia, Samoa’s capital, with a Spanish dive instructor I went 20m deep into the Pacific Ocean that same morning.

Many of other unique memories I built without anyone to talk them through but the silence of solo traveling.

Truth is that, no matter how magical those moments were or how much I treasure the pictures and the experiences we lived through together, I have not met up with the majority of these wanderers after that trip. It was never an intentional decision nor a lack of interest, just life taking its normal course. We were like ships in the night continuing our journey to port, unable to see each other again in the dark.

Sunset over Borobudur

Sunset over Borobudur

All those moments were perfect and the fleeting smiles and the faces of wonder at the moments shared were encapsulated there and then. Reliving them, just like trying to keep those friendships alive, would be foolish for they were precious because they were shared in an instant that was magical, independent of us. Like a summer love, its short-lived excitement is what made it perfect.

At that moment, at that time, we were just who we are. There were no strings attached, no promises, no responsibilities, no prejudices, just the ability to dream, to laugh unconditionally, to be curious, to be true to ourselves, to be honest with the world, to speak without care.

Reflecting back I realized that all those times were genuinely us. The job we do, the education we have acquired, the number of zeros in our bank account or the clothes we wore did not matter, the moment was about two strangers giving it all they have and making the most of it as if no one’s watching.

The liberating feeling of sharing a special moment with a complete stranger is the minimal risk to disappointing for that person does not hold any expectations, does not judge. And it is also the possibility to see it through someone else’s eyes, someone whose life and conditioning factors could be as far from yours as are continents, cultures, languages or upbringings. When you open the eyes to new lenses you open your heart to a whole new world of possibilities.

Most people will not meet strangers on their regular lives. The vast majority of those we share our lives with are people who we’ve known for a long time and know what to expect of. There are lots of opportunities to disappoint and mounting expectations of one another. Life is therefore, constrained by the circumstances. But it is also comfortable and easy. Predictable.

Instead, I long to spend a significant amount of time with people I meet randomly, who have nothing to do with me, who see life differently, antagonically if possible.

Someone with whom I crossed paths briefly said to me that we were like Ships in the night: Unable to meet for a second time despite being so close to each other, as if our moment had passed and would remain the memory of a time that was. He made me think of all those other times when an instant, a fading emotion, was lived in the company of someone I never saw again but who left an imprint, a smell, a thought, a question, a reflection, a new view on life.

He also made me realize that we did not need to talk about our circumstances, about our degrees, about our jobs, about all the lines that wold appear on a CV and yet, we could connect, share a different perspective on life and a meaningful moment thus enriching our views.

Travelers, nomads, wanderers, we are just that: unable to conform to society’s expectations, avid for exploration, we seek the best companions. Often they are fools, locals or explorers who want to share a journey of discovery to life’s greatness with a stranger, with someone with a passion for taking in the moment, for appreciating stories that have never been told before or for those which have been told a thousand times. That is why other travelers, complete strangers, are the best companions.

With each interaction, each experience in the company of that special stranger, we learn to live, we grow to love, we nurture the courage to carry on, to venture outside again, looking for the next wanderer in foreign lands with whom to uncover a treasure or jump on a new adventure.