It’s safe to say travel people are a unique breed, unlike any other pastime-oriented demographic in the world, obsessed with lofty ideals, wide-eyed and usually very very friendly. But when you meet them sooner or later you’re faced with the unpleasant realization that their happy proximity is temporary at best, leaving you forced to consume their often spectacular personalities as quickly as possible before they head off again to some misty horizon.
Hence, what you find when you meet other travelers, especially on the road, is that you pass through the relationship stages very rapidly: introduction, familiarization, connection, then departure. It’s not an ideal way to have your friends, but it goes with the territory.
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So it goes when you travel you become a sort of super-friender, very quick to act and connect, which is to some an idealized personality they somehow always knew they could be but don’t get to practice (unless of course they’re always traveling). It’s a person who takes risks, goes out of their way to be magnetic and attentive usually with the ability to dredge up interpersonal acrobatics they barely knew they had.
So, yes, there are elements on the travelers highway that require enormous amount of constitution to pull off, even from the very beginning: leaping the alligator pond of self-doubt and buying tickets, dodging the pitfalls of on-the-road circumstance, and constantly being forced to live up to higher potentials than you thought you had. They’re little victories, each of them, but also very significant because when you add them up you’re left with a self-portrait of an elevated human being, someone who can adeptly sidestep obstacles and handle even major emergencies with a swift and able hand. And make friends at the drop of a hat.
My travel conference this weekend led me to roughly 50 new acquaintances, many of whom I immediately classified as good friends. Before I became a traveler this was a difficult thing for me to do, to wear my life and my history on my sleeve and allow strangers into my life. But “super-friending” is a pleasant side-effect and pretty much required of anyone who goes out into the world to record it in memory, that you become better able to connect with your fellow man, no matter who they are, what flag they look up to, and what they like to eat for breakfast.
I tend to wax a little romantic over the idea of making yourself a better person through travel. That being said, I think it’s always a good idea to determine why it is you’re going. Why, not in the sense of wanting to take pictures of the Taj Mahal but the deeper, more penetrating reasons such as, quite specifically, to reconcile an old fear of reaching out and connecting with your fellow man. When it comes right down to it, travel is not about siteseeing, even though much of your time is spent doing that, but for forming human connections – the act of looking into a stranger’s eyes and letting them look far into your soul, and vice versa. It’s ultimately the most important thing you can do as a traveler, and if world peace is ever going to be achieved this is how it’s going to happen, through compassion, vulnerability and empathy, commiseration that we are all just people trying to enjoy the time we have on this planet.
Seeing all my new friends, and subsequently letting them go as the weekend came to a close allowed me another opportunity to consider this application of the travel subject. That we have a duty not just to the people we meet while we’re away, but to ourselves: to build nets of empathy with every flight we take, to catch those less fortunate and cradle them back to a state where they too can prosper in ways that might not immediately be clear.
My flight may have left the tarmac at Vancouver airport under charcoal skies, but the clouds seemed to part just as I did, the view of the Strait of Georgia was blue quartz and I thought about how traveling is a capital ‘O’ Opportunity, a time to bring our best game to the table, to be stewards of goodwill through our gregariousness, not dwelling on misfortunes but, and at the risk of being overly sentimental, to better our race as human beings.
It’s an important thing to remember as we buy our tickets, pack our luggage, snap the buckle closed across our laps, that we are advertising ourselves along the roads of foreign nations and that even though our meetings will be short, they will be intense and there is in fact time to use that moment as an opportunity to be ambassadors for goodwill.
Photos by the author, Caitlin Crisafulli and mastermaq