If I’m traveling with friends or family, I rarely take the time to get to know anyone new, but one of the things I like most about solo travel is the people I meet along the way. If I’m on my own, I know that I never have to “feel” alone. Meeting and talking to strangers hasn’t always been easy for me. I, like many, grew up with the warning, “don’t talk to strangers.”
For example, I recently travelled with friends to a dance competition in Birmingham and when it was over, I left them and travelled on my own to Cancun to meet my brother and his wife for a week’s vacation at GR Caribe. On the flight from Atlanta to Cancun, I was lucky enough to share a row with two love birds, Erica and Jared. Since everyone on the flight was heading to Mexico via Cancun, I asked them if they were on their honeymoon.
Not yet. Erica’s parents had given her the trip as a gift for completing her doctorate in Physical Therapy. They’d be getting married in October. “Ah, pre honeymoon,” I said. They laughed and we became fast friends for the next two hours. We talked about their jobs. Jared works as a tree trimmer and I got to hear about his “near death” experiences falling from treetops. His eyes lit up when he explained all of the safety techniques necessary to keep from falling. I never before thought about how falling to the earth on a hillside would be less damaging then falling on flat land, but it makes sense to me now. Jared wants to own his own tree service some day, to teach younger guys how to climb. I asked Erica if she had found a job and she said she was already working for a PT agency. She told me they used to let people recuperate after surgery, but now the norm is to get people out of bed on day one – to get them up and moving around again. She likes the difficult patients because they’re more of a challenge.
I thought about how well-suited for each other these two love birds were. Their strengths matched up well, as if they’d been designed for each other. They were two ordinary people who shared the intimacy of their lives with me. In an instant, we were all three making our way through immigration and customs. We stuck together like old friends until we reached the shuttle area where we parted ways. As my shuttle pulled away, I watched them standing on the curb waiting for their transport, his arm around her shoulder. I said a silent prayer for their happiness.
You know, it’s a tough call, teaching your children to be wary of others. They can grow up not trusting very many people at all. I know because I spent a good part of my life that way. I think about all of the opportunities I missed and I wonder. At the same time, I understand. So much happens in this world that seems scary and being open isn’t easy. But when I consider the alternative, living a life in fear of others seems empty and lonely.
The truth is, people are interesting; they expand us – our knowledge, our capacity to listen and see the world from new perspectives. We find that, more often than not, that the world is a safe and friendly place, that people we don’t even know will look out for us, will stick by us and even help us when we need a hand. From strangers, we learn things like tolerance and understanding. We learn that the world is much bigger than our simple lives. When we take other people in, it’s easier to see how great and grand is the actual scheme of things.