We all know this phrase saying “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone”. You get the point, basically we become aware of what we have, the chance we have, only when it’s gone. And when you’re traveling, especially when you’re long-term traveling, we’re extremely lucky. I’m not talking about how lucky we are to travel the world. This time I’m gonna talk about how lucky we are, strictly from a social perspective. I mean, how easy it is to meet people on the road. Cause yeah, a lot of people think traveling solo means being bored all day long and feeling lonely. Hell no, far from it! Meeting people when traveling is so damn easy! However, back home, in your daily routine, it’s not that simple… Lemme explain myself.
Those who never traveled solo don’t realize it, but you’re on the road on your own, you always meet new people! Very different people from different backgrounds : young, old, men, women, rich, less rich… It’s very enriching. Every single day, there are opportunities to meet people : at the hostel, during an excursion, a walking tour, at the bar, during a bus ride… All day, everyday! You’re never alone, there are always new faces!
The cool thing about meeting people when traveling, is that there are usually no artifices, no pretenses, people don’t play a role, they don’t try to show a certain image of themselves. When you approach someone to start a conversation, the person you want to talk to is not like “What does he want from me? Why is he speaking to me? There’s something fishy going on… I’m gonna be careful and keep an eye open“. It doesn’t happen, people don’t get defensive when you strike up a conversation. It’s possible to meet people, and travel with your new friends the following days (that’s what happened in Tajikistan!).
You end up talking and exchanging with people you would have never interacted with back home. No more prejudices, the people you hang out with are all from different backgrounds, they have different profiles, more varied than your group of friends back home. You get along with a lot of them and spend a few days together, but you never see them again after that. That’s how it is, you cannot stay in touch with everyone. There are other travelers you manage to keep in touch with for some time, or you manage to meet up again further on the road.
But most importantly, there are travelers who become your friends for life. You don’t see each other for months, even years, but when you get in touch, when you meet up again, you pick up right where you left off! Meeting people on the road is really easy. And when I’m home, in Paris, sometimes I miss how you can meet people with great facility.
Indeed, back home (in my case in Paris), it’s completely the opposite. In fact, in big cities in general, meeting people is complicated. Being in Southeast Asia and start a conversation with a stranger in a bar is completely normal. Doing the same thing in Paris is a lot more difficult. People look at you strangely, as if you were deranged “What does he want from me?”
I remember one evening in Paris, I was in a bar. I was leaving the toilets and I spotted a guy wearing a Sakura Bar T-shirt, from Vang Vieng, Laos. When I was there, every single person (me included!) had this T-shirt! I came up to him “Hey! How you doing? You were in Vang Vieng recently?” “Yeah, how do you know?” “Your T-shirt! I have the same one, I went to Vang Vieng, too!” His face lit up and we started talking with enthusiasm, like two old buddies who haven’t seen each other for a long time! And who understand each other perfectly, in the midst of hundreds of people “who have no idea what we’ve been through”.
We talked about the places we had been to in Southeast Asia, if by any chance our trips overlapped -same place at the same time-, etc… We found out we were in the same hostel in Manila, but I was there two weeks before he went! We shared little anecdotes. We were talking with some kind of mutual respect, as if we had traveled together, although ten minutes earlier, I didn’t know this guy! We both had been through the reverse culture shock, too. It was nice to talk to him. Then I let him join his friends, and I went back to my friends.
“Who was that guy?“, asked my friends. “A guy who went to Southeast Asia, just like me!” “Wow you just ran into a guy you met in Southeast Asia!? It’s a small world!” “No no, I didn’t know him, but seeing his T-shirt, I knew we both had been to the same places so I decided to talk to him” They started joking “Oh so you just decided to strike up a conversation with a guy you don’t know, You’re weird…” “You spotted each other, among great travelers, like two members of a sect or of a gang right?“
In fact, I just did what thousands of other travelers do every single day, that is go talk to people they don’t know. On the road it’s normal. Apparently, back home it’s weird. Actually, there’s some kind of connection when you meet someone who turns out to be a great traveler, you know you have things in common, you wanna talk straight away. It reminds me of the famous nod when you’re black, where you start nodding and talking to a fellow black person without knowing each other.
But if you just want to socialize back home, from what I noticed, if it’s not with people you already know, it’s not possible… Making friends when you’re a kid or a teenager is easy, even when you’re a student. When you’re an adult, it’s not the same anymore… And I didn’t even tackle the subject of girls. I don’t even count the number of times I had interesting conversations, but completely disinterested, with no ulterior motive, with girls I met when traveling.
But in Paris, it’s just impossible. Of course I understand. For what purpose does a guy strike up a conversation with a girl in a bar? We all know. Inevitably, the girl first thought will be “Damn what does he want again? My number? Take me home to fuck me?“. When several guys accosted the same girl that same evening before you, she logically won’t have the patience anymore to listen to you “Leave me alone!!!“
However, as surprising as it may seem, everyone has their guard down when traveling, and it’s very easy to start a conversation with anybody, guys and also girls. Innocent conversations, where we talk about everything and nothing. We just want to meet knew people and exchange a little bit.
Therefore hoing home after a long trip, and readjust to your culture is not that simple. I already talked about it, the reverse culture shock can be violent. No more conversations with anybody, people are too busy dealing with their own life and don’t want to be disturbed, I could feel it. Thanks to traveling, you get very good at talking with strangers and meeting new people. You do it with ease. Back home, you cannot really make the most of this advantage you have over other people.
If it’s not thanks to friends in common, it’s very hard to meet new people. You have to fight to break the ice. People always expect the worst when a stranger comes up to them, especially when that stranger is black. I’m not necessarily looking for new friends (I already have some great friends!), but sometimes just having a conversation for the sake of having a conversation with, for instance, the guy next to you at the bar. It’s a little bit easier in English-speaking countries, especially in London. But in Paris, it’s almost impossible.
I also clearly understood that back home, people already have their friends, their life, their hobbies, etc… They don’t need to meet new people. They have to go to work, then to the gym in the evening, sometimes meet that friend they haven’t seen in a while, etc… There’s no time to talk to other people! When we’re on the road, we have plenty of time, and our friends are far away, it’s a lot simpler! And we’re numerous dealing with the same things, looking for people to spend some time with, create good memories, even if it doesn’t last long! Needless to say, we talk to everybody, even the most introverts get more sociable, they have no choice!
I clearly understand the difference between meeting people on the road and back home, and why it’s difficult to meet people in your city. But still, I wish it was easier to meet people back home. I wish people had that open-mindedness most travelers have. Unfortunately it’s not the case. They don’t need to. They don’t want to. A little bit of both I guess…
Have you traveled for a long time? And noticed the difference between meeting people on the road vs. back home? Let me know in the comments!