I’ve read this theory that every person we meet and every experience we have influences who we are, if we let them (and, really, even if we don’t). And the people and things that happen to us are not drawn into our lives by accident — somehow, we always manage to meet the people we need to at each juncture in life to give us or teach us (or for us to teach them) precisely what we need (even if we don’t know we need it). Perhaps our paths cross just for a moment, but that’s enough time to alter each other’s course and nudge each other along. Maybe it’s just a smile from a stranger on a bad day. Maybe it’s witnessing someone else performing an act of kindness that inspires us to be better. Or maybe it’s seeing someone else’s suffering that makes us thankful for everything that we have. We might never realize the significance of a single interaction, but I see my life as a collection of millions of these events.
With that in mind, I try to be open to new experiences and meeting new people so that I can take in everything life has to offer. But it’s not always easy. I really like routine; it’s comfortable to do what I’ve always done because I know exactly what I’m going to get. That security isn’t there with new experiences and new people. What if that new person is awkward? What if I’m awkward? What if I fail? What if they don’t like me? There’s so much fear of the unknown, and it’s a lot easier to ignore people and be closed off to new experiences and avoid all the potential downsides. It’s much safer to maintain the status quo. I do this far more often than I’d like to admit.
Looking back on it now, I’m surprised I had the courage to take this trip. I basically signed up for months of new experiences and constantly meeting new people. And zero routine. What a bizarre thing to do, even for me. I bet I was drunk.
Fortunately, travel makes it easier to meet people. Strangers are more willing to help you or approach you. Often, I have to get out of my safe little bubble and ask someone for help — something I’ve always struggled with. A lot of people are curious when they see foreigners or travelers and want to communicate with them, language barrier be damned. And other travelers are always happy to exchange stories and give each other advice. On challenging days, just seeing another traveler can lift my spirits because I know that they’re feeling a lot of the same things I am, and it makes me feel less alone in a new place. Comfort in solidarity.
Also, there’s something about being a traveler that makes conversations with others different. Maybe it’s because both parties know that our time is limited, so why waste it on bullshit small talk? Let’s get right to the good stuff: what are your dreams? what’s life for you like? what are your deepest secrets? what is your struggle? if you’re a traveler, what made you cast yourself out into the world?
Since we’ve been on the road, I’ve had so many interesting conversations with people I’ve only just met. I’ve been told secrets that no one else knows. I’ve talked more openly about some topics on the road than I have at home. I know people I just met better than some friends I’ve known for years back home. Do we have these conversations because I know I’ll probably never see these people again? Is it the freedom that comes with being away from home? Is it the challenge of travel that forges deeper bonds? I don’t know, but I like it. I need to figure out how to have more of these conversations when I’m at home.
Lately, we’ve been meeting a lot of like-minded people on the road. When we were in Batad, a tiny hamlet of a village in northern Luzon of the Philippines, Matt and I had dinner with four other people (two Canadians, another American, and a Dutch). Three of them were just like me: they had quit their jobs and left home to travel for a bit before figuring out what they wanted to do next. We stayed up for hours after dinner just talking about life and traveling. I don’t remember all the details of the conversation, but I remember how it made me feel: inspired and content.
I think I needed to meet them to help me accept my own decision to leave my career behind. These people are all smart, driven individuals who recognized discord in their values and their work, and it made me feel so much better to know that there are others out there who struggled the same way I did. And it gives me faith that I’ll be OK once I get home (two of the three had already done similar long-term travel trips between various jobs and career changes and survived just fine).
We have met so many other travelers on the road on journeys similar to ours. Almost all of us do not have a plan; we’re all just winging it as we go, and we’re all having a great time going with the flow. At immigration in Hanoi, we met a German couple, Sarah & Valentin, who had an almost identical experience to ours in the Philippines, down to the hostel owners and other travelers they met a day apart from us! Here in Hanoi, we’ve met up with them a few times and also accidentally come across them just wandering through the Old Quarter. Seeing other people who are happy and succeeding at this gives us confidence in our method of travel.
Sometimes, we just need friends. When Matt and I passed back through Manila on our way to Banaue, a group of people from our ultimate team for Spirits came out to dinner and had drinks with us. It was so great to have people meet us, to see familiar faces, to reminisce, and to laugh at shared memories (even if that means I was the butt of a lot of jokes. But that’s normal.). Thanks to Crespo, Kim, Kaye, Che, Asha, Lester, JC, Mitzie and Ana for making Manila feel like a second home for a night.
We don’t always know why people come in and out of our lives. But I’m thankful for all those who I’ve crossed paths with thus far, on the road and back home. So far, the highlight of this trip for me has been all the amazing people we have met.