So there’s this one thing about my travel experiences so far that haven’t rocked as much as it could. When I travel, I don’t make very much of an effort to speak to the locals. I guess it’s mostly self consciousness, and probably stems from the way the Italians glared at me when I landed in their country (my first time out of the States, 20 years old, jet lagged and scared to death), and my hopeful “ciao, come stai?” was evidently the most incomprehensible bunch of bullshit the Italian people have ever been forced to hear.
Anyway, so I’m apparently unwelcome in Italy, and perhaps it’s why I haven’t tried as hard to break into local circles in the countries I’ve visited since, with a few awesome exceptions (that you’ll hear about soon, calm down). I’ve vowed to do better next trip-basically I’m going to have a second family in Thailand by the time I get back here, you wait and see. And before y’all get any ideas, I don’t mean a second family that involves me marrying a 12-year-old Thai girl. What am I, an old white guy?
One thing I do generally rock at, though, is making awesome English-speaking friends in hostels or bars while I’m traveling. In Central America, I’m pretty sure my travel buddy Aslyn considered me a desperate, insane alcoholic, because I would try to turn every other English-speaker I met into my drinking buddy. Aside from having a fucking blast with these would-be strangers, I consider it important to build connections with other travelers.
I can’t describe how I felt the first time I had a real conversation with another hostel person, and I discovered that there are others like me-people who will trade in their life’s savings for a few months of foreign exploration. People who know that their dreams aren’t unobtainable, their dreams are what they’re going to do this Spring, or when they meet their financial goal, or just whenever it is that their next flight leaves. That conversation-over free sangria and absinthe shots in Rome- was how I found out what it is that I am: a mother fucking traveler, y’all. And sure, a major alcoholic, but whatever. Finally, people I could really relate to.
Take James. A guy I met in San Jose, Costa Rica. It was my last day in Latin America, and I had just gone bungee jumping. As a result of the subsequent panic (maybe I don’t do so well with adrenaline), I bought a couple of bottles of Chilean champagne in lieu of a couple of bottles of Valium (and that certainly wasn’t for lack of trying, fucking pharmacies), and headed to the hostel pool for some sweet ass relaxation.
Unfortunately for my tan, it was a strangely cold and cloudy day, and I ended up just sitting in a chair with all my clothes on, drinking with Aslyn all afternoon, until a random person came down to join us. Three turned into four when James showed up a few hours later. Then the first guy went off to meet a friend and Aslyn passed out upstairs. So from about 11 pm til 4ish, James and I sat alone and discussed life.
James was in the middle of making his way back up to Canada from Argentina. He told me about tripping on jungle hallucinogenics with a shaman along the Amazon, about bribing his way out of Colombian drug busts TWICE, about saving a dog with two broken legs from a famished homeless Chilean (who I suppose had to find another dog to eat), and countless other too-weird-not-to-be-true, fucking awesome stories. And in return I bored him with my life story: growing up in a small town where the other kids thought I was a weirdo for wanting to leave America (“why would you?! it’s the best country in the world!”), about how my commercial fishermen father and waitress-at-the-time mother met and had me in high school, how I bought my plane tickets to Europe without telling anyone for months and my family’s surprising support when I mentioned it a week or so before leaving. I told him about meeting and falling in love with my boyfriend, and how much I wished he was with me in Central America. It was basically the most interesting, self enlightening, and casually personal conversation I’ve ever had in my life, and it happened as a random result of sitting in the cold by a pool because I wasn’t sleepy. Then around 4 or 5 AM, everyone else showed back up from their lame ass naps/nights on the town, and the conversation turned into making fun of me for liking Lord of the Rings. (It ROCKS and y’all KNOW it.)
We all continued to drink by the pool until the night guard, who had tried to tell us to go to bed about 10 times throughout our 16 hour poolside drinking binge, threatened to call the cops-and by that time, we all wanted breakfast anyway, and I had a flight to catch to North America.
So people, I’m telling you-talk to people you meet, even if they aren’t awesome locals with their cool insider’s perspective. Just fucking talk to people. It will transform the most mundane, lonely nights into the weirdest and best of your life. I have more pictures to prove it, too.