When I started travelling, I was definitely leaning towards the more naive end of the age range. I caught the travelling bug after taking my first solo flight to visit a friend in Spain at fourteen. Since then I’ve taken every possible opportunity to travel, even delaying my start at University by two years because I wasn’t quite ready to settle down in one place. When I started this lifestyle, I was always one of the youngest in the hostel, the one with the least life experience and worldliness. It was a humbling experience. I was desperate, as some of us are, to always be on the road and moving on. Always looking ahead to see new things, I would rarely return to the same city more than once, to the point of not only neglecting my family and friends at home but also forgetting to create new ties in the place I was in. Given the chance, I would have rather gone to check out the cool castle, or wandered down to the beach to watch the sunset by myself, than spend time with the other guests in the hostel. It wasn’t until now, sitting in my cold and uncomfortable student flat, that I realise how important those social experiences were. They’re the part I miss most.
Looking back, I could talk for hours about all the beautiful things and incredible places there are on our planet; about waking up with the sunrise on a beach in the south of France, finding an isolated and abandoned church in the middle of the mountains, or getting lost in a seaside Spanish town; about watching the lightning storms in Sri Lanka, seeing the awe-inspiring view over Cape Town from the top of Table Mountain, or the delicately carved patterns of the Alhambra. I could tell you all of that: the adventure, the thrill, even the fear, and it wouldn’t explain the best feeling you get from travelling, the part which always gets left out when we call back home. As a traveller, and especially as a solo traveller, you have this incredible opportunity to meet people from every corner of the globe. The chance to talk to people of all ages, from all walks of life. These people might just become your new best friends.
Of course, I’m not saying that you should trust blindly. When you’re travelling, your gut instinct is your most important asset. Do not go home with strange people, and DO leave if you suspect your couchsurfing host to be developing inappropriate feelings for you. (Pro tip for couchsurfing hosts: Please do not text your guests who are twenty years younger than you saying ‘you look so beautiful when you’re sleeping.’ No, really, stop it.). When you’re alone in another country, you definitely have to put your safety first because no one else will. But if you never take any risks at all then where will all the fun memories come from? The freedom you feel when you’re in another country isn’t an illusion: you really are free, and you just have to decide which memories you want to create.
The point is that as a traveller, you have an amazing opportunity to make friends across the globe, the chance to hear stories from people whose lives one simply cannot comprehend. Of course with the internet, it’s quite realistic to be able to start talking to somebody on the other side of the world at a moment’s notice, but it’s just not the same. I would never have heard what is was like to grow up in the Netherlands during the second World War if I hadn’t taken a chance on a hostel-friend in Faro and taken an unexpected detour to Lagos. Some things you just can’t plan for.
In my first two years as a wanderer, one of the most important lessons I have learnt is that everybody has their story to tell and is just waiting for their opportunity to do so. In normal, day-to-day life, it can be hard to really open up or have fun with someone you’ve just met, especially when you know it’s only going to be a two-day relationship.
I wish that I had fully taken advantage from the start of the wisdom and stories from the people whose paths intersected mine whilst travelling because so many people I did give the chance to ended up changing my perspective and giving me new dreams.
Written and edited by Beth Naylor
Originally posted on the Wayfaring Student
To read another story about how travelling can change your view on society, check out Sarah’s post about discovering real poverty in India.