I had just landed at the Salt Lake City Airport, traveling alone for the night. It was 10pm, frigid cold, and snow was in the forecast. As I waited for the shuttle bus to take me to my rental car, a suave, well-dressed, man approached me asking me where I was headed. This scenario sounds like a mother’s worst nightmare, a scene that could be set in a Hollywood horror movie. “Don’t talk to strangers!” my overprotective mother’s voice popped into my head. If I were to take my mother’s advice, I would have shied away at his first attempt at conversing. But if I did take my mother’s advice, I would have missed out on one amazing opportunity.
This wasn’t the first time I had disobeyed mom’s advice and talked to strangers. By the age of 5, I proved I was audacious enough to accept hotdogs from a stranger at a neighborhood park after running away from a family picnic. While studying abroad for four months at Chelsea College of Art and Design in London, I was the one known for conversing with everyone at the local pub or becoming fast friends with strangers while traveling across Europe. I was couch surfing before the trusted guidance and reliability of the social media site, randomly finding strangers to bunk with for a night.
Some, like my mom, have called me crazy, brazen, or naïve. “You never know their true intentions. You’re my only daughter and I’d like to keep you around!” my mother screamed at me as she shook her head in disapproval, when she learned about my impromptu adventure in Utah. Although I understand her concern, I won’t let those phobias hold me back from some unique opportunities. On my travels I have realized some of the benefits I take away from my interactions with strangers.
Make an Unusual Connection
When I travel I find that the encounters I have had with strangers always become the highlight of my trip. Nothing feels better to me than knowing that two or more people from different backgrounds are able to make connections, even if just for a few hours. For the past two Christmas’ I have had the pleasure of celebrating at hostels. Usually, Christmas is a time of celebrating the holiday with family. Despite not being in the presence of blood relatives and close friends, the guests at the hostels were able to come together, cook and eat a family dinner, jovially celebrating the holiday. At the dinner table, and even in smaller side conversations we shared what we were thankful for, we shared memories from the past year, we shared jokes, laughs, struggles and sometimes, even tears. It made my heart happy to be around a group of people, that despite not having known one another, were able to share some uniquely intimate moments.
Learn Unexpected Lessons
Every time I have struck up a conversation with a stranger, I have found a lesson to take away. Once while staying at a shelter on the Long Trail in Vermont, I met a man named Justin. As we sat by the fire and stared into its embers, he described in detail about how he pursued a relationship with his wife. It took him months to even have a face-to-face encounter with her, patiently waiting for the most opportune time to ask her on a date. Even after being rejected, he still pursued her until she eventually gave him a chance. His story of patience and perseverance made me realize that I want someone to take the time and pursue me. Now, finally, I feel I am worth a man’s time to pursue. Plus having heard his story, I feel that a man’s perseverance proves he has the desire and passion to ensure that a relationship will work. If I never met Justin, I would have never tweaked my own expectations.
Enjoy Local Hospitality
While I was on a college trip to Istanbul, Turkey a few of us decided to venture out on our own to explore the city one night. During our exploration, we saw one of our guides, who toured with us earlier that day. She was on her way home and invited us in for a drink. As we drank coffee, we were able to get a small glimpse into her life as a young professional living in Istanbul. This opportunity to drink coffee in her home provided me with a better understanding of Istanbul culture and I learned more in that one hour of intimate conversation than I did in a day on her tour.
Create Some Amazing Memories
Going back to my encounter with the stranger at the Utah Airport, slowly, as the guy opened up to me about his predicament, I could see that he was in a jam and clearly wanting someone to help him out. Coincidently, we had both been on the same flight from Chicago out to Salt Lake City. Avishay, the man’s name, had taken a flight out of Chicago in order to meet up with his friends at Snowbird Mountain Resort to spend a long weekend snowboarding in the fresh powder that had blessed the region that week. With no rental car and denied by Uber and cab drivers because of the weather and road conditions on the mountain, Avishay was stranded from his friends and out of options. Upon listening to his story, I felt compelled to help him. Driving to the mountain, we shared our plans for the weekend. When he found out I was planning to go snowboarding the following morning, he asked me to stay at the resort and go snowboarding with him and his friends. His misfortune turned into an opportunity for both of us. I was able to give him a lift and save his trip, and he provided me a place to stay and some new friends to board with on the mountain. If I had obeyed my mother’s advice and ignored the man at the airport, I would have spent the night alone, in a hotel and spent the day snowboarding by myself.
Reaching out to strangers isn’t easy, nor is it for everyone, but these are simple steps you can take to get out of your comfort zone and start making genuine connections with strangers.
1)Take off your earphones
Nothing is more isolating than sitting in a corner in a coffee shop or on an airplane wearing headphones. Once you take them off, you will be surprised at the amount of people willing to strike up a conversation.
2) Talk to your neighbor on the airplane, subway or bus.
Just a quick comment about the weather or the book they are reading can be enough to spark a conversation.
3) Open your mind and body
To get the most out of your interactions, it helps to be open and willing to meet new people. It is easy for strangers to pick up on your positive and negative energies, and people will be attracted to you if you are radiating good vibes and will shy away if you are permeating with negativity. Your body posture typically follows your mindset. If you sit there with folded hands and legs, bundled up in a hoodie and wearing headphones someone will assume you don’t want to be bothered.
4)Trust your gut
Talking to strangers is the easiest thing to start adding to your travel itinerary. If and when you want to start traveling and staying with strangers on a whim, I advise you to do so consciously. When I first met Avishay at the airport car rental terminal, I had to use logic and consulted my conscience as to whether or not I should transport him to Snowbird Resort. Initially I was hesitant, but when I realized he was on my flight from Chicago to Salt Lake, I felt more comfortable knowing that he was legitimately stranded and just needed some help. There have been a few times where I had to abort an adventure because I just had a bad feeling in the pit of my gut. I trust that feeling, whether it is good or bad, because it has never steered me wrong.