9 Things I Learned From Traveling With Strangers

One of the main reasons I continue to travel, is because it helps me learn about myself. When I’m traveling alone, I tend to block out everyone else and just focus on me, turning a trip into a long therapy session. However, my most recent journey forced me to forget my somewhat selfish ways and let others in. I was planning a trip to Thailand that unfortunately my friends could not join. Obviously not letting that stop me, I decided to venture to this country in transition (what with the recent coup) with a tour operator, Contiki, so that I could see Thailand in a structured and safe way, even if it meant spending nine days with 22 complete strangers. I hoped that I would bond with some people I was about to embark on this Asian adventure with, but after years of traveling, I knew that I couldn’t depend on others.

However, I will say I was pleasantly surprised with this amazing group of travelers and how they encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone of reclusion. To be honest, after learning more about Contiki and the nature of their “No Regrets“ spirit, I am not surprised so many interesting and inspiring people signed up for this tour.

Of course, I did learn about myself on this trip, but more importantly, I learned about how I relate to others. These lessons have turned me into a better and more considerate traveler, and I have Contiki (and my new friends!) to thank for that.

1. Traveling makes bonding easier

One thing I’ve learned from meeting strangers on the road is that being away from home makes you much more open to connecting with new people. You are more open to new experiences and new relationships. You might even bond with someone who at home, you would never have noticed. Maybe it’s because travel is when people are at their most vulnerable which makes them more motivated to find support.

2. It doesn’t take much to get mad at someone

You’d be surprised at how quickly you can get in a fight with a new friend when on the road. Travel heightens passion, so if you do something that pisses someone off, sh*t might hit the fan.

3. Age is NOT just a number

At least not when it comes to traveling. As little as three years can make a huge difference. For instance, most of my travel mates on this trip were in their early 20s. This is a time when you love staying in hostels, don’t mind strapping on a massive backpack, can stay up all night and do it again the next day, and don’t care about a decent meal. Once you’re in your late 20s, apparently all that changes.

4. Quiet time is a must

Whether you love the people you have just met, or you are struggling to form bonds, these aren’t your besties from home. They don’t know your quirks and needs, so if you are itching for something they can’t give you, tear away from the group and just give yourself a break. If you don’t, you will go crazy, trust me. They will understand, and if they don’t. . . well you never have to see them again if you don’t want to!

5. Good taste in music is extremely valuable

This is especially true if you’re sharing a room with a stranger. On the first night of this trip, I took a much-needed after-flight shower, came out and heard my new roomie blasting hip-hop. I was thrilled. If I had to go through nine days of listening to music I hated, I would have been miserable. If your roomie’s taste in music doesn’t align with yours, well, that’s what headphones are for!

6. It’s always great to have a doctor around

As someone who always seems to have a medical problem, I was put in the best group possible. Within this Contiki group, there were not one but TWO doctors. It was a match made in heaven (at least for me, the doctors who I bothered every morning might disagree). If you meet a doctor in your travels, hold on tight. You never know when you might need them, but hopefully you won’t!

7. Travel is different for everyone

This may sound obvious, but you really don’t get it until you’ve traveled with people who have totally different ideas of the perfect trip. This group consisted of mostly party-people and adventure-junkies. I am a culture-seeking wino, so it was an interesting adjustment for me. Go out of your comfort zone as much as you can without forcing yourself to do something you really don’t want to do.

8. Travel changes you

Obviously. But what I’m saying is, don’t be surprised if the people you met on the road seem completely different once you get home and try to keep up contact. Once we get home, we return to the everyday versions of ourselves, which can be entirely different from our traveling selves.

9. Don’t try to hold on

On that note. . . if you meet someone when traveling who just isn’t the same person once you get home, it’s okay. It might seem hard to let go of such a strong bond (at least it is for me, and I meet new people all the time), but you just have to accept that the bond you had while traveling existed in a certain time and place, and might not transfer over to “real life.” Appreciate what you had with that person, cherish the memories, and move on. It’s great if you meet a best friend or the love of your life, but if not, well there are plenty more trips for that!

(Images via the author, via, via, via, via, via)