Is Meeting People the Best Part of Travel?

Odds are, if you’re a traveler, you’ve met some pretty interesting characters over the years. Some memories of them are fleeting, some are mainstays, and others provide uncomfortable memories at best. Many times, when reminiscing, the memory of the people that you’ve met will outweigh those of the destination itself.

Want to connect with other travelers?
Want to connect with other travelers?

My husband Nick and I are polar opposites- he is outgoing, lively, and gregarious; I’m more reserved, quiet, and introverted. That said, we still both love to engage with strangers over the course of our trips. To us, meeting new people and traveling go hand in hand. Any interaction, good or bad, adds depth to our experiences.

To us, meeting new people and traveling go hand in hand. Any interaction, good or bad, adds depth to our experiences.

If you want to try your luck at meeting people on the road or the trail, check out my top tips below.

We’ve met some fascinating souls, and here is just a snapshot of some of the most interesting we’ve met, both good and bad:

Gary

1

To this day, he is the best person we’ve ever met while traveling. Nick and I were about 3 miles from the trailhead for Mount Marcy in New York. Marcy was a cruel peak – my knees were on fire on the descent. I was walking slowly and painfully, ready to flop onto the trail and spend the night.

Gary saw we were walking at a snail’s pace and stopped us to ask if we had any duct tape. Poor guy- his boots were destroyed. We didn’t, but this bloomed into an amazing conversation. Gary saw I was in bad shape, offered me food and water, and then asked if he could walk with us the rest of the way.

 It’s easy to tell my husband to go pound sand, but conversing with a stranger forces you to be pleasant and quickly changes your mood.

Gary was like my guardian angel- he allowed me to finish the trail while keeping my mind off of the pain. It’s easy to tell my husband to go pound sand, but conversing with a stranger forces you to be pleasant and quickly changes your mood. When we finally reached the car, he invited us to dinner and to stay at the free campground he found. We declined – all I wanted was a hot shower and a comfy bed. We parted ways and we never saw him again.

We’re still kicking ourselves because we didn’t get his contact information. When I think of Mount Marcy, I mostly think of Gary getting me through the last bit, but more importantly, that he’ll never know how influential those 3 miles walking with him were for me.

The Ohio couple

2

On our first traveling excursion, Nick and I went to the mountains of West Virginia to take a zip lining tour through old growth hemlocks. Upon setting up camp, we were greeted by a middle aged couple and their daughter. We talked for a while and retreated to our respective tents.

The following night, they came to our campsite again. We played cards late into the night and shared a few beers. They assured us that if we ever came to Ohio, we’d have a place to stay. We let them know that if for some ungodly reason they found themselves in New Jersey, we’d be happy to lend our couch. It’s so strange that people make these offers. We both knew neither of us would ever take the other up on it. We couldn’t even if we wanted to- no telephone numbers or email addresses were exchanged.

Bear

On the same West Virginia trip, we crossed paths with Bear. As I mentioned, this was the first trip Nick and I took as a couple. I had very little outdoor experience, and as a result, I was terrified of black bears.

As we entered the campground, we saw what appeared to be a local woman. I begged Nick to ask her if there were any bear spottings in the area. Nick pulled over to her and asked her if there were any. She said no, and that there weren’t even bears in West Virginia (I later found out she totally lied).

Nick thanked her and asked her what her name was. She said Bear. Nick laughed and asked her again. Deadpan, she said that people call her Bear.

Tanja

3

We never actually met Tanja. In fact, we just assume her name was Tanja because that’s what her license plate read. On the road, the little things count and pace cars are no exception. We travelled with Tanja for about 300 miles, each of us taking turns in the lead. We made sure to never lose one another, slowing down if need be.

It’s amazing that you can connect with people without ever saying a word.

It’s amazing that you can connect with people without ever saying a word. Tanja was getting ready to take her exit after hours together. She drove up next to us- honking, waving, and smiling away. Her son in the backseat even held up a sign to the window saying bye. The rest of the drive felt gloomy. On the road it feels as though you have no connection with thousands of people around you, but somehow, we found a friend in Tanja.

The California couple

On a trip to Yosemite, Nick proposed to me. We didn’t have cell phone service, so no one in our families knew it. The day after the proposal, we ventured down into the valley again and made our way to the Mist Trail. On the way down from the falls, Nick noticed a man with a hefty camera set up. Nick loves to talk shop, so he started asking questions. We stopped on the trail and spoke for a while before we split up and continued on.

On the bus ride back to the parking lot, we found ourselves sitting behind this couple. We got to talking again and finally we were able to tell someone we were newly engaged. They offered congratulations and well wishes, leaving Nick and I warm and fuzzy. We love to meet people when traveling, and accidentally, complete strangers were the first to know we were going to tie the knot. It seemed fitting.

Snowmobiling crowd

5

We decided to embark on a snowmobiling trip in Yellowstone with a group of six strangers. We spent the whole day together, sharing the entirety of the park with about a hundred other people. We stood next to each other, enamored by Old Faithful. We marveled at the geologic features collectively. We lovingly gave one guy the nickname “Marlboro Man” (unbeknownst to him) because of his voice that only decades of smoking can give you. It was smooth, southern, and oddly comforting. This was a once in a lifetime trip, and we shared it with strangers we’ll never see again.

Newark to Honolulu seatmate

I met this guy on my own, but I feel as though he deserves to be mentioned. When I was seventeen, I moved to Hawaii and I would travel home solo about twice a year. It’s a hellishly long flight, especially without a companion.

On one particular flight back to Honolulu, I was seated next to a nice enough guy. At the beginning of the flight, per protocol, we exchanged pleasantries and promptly put on our headphones. Shortly into the flight we hit bad turbulence. I was young, alone, and screaming internally. He noticed my discomfort and started a conversation. Before I knew it, the turbulence stopped. I don’t typically remember the flights that I’ve taken- they’re just a mechanism to get to the real memories- but I will never forget my seatmate. Thank you, kind gentleman. You’re a king among men.

Appalachian Trail guy

This was our only encounter with a stranger that left me uncomfortable and peeking over my shoulder to be sure he wasn’t following us. Nick and I were hiking the Appalachian Trail near Catfish Pond in Northern New Jersey. Nick (bless his heart) sees a gentlemen camping near a ridge line and insists that we stop to speak with him. Nick can be inquisitive (read: nosy), so he’s asking this hiker a ton of questions.

Turns out that he’s hiking the entirety of the AT, and as he’s telling us about his wife having to meet him to retrieve all of the guns he had originally packed, my eyes drift to an enormous axe (way too big to carry on a long haul hike) resting against the tree.

Okay, so I’m a little nervous now. Then he tells us a story about how he once fought off a black bear with two knives. More stories like this followed. Nick and I quickly realized that this guy might be a bit unstable and tried to leave. 30 minutes pass and we’re still unable to end the conversation. Eventually, we start putting more and more distance between us. AT guy is still talking to us- 5, 10, 15, 20 yards away.

Finally, we stop hearing his voice. The rest of the hike I was certain he was stalking us. To make matters worse, this is a scantily used portion of the trail, so we were on our own. Luckily, we made it back to the car without having this guy jump out in front of us, axe in hand.

I could have gone without that encounter.

Tips for meeting people on the road

Making friends at hostel

Go with your gut

If it feels wrong, it probably is. I didn’t want to stop and talk to the AT guy – I was feeling bad vibes from the get go. Intuition is a wonderful thing that we should be in tune with and actually listen to. Be smart – if you wouldn’t do it at home, you shouldn’t do it on the road.

Look for an in

Ask people questions, even if you already know the answers to them. Give people compliments. Nick is a pro at this – if he sees something that interests him, he’ll talk to you about it. Take a page from his playbook. The conversation might end there, but a lot of times it won’t. Conversely, use the questions and compliments people give you as a way to connect.

Learn how to read people

We get it wrong sometimes, but most of the time we’re spot on. After a while, you can tell who wants to talk and who doesn’t. Think about interactions in your daily life and start paying attention to body language. This type of intuition will come with practice. When you successfully start interacting with strangers, take mental notes.

No one knows you

I know this sounds weird, but if I’m in an uncomfortable situation, I’ll pretend I’m someone else. No one knows that you’re shy in your day to day life. No one knows your background. This is two fold – you’ll be able to talk to anyone and have practice to do so in your daily life. Eventually, you’ll stop acting. It’ll be who you are.

Talk to people as though they’re old friends

This is Nick’s ultimate suggestion. If you can make people comfortable they’ll open up. It’s just that simple.

If you can make people comfortable they’ll open up. It’s just that simple.

There’s nothing to lose

Obviously, people fear rejection. If you break down rejection, you’ll realize that aside from the hit to your ego, the worst part is the fear that it’ll affect your daily life. Rejection that is close to home, well, hits close to home. If you can compartmentalize rejection in this manner, it will be so much easier for you to take the risk (that doesn’t actually exist) to engage with strangers. The odds of seeing each other again are remote, so go for it!

Travel with someone who is more outgoing (if you can)

Without Nick by my side, I can definitively say I wouldn’t have talked to as many people as I have. It’s contagious. Take cues from your traveling partner and act accordingly.

Everyone travels for their own reasons, but I suggest you try traveling for human connections. We rarely remember people’s names but their faces are burned into our memories and our photo albums. We often wonder how many people’s memories we’re a part of. Ohio, Bear, Tanja, California, Snowmobile, Seatmate, but especially Gary – if you are out there, please get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.

Do you have any interesting stories about people you’ve met on the road? Share them in the comments below.

Read more about making connections with others while traveling:

manifesto - value interactions

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Leave a Comment

  • Nicholas Tiedemann said at 2014-03-10T20:28:45+0000: Another masterpiece by my beautiful and intelligent wife! This article might be my favorite you've ever written. Sometimes it's easy to forget the experiences we've had in our travels but seeing it in print really brings back the memories. Thankfully AT Guy left his guns behind before we got to him or you might not have been here to write this! ;)
  • Jim Murray said at 2014-04-04T23:53:48+0000: Great article, full of great stories! I agree that meeting the locals and your fellow travelers while exploring the world is the richest part of travelling. Really nicely done!
  • Nancy Gilsdorf said at 2014-04-05T20:30:47+0000: Beautifully written Sarah. I can totally relate. Momma Bear
  • Paladin Cody said at 2014-03-10T21:38:53+0000: These were great stories! Even the one on the Appalachian Trail was interesting in its own way. But I also have been doing this sort of thing for years. If you have hiked in Yellowstone during the summer and someone asked you, "Where are you from?", it was probably me. I'm a local and visit the Park frequently.I don't ask everyone, as some people just don't seem as if they are in the mood, but I do try to talk to many people, especially on the lesser used trails. But the question is a good trail-trodding ice-breaker, and conversations will last from a quick response in passing to extended conversations.When I am hiking in other countries, the opening question is usually, "Do you speak English?" I have met a bunch of really neat people that way. I rarely do this type of thing in cities, but on trails, it seems that most folks are kindred spirits and kind of want to interact however briefly.This is a highly recommended activity.
  • Anthony Shaddow said at 2014-03-11T15:54:20+0000: Definitely agree with the notion that the people you meet on your trip end up being the best part of it. I remember a time when my friend and I were camping in NY and we met a rambunctious man who went by the nickname that night of Shift 1. Long story short, Shift 1 was one of the most memorable characters I've ever met on a trip; if you're out there Shift 1, please get in touch.
  • Colleen Muro said at 2014-03-10T15:44:52+0000: I felt like I was there to share your adventures. I now know the people as well. Very informative and well written.