Talking to Strangers


I was reading a book with an Introduction by Sloane Crosley last night and found some cool travel insights. Crosley, an author and travel writer, tells charming stories.  She said in her intro, “We travel to discover what we don’t know, to get away from what we know too well.  We seek out the unexpected.” This strikes me as both wise and personally applicable.

The charming story that preceded this insight involved a 4-year-old girl.  On her first flight, she had a question for the woman sitting next to her.  They had just taken off and she asked the woman, very seriously, when they’d get smaller.  Being 4, her only experience had been, up to that point, tiny planes in the sky.  Sloane didn’t tell the woman’s reaction because she segued into another story about a visiting friend who asked her, “Oh my God, what is that thing?”  They had just pulled up to Sloane’s house and a squirrel was scampering up a tree.  Sloane thought she meant the tree, but realized it was the squirrel when her friend got out and started taking pictures of this alien creature not native to New Zealand.  Two girls discovered something they didn’t know about because they were traveling.

Another article I read this weekend was “How to Talk to Strangers” in The New York Times.  In it, Kio Stark says he loves to travel because of “the strangers I meet.”  Me too.   I travel to experience the unexpected and to learn from the people I talk to.  When someone tells me to go to a place, I go.  However, I only partially agree with Kio’s 4th rule, “Let Strangers make All of your plans for you”.   I would say Some, not All.   

Sloane tells about a woman on a train who woke her to show her Lake Como.  “…had I not made a small connection with her, I would never have seen it,” Sloane concluded.  Yes, indeed!  On a train from Vienna to Budapest one time, Ruth and I talked to a woman from the Republic of Georgia who spent more than an hour trying to convince us to come to her country.   We hope to do just that next year.  Two months ago we met a Finnish composer, Kaija Saariaho, in Colorado.  Her opera will be performed by The Met in New York during its upcoming season.  The last time The Met introduced an opera by a woman was in 1903.  While talking to Saariaho, Ruth & I learned more about Finland, a country we love, from a Finn.   One of the most interesting seat mates I’ve met during flights was a harpist on her way from St. Louis to Denver to have her instrument reconditioned.


On our most recent trip I talked to a talented young winemaker in Walla Walla and, as a result, visited the school that trained him. I had a fascinating conversation with a ranger deeply involved in the National Park’s plan to link up Oak Ridge, Hanford, and Los Alamos to tell the story of nuclear energy in this country.  The ranger had been in Los Alamos for only 2 weeks getting ready for this.   A man on the staff of the Holiday Inn Express near Old Town Albuquerque took the time to tell us what to see.  If it hadn’t been for him, we never would have experienced The Singing Road.   Trust a local to tell you what you otherwise won’t find out about.


About roadsrus

Since the beginning, I've had to avoid writing about the downside of travel in order to sell more than 100 articles. Just because something negative happened doesn't mean your trip was ruined. But tell that to publishers who are into 5-star cruise and tropical beach fantasies. I want to tell what happened on my way to the beach, and it may not have been all that pleasant. My number one rule of the road's disaster is tomorrow's great story. My travel experiences have appeared in about twenty magazines and newspapers. I've been in all 50 states more than once and more than 50 countries. Ruth and I love to travel internationally--Japan, Canada, China, Argentina, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, etc. Within the next 2 years we will have visited all of the European countries. But our favorite destination is Australia. Ruth and I have been there 9 times. I've written a book about Australia's Outback, ALONE NEAR ALICE, which is available through both Amazon & Barnes & Noble. My first fictional work, MOVING FORWARD, GETTING NOWHERE, has recently been posted on Amazon. It's a contemporary, hopefully funny re-telling of The Odyssey. View all posts by roadsrus

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