Why travelling with strangers is a good idea?
I have travelled solo, quite a few times. And this was before listicles titled ‘Ten Reasons Why You Should Travel Alone Before You Die’ became popular. My reasons were different — my friends and I could never save (enough) at the same time for a holiday or our leave applications got approved for dates that lay months apart. So, it was just me. Now, each time I did (even as a grown-up) I was told by the elders to not talk to strangers — on flights, in restaurants, and especially at currency exchange counters. I obeyed, mostly. It made (and still does) absolute sense. The world is full of ‘bad’ people.
But then, on a recent trip to Nepal, I realised that not only is talking to strangers but also travelling with them is a great idea. Of course, it helped that the strangers were not serial killers and we were part of an organised trip. It wasn’t a first trip of the sorts for me, either. However, I did return with some interesting lessons and memories.
We boarded a flight to Kathmandu at a weird hour in the morning (night, if you wish). Being groggy helped — for, we didn’t exchange visiting cards, right away. If someone did mention their full name and the CV-paraphernalia, it got lost between us yawning and flight announcements. Hence, I didn’t know until the next 48 hours (or more), if the person I had sat next to (on the flight) was a CEO of a big company or a poor journalist like me. During our stay, we suffered anxiety attacks because of poor Internet connectivity — that compelled us to talk to one another. Kathmandu, if you’ve been there recently, is a nightmare for both the drivers and commuters. On more than one occasions, we were stuck in a vehicle for hours with nothing else, but each other for company. In short, we spent a lot of time together.
So, we learnt who was a meat-eater, who liked fiery meals. We shared hand-sanitisers and make-up (fashionably late for a formal dinner, we had no choice but to head straight after a turbulent flight, from Pokhara to Kathmandu, to a hotel’s washroom to dress-up with whatever was accessible). We even bargained as a team, for fake and original Pashmina shawls. No, we were not nice to each other the entire time. It started with an episode when two amongst the group decide to paraglide, whilst the ‘not-so-brave’ stayed back. Of course, there was major leg-pulling involved. Neither were we polite. “Look at the view. Isn’t it stunning?” one traveller woke up the rest, forgetting social etiquettes. We had no choice, but to let our guard’s down — motion sickness, food poisoning, traffic snarls, adrenaline rush, gorgeous mountains, etc.— we were in it together (courtesy of the itinerary).
Four days later, as I took a Nepal Airlines flight back home I got thinking about the ease with which one can befriend a stranger — sans designations, labels. It made me wonder — what’s it about strangers that allows one to be free, to be oneself? Could it be to do with the times we live in — for, in a world where we are forever seeking validations from strangers (on social media), it is a beautiful change to come across strangers, who (by a situation or will) are open to the idea of being in the moment sans checking in, likes, and re-tweets.
P.S: We didn’t add each on other Facebook either — I will like to blame it on poor connectivity. We did exchange cards, somewhere during the trip.
This piece was first published in Khaleej Times.