As Mark Twain once stated, “How far we travel in life matters far less than those we meet along the way,” and throughout my travels I have found this statement really has meaning behind it.
The world is a classroom. Every single day, we learn from what we see, smell, taste, hear, and touch. This is true whether we stay home or are abroad, but traveling expands our horizons and broadens the groups of people that we encounter.
While we are often changed by what surrounds us, we are more often shaped by those we meet along the way. Traveling brings wonderful opportunities, but the greatest of those is getting to experience new cultures through the people met during the journey. This would have to be my favorite part of traveling. Because of the people that I’ve met throughout the years, my life has been changed, and I have been able to learn so much more about the world around me.
Often, I learn from the people of the country I am visiting. In Fiji, I learned the language from the hotel staff and danced traditional dances with the locals. In Vietnam, I spent time discussing relationships and marriage in the busy markets. In New Zealand, I discussed life and traditions with the people working in the cafes, restaurants, cabs, and hotels. In Thailand, I asked our driver a lot of questions about life and culture.
Not only have I learned from the native people of the country I have visited, but also from others traveling the same country. Often, other travelers not only enlighten me about what they’ve learned through their travels, but also about what life is like in their country. We share stories about growing up, ask each other questions, and debunk the myths we may have heard about each others’ cultures.
Sometimes these conversations are over drinks on the beach or at a club with other travelers from Australia, Canada, or Scotland, or, if you’re lucky, with locals from Vietnam or New Zealand. At other times, they are while celebrating New Year’s Eve in the streets of Scotland or Amsterdam with new friends from from Belgium, Scotland, and California. Often, at least for me, they occur over a game of pool with new friends from England, France, or the Czech Republic. Then on the rare occasion, they occur after participating in Shabbat with Israelis all the way in Thailand.
Aside from these quick encounters, there are also lasting friendships to be made. Occasionally, it can be someone who asks you to watch their bags in the airport. Even though I was hesitant, it is how I met my friend from Milan. Other times, it’s at a bar in Vietnam where you meet an English guy. Then you spend a few days together, learning about his life growing up in Uganda and arguing about which presidents are on American dollars. With social networking sites and e-mail, I have been fortunate enough to continue to let these friendships grow, which has in turn allowed me to grow.
All of these people that I have met, whether we are still in touch or not, have made a real impact on my life and who I am. Some have only been in my life for a few minutes, hours, or days and others have been in continued contact over the years. The world becomes a smaller place because of these people and my life has been enriched by their presence, even if it was only a short while.