Spontaneous Moments with Strangers
By Nancy Dorrans – Originally published October, 2020 – The West End News
Samantha Brown, host of several Travel Channel shows said this recently on a Facebook live broadcast: “…What I miss the most is spontaneous moments with strangers…That spontaneous moment of just meeting someone who you have never met before and you will never see again but you have a moment together.”
Like many of you, I’ve had to cancel travel plans this year. And like Samantha, one of the things I’ve missed most are making connections with people while traveling and taking something from these experiences. When this happens, I feel more a part of the moment, community and connected. It can happen to you too, you just have to have an open mind. I’ve experienced so many amazing, heartwarming, astonishing, hilarious spontaneous moments with strangers.
Costa Rica – 1989
In November 1989, I was in Costa Rica to explore and go on a rafting trip with a few travel agents and a group of North American white-water raft guides. The first evening a few of us went out in San Jose for dinner. As we were leaving the establishment a large Costa Rican man at the bar dressed in a stylin’ stonewashed jacket and matching jeans stopped me. He chose his words carefully and slowly. With a smile he said “Good – night – my – friend”. I remember the moment because it was spontaneous and his smile and words warmed my heart. I remember the date because it was the week the Berlin Wall fell down. We didn’t hear about that news until we got back home.
More spontaneous moments
Several years ago while out on Star Island in the Isles of Shoals, I met an older Navy veteran wearing a hat with the name of the ship he was stationed on in WWII. I casually asked him where his ship sailed. He said “Well…for one thing, we delivered the atom bomb. It was a secret mission. Our ship was torpedoed and I spent five days in the water…” It was THAT ship, the USS Indianapolis. I was breathless. He shared his experience, evoking Robert Shaw’s chilling monologue in the movie Jaws! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xHfz05E0DKo&feature=emb_logo
I met a young female pilot at a ranch in South Australia that was herding cattle with her plane. Her first job (after moving from South Africa) was as a shark patroller, protecting the beach goers of Adelaide.
Once in Geneva my travel agent friend Joyce and I decided to stay in town after dinner rather than head back to our hotel (by the airport) with the rest of the group. We got off the train as the doors shut and ventured out on the town. A few of the locals heard us speaking in English and started talking to us about their American high school exchange experiences. We ended up staying out very late. We went back to the train station and met one of the employees from the United Nations as he was walking out. He told us the trains and busses had stopped running for the night. He was in a uniform, told us his brother lived in NY and showed us his family photos. We figured it was okay. He offered to give us a ride back to the hotel. It was spontaneous and okay!
In 1994 in Zimbabwe on the way to Chimanimani, my friend and I stayed with the Bishop of Mutare. After dinner he asked us if we wanted to watch a movie. “Do you know of Whoopie Goldberg?” He said. “I have the funniest movie we can watch. Sisters’ Act!
I just love that Whoopie”!
Last spring I escorted a small group to Portugal for the first Women Walking and Wine Adventure. We visited a pottery factory and were mesmerized by the potter and his wheel. Then there was the jolly Frenchman traveling with his 90+ year old mother. We made it to “The Point” in Cabo da Roca (Cape Roca), the westernmost point of continental Europe. There was quite a line to take a photo at the marker. A woman we don’t know is in our group shot. The photo captures the moment when my friend Roxanne says “Who are you?” She was standing with us because she wanted to be “next” to get her photo taken.
By now you know I have a love of travel. I consider myself a traveler, not a tourist. What makes the difference between a traveler and a tourist? A tourist has a list of popular sites, restaurants and activities they want to see and experience. They may be hesitant to leave the resort or talk to the locals.
A traveler digs deeper. They make an effort to go off the beaten path and meet and engage with the locals. They want to experience secret spots, hear live music, dine on specialties and hear stories that are not in the travel guides. Anyone can be a tourist. To be a traveler, you need an open mind and a willingness to step out of your comfort zone. This is the difference.
Can I compare travelers and tourists with donkeys and elephants, conservatives and liberals? I think so. Education, experiences with strangers and open minds are the key differences for me.
I’m a traveler. I have an open mind and a willingness to step out of my comfort zone. I’m also a lifelong folk singing non-competitive right-brained creative democrat. I love elephants, just not when I vote.
Nancy Dorrans is an independent entrepreneur, volunteer, painter, outdoor enthusiast, traveler, democrat and travel advisor at Adventure Marketplace in Portland, Maine.