Travel isn’t just about the places you visit and the photos you take: it’s just as much about the people you meet along the way and the ability to make life-long memories and friendships and share experiences. Of course breaking free from your routine can be quite a daunting challenge in the first place, and it takes a certain amount of gumption to have the commitment to try something new: especially when that something is getting off the sofa, veering out of your comfort zone and visiting a new country half way round the world, perhaps one where they don’t even speak a word of English. But the people you’ll meet while travelling solo will make it worthwhile. And travel is so rewarding, especially when you’ve got the support and guidance of a good travel company to back you up and someone in their office who can talk you through the options.
And you know that cliché about “travel broadens the mind”? Well it’s true, it really does. It’s fascinating to travel the world and see how different we are, but really how we’re all just the same. (On that point, picking up a few words of the local lingo can really help, even if they’re just “hello” and “thank you”, accompanied by a smile.) People often ask me who the most hospitable people are I’ve met travelling and it’s a fairly easy answer: Iranians. Their government might be questionable, to put it mildly, but I’ve never been to a country where I’ve encountered so many everyday acts of kindness to a stranger from ordinary men and women on the street. But you’d never guess that from watching any TV news bulletin.
I’ve travelled solo a lot in North America and the US too has lots of people who are genuinely interested in meeting travellers from foreign lands, especially ones who sound like they’ve just stepped out of an episode of Downton Abbey or Crocodile Dundee.
I was in Scottsdale Arizona recently and went for dinner at a great restaurant there called FnB. I sat down at a seat at the bar expecting an evening of dining with my iPhone. Val, next to me, with her husband, was having none of that. Conversation flowed and messages on my phone went unchecked. By the time I got back to my hotel I’d already had a Facebook request from them. I can’t see that happening at the Harvester in Swindon.
People don’t believe me that the first time I ever went to New York City I saw a man leading a Shetland Pony along Fifth Avenue. I mean we didn’t stop to chat but how cool/weird is that? And there was a fat cop eating a doughnut, right out of central casting. Unfortunately that was in the days before mobile phones, but both would certainly have been worth a share on Facebook.
And in Utah I once had a meal paid for me by strangers in a bar-restaurant for no good reason other than the band asked me where I was from and when I said England everyone clapped. I’d never felt so important in my life. Of course doing my best Hugh Grant impression with a few “goshes” and “blimeys” probably helped to seal the deal too. (Doesn’t work so well in other countries, though).
I’ve had enriching encounters with people all over the planet from backpacking in Indonesia to crossing deserts in South America, with both locals and fellow travellers, sharing a common bond of adventure and discovery.
Wherever I end up in the world, I’ve come to the conclusion there are generally two perspectives of the same country: the sensationalist one you see on the news or in the papers, and the one you actually get to experience, where people are normal and friendly and just interested in looking out for their families and being able to provide a roof over their heads.
Just go explore and discover for yourself – you never know the people you’ll meet.
Will Hide is a London-based travel writer who spent 12 years on the travel desk of the Times before turning freelance. He still writes regularly for the Times as well as the FT, Telegraph and numerous magazines. You can follow his travels at Been There, Done It.