The People You Meet Along the Way

Upon watching "Nomadland" and then watching it win some of the biggest categories of the night at the Academy Awards, I started thinking back on how much people shape travel experiences. Meeting people seems to have become a bigger part of traveling thanks to tour companies and social media. The Instagram account Humans of New York is a prime example of bringing people to the forefront of major destinations worldwide. In "Nomadland," the film's main character meets people throughout the film who all share their own stories and bits of wisdom. She remains in contact with some and others she simply runs into only while passing through. I thought back on past travels wherein I have met people who were interesting to say the least, but memorable all the same. Some were residents of each city and some were fellow travelers.

I owe a lot of my memorable encounters to hostels and small Airbnbs. Sometimes being a cheapskate makes for memorable experiences. At the Check-In Hostel in Berlin, I met a 20 something guy who studied abroad in Europe and came back a few years later to stay pretty much indefinitely. He looked like someone straight from Woodstock and was actually living at the hostel at the time while working on his own music videos. He would sit on his bunk with his laptop editing sound (using headphones) late into the night and thought about interviewing those passing through just like me and posting their stories on YouTube. I never found any of those interviews, but I hope he did go through with that idea. One morning at the same hostel, I saw one guy doing yoga and another doing a morning prayer. I can only imagine their stories.

In Paris, I opted for an Airbnb. It was located in a neighborhood at the very last stop of one of the Paris metro (subway) routes. Definitely not a swanky Parisian apartment, but with a convenient metro connection to the center of the city. I was excited to meet a local and speak French, but I was greeted by two Chinese people who labeled rooms in the house (like the bathroom) in Chinese and English. It was a testament to the contemporary demographics of Paris and its suburbs.

At the Prague airport waiting for a flight to Ireland, I overheard tales of what I'm assuming was a lads' vacay in Prague. One of the guys with an Irish accent talked about wondering how he is going to face his significant other once back home. Given Prague's heavy beer reputation that rivals that of Ireland - and the time that a few tipsy British vacationers talked to me and my classmates on the Charles Bridge - again, I can only imagine what they got up to.

I stayed in another hostel in Rome during May of 2018. A middle-aged woman staying there found out that I was an American. We overcame the language barrier to discuss what was happening in the US at the time. I had definitely been mentally preparing for such a conversation. She was shocked at the 2016 election outcome in the US, but told me that she voted for the Five Star Movement in the most recent Italian election. I had done my research. I knew of that political party. It was no different than the occurrence in the US. Hypocrisy knows no borders. It made me laugh internally, nevertheless.

As Rome is one of the most visited cities in the world, I had more interactions with travelers than locals. I met a Utah girl visiting all over Italy with her grandma, who had been to Rome four times beforehand. I knew she was going to have knowledge of Rome over a couple of decades. They were exploring on foot to places I wanted to see as well and allowed me to tag along for a couple of hours since I was traveling solo. The grandma wanted to see a painting from a specific medieval artist. The quest took us to some gorgeous lesser known churches. I am still following the granddaughter on Instagram.

It was an Indian restaurant owner who saved me from sleeping on the street in Rome during that 2018 trip. I arrived after sunset, not even thinking to pick an earlier train to avoid walking with my suitcase alone at night. I found my hostel pretty easily, but it was locked. The neighboring Indian restaurant owner spoke English and called the hostel's receptionist. Apparently she had already gone home, but she arrived within just a few minutes and went inside with me. After taking a tiny elevator up a few floors, we got to the hostel which only occupied one floor of the building. I have no idea what else was in that building. Anyway, the receptionist didn't speak English. Google Translate to the rescue!

Music has intertwined itself with people I've come across in multiple countries. Like in the US, there are street performers galore in Europe. In Paris, I overheard a local band singing "Uptown Funk" in English, but with French accents. Then in Rome, I heard the best cover of "Wonderwall" that I've ever heard. It took quite a bit of searching, but I found the performer, Simon Busch, on YouTube. The Grammy nominated Italian band Måneskin were once street performers in Rome as well. When I checked into the Maverick City Lodge hostel in Budapest, the bubbly receptionists were listening to Linkin Park. We talked about how sad it was to hear of lead singer Chester Bennington's passing a year or so prior. The proliferation of American and British music worldwide somehow still surprises me.

The strangest musical experience I had was an accordion player in the subways of Berlin. My friend started filming him, but he stopped playing. My friend asked if the man did not want to be filmed, but he replied with a simple "meow." We decided to walk away...carefully. He sounded great of the accordion, though.

Interesting people have come my way on this side of the pond too. On my trip to Las Vegas, I met a group of friends from India who were shocked that I knew about their hometown when I asked what part of India they were from. I told them about how India is near the top of my list of places to go. A year prior, I overheard a couple speaking French in Venice, California. I spoke to them in French and found out that they were from Grenoble. I tried to say that I wanted to live in France someday, but accidently said that I had previously lived there. Oops. Those two meetings remined me that as much as I want to visit other countries, people from other countries want to visit the United States too.

There's a famous quote that has nearly becomes cliché that states, "It's not the destination. It's the journey." However, when focusing on the human element of both destinations and journeys, maybe it's the people you meet along the way that shape memories more than destinations and journeys. From glass blowers in a tiny town in northern Czechia to a local woman exclaiming "Mamma mia" in Verona (very stereotypical and I loved it), even if you have loner tendencies like me, people still become important parts of all travels.