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Conversations

conversations

Wherever I go, I meet a lot of interesting people, but this doesn’t usually happen the way you might assume.

More often than not, I don’t meet anyone through a careful effort to be social (I’m naturally introverted) or through any deliberate attempt at tourism. Instead, it just happens while life is underway.

Here are a few of my recent encounters.

MIA-LAX

On a flight from Miami to L.A., I sit next to a famous actress. I get the idea that she’s someone special, but since I don’t watch TV and only see occasional movies when on planes, I don’t recognize her right away. As we talk, she tells me the name of the show she’s flying out to work on. We talk for most of the six-hour flight about all kinds of things. She gives me career advice and I tell her how Twitter works. Her work takes her around the world, and we chat about the places we have in common.

I get home and look her up on Wikipedia and the IMDB site. I discover that she really is famous! She’s been in hundreds of movies and shows, including a few that I’ve actually heard of. Oh, and that show in L.A.? It’s one of the most popular ones on network TV right now. I’ve seen the ads, but I’ve never seen it. Now I know someone to look for.

The Oilman

Far away from Texas I meet a Texas oilman, who faithfully replicates ever stereotype I have in my head of what a Texas oilman is like. Over the course of a 30-minute conversation, he tries to sell me on various business opportunities that he is sure would improve my traveling lifestyle. Believe me, the conversation goes on about 25 minutes too long, but I’m trapped. My favorite part comes when he tells me about “this new technology” that allows me to call home from wherever I am in the world. “Uh, Skype?” I say.

No, this is something else and it’s much better, he says. And it only costs $29 a month after the initial $149 setup. He can hook me up with an even better deal if I want. “Uh, Skype is free?” I say.

Yes, but you can do video calls with his service, he says. “Uh,” I start to say, but then I realize that I need to let it go. I dutifully give up. Life is short.

“I’m a Writer”

Whenever a new conversation turns to work, I tell people I’m a writer and I get one of the following reactions:

*General interest. “Oh, that’s interesting. What do you write?” I think this is the most normal reaction. We have a normal conversation and talk about things that are usually somewhat related to something I write about.

*Superstar. I’m a hero! I can do no wrong! These people think I’m like John Grisham or Stephen King. “I read books,” a woman in Atlanta told me once, presumably on the grounds that this was an interesting fact. “Me too,” I said. “I guess we have something in common.”

*Deep suspicion or disregard. This attitude tends to come from people who have odd views about work, and tend to look down on artists in general. They ask where my sponsorship comes from and say “must be nice” when I say I’m independent. (Hell yeah, it’s nice. I make it happen just like every other successful writer I know.) “It’s good you can do that kind of thing when you’re young” is another comment that falls in this category. Thankfully, these kinds of reactions don’t come up that often.

*Absolutely no curiosity whatsoever. This, to me, is the strangest reaction. About 10-15% of people will just say “Oh” and then go on talking about whatever kind of work that they do. I don’t mind this, I just think it’s odd. To each his own, I guess.

***

My Friends at Miami Immigration

When it comes to immigration and passport checks, these fall into the same general categories as talking about being a writer. On my last trip, I go in and out of MIA three times. The second time I get an immigration guy who is genuinely interested. “How does it work? How many countries are there? Do you have a web site?” he wanted to know.

Well, yes. I do have a web site, actually.

I give him my card. A few days later I show up again, back from another flight to the Caribbean. He doesn’t recognize me at first, but then I hand him the thick passport. “Oh, hey!” he says, then turns to his colleague at the next booth. “Joe, this is the guy I was telling you about. He’s going to every country in the world.”

I smile. It’s good to have friends who work in immigration. I’ll probably get detained at some point, but I don’t think it will be in Miami.

The Contracted Driver

In Ulaan Bataar, Mongolia I discover that almost every car is a taxi. Someone explains that you simply stand on the side of the road and wait for a driver to pull over. You tell the driver where you’re going, and chances are he’ll take you there in exchange for a small payment. After wandering the streets on my last day, I check out of the hotel and take my bags down to the street. Sure enough, a guy pulls over. He speaks no English, but waves for me to get in. I get in and make the universal sign and sound effect for airplane (it involves saying “Whoosh!”).

He repeats the gesture and the whoosh, but the airport isn’t that close, and he wants to make sure he gets it right before we drive off for 20 miles. I point to my bags in the back, make another airplane gesture, and this time I try to make the sound of an airplane taking off. It sounds like nnnneyrrrrrr for a long time down the runway.

He repeats it, I nod, we both laugh, and we take off. Since we don’t share even a few words of the same language, there’s not much to talk about on the way. He’s a good driver, though, and I look at pictures of his children that he shows me when stopped at intersections. The drive takes a while, and I’m wondering how much I’ll need to pay him at the end. I’ve already spent most of my local currency, and have less than $5 left in my pocket.

When we come to the terminal, he holds up eight fingers, which I understand to relate to eight hundred tugrik, the fun currency of Mongolia that has Genghis Khan’s profile on the notes. I have exactly seven hundred left, and offer it to him with the universal is-that-OK? look while making the universal empty-pockets gesture. He accepts, shakes my hand, and waves me off. Good times.

Miscellany

I meet fellow independent travelers from all over the world. In Damascus I travel with a couple from Toronto. We take the bus over from Beirut, hop in a taxi on the other side, and get set up at a hostel. There’s only one room, so I stay with them. Thanks, guys. At 4:30 a.m. on the third day I get up to go to the Damascus airport and don’t meet with anyone, presumably because it’s tiny.

In Eastern Europe I meet a Macedonian couple who used to live in New York. “We like being back at home,” they say, “but we really miss Dunkin’ Donuts.”

In the Dhaka Sheraton I meet a pair of West African gangsters. I ask what they are doing in Bangladesh and one of them says, “It’s not fit to discuss that here.” I get the hint and say goodbye after waiting a few more minutes to be polite.

***

The Lesson: Don’t Worry, Be Yourself

When I first started traveling independently, I used to worry about arranging things and going out of my way to meet people. Somewhere, somehow I had come to believe that I was supposed to do it that way.

I let go of that worry several trips ago. Now I just do what I want, and often that involves being by myself, writing in coffee shops, or just wandering around. Even if I don’t do anything formal, things tend to come up naturally – from hotel lobbies to Mongolian taxis. The precise balance between planning and spontaneity is something best left to one person to decide on: yourself. Whatever you choose, you’ll probably appreciate it more than if you try to fulfill someone else’s ideas of what your adventures should be like.

Speaking of adventures, this week I’m visiting family in Park City, Utah. I hope you’re well wherever you are.

###

“Conversations” Image by AAR

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61 Comments

  • Jason Kallsen says:

    Great post, Chris. Learning to let things happen in a natural way can be tough for people, especially when it’s pounded into us through the tourism industry that you should (basically) change who you are and suddenly be an inquisitive extrovert that talks and talks and talks. I, like you, tend to get introverted during solo travel (which is a state I like) and I would much rather meet one or two really good people rather than skimming the surface with fifty.

    My personal route involves finding wine bars, where the social and cultural aspects of what I like seem to converge with the local culture. Wine bar people (workers and patrons) seem to always be open to casual conversation. Same with some coffee houses, and some movie theaters. (Example — the Living Room Theater in Portland. I’ve met dozens of interesting people from around the world just by sitting at that bar having a glass of vino).

  • Colin Wright says:

    Great post! I love these small case-study style stories that give a slice of life in different parts of the world from the same person.

    Very solid advice, too, to be yourself and not force the experience. I’m embarking on my trip overseas in a few months and I’m trying to set things up so that I’m nearly forced to go out as often as possible. I’m sure, though, regardless of how I plan, I’ll find myself in a lot of interesting (and sometime awkward) situations anyway.

  • ryan says:

    So interesting! Thanks for sharing these stories!

    I especially liked your breakdown of people’s reactions to your profession. I hate, hate, HATE ‘deep suspicion or disregard’! Especially, “It’s good you can do that kind of thing when you’re young”. How smug! I hope respect and appreciation will grow for artists, non-conformists and the like in the future.

  • Josiane says:

    That was a neat post! Reminded me of some of the encouters that happened during my trips, especially the ones in Iran. Thanks for sharing those moments with us. It was fun to read, and brought great memories back to mind too!

  • Okay, I just laughed at my desk when I read the part about the Texas oilman. I had the exact same experience on a flight into Utah. He fit all the stereotypes, right down to the gigantic belt buckle and big ol’ hat. The conversation didn’t go too differently than yours, either.

    Thanks for the chuckle this morning.

  • Sean says:

    Its amazing how many different ways people can perceive your life and how varied the interest levels can be. It is also pretty cool hear the results of these conversations from someone who has such a wide variety of experiences to relate them to (driver in Mongolia, African gangsters etc.).

    I have also found the same, that you usually meet the most interesting people when you least expect it. Funny how life works that way sometimes. Enjoy Park City!

  • PierreSmack says:

    I like the phrase “naturally introverted”. I think I’ll steal that.

  • There is HUGE value in not overplanning, and allowing life and circumstance to happen.

    Traveling this way, I was able to get a free 1-hour medieval longsword fighting lesson on the grounds of Vlad Tepes’ (Dracula) Bucharest castle.

  • Chris – This was a fantastic post. I am introverted by nature as well but I seemed to be the LEAST stressed about it when I travel. Thanks for the great anecdotes and for doing what you do. It’s inspiring!

  • Etsuko says:

    Chris,
    I enjoyed this post!

    It was interesting to read your thoughts on the reaction #4(no curiosity). Have you ever met anyone that you have no interests/curiosity of getting to know them better? I know it is not natural to you, but for some reason you didn’t feel like asking any more questions about what they do. If you have, I wonder how you’d respond to them, without having to pretend or making excuses (such as I want to read this book, want to sleep etc.)
    I say this because it sounds like they, too, are just being themselves and being honest about it.
    Just a thought!

  • M says:

    Can I travel with you? I am serious!

  • I loved the one about the famous actress. Such a blessing for both of you — I bet that, were you familiar with her work, the conversation would have taken a different tone. But you probably did her as big a favor as she did you — real, genuine, authentic conversation around stuff that interests both of you.

    And she didn’t have to worry about whether you liked her in that thing you saw her in, any less than you had to worry about whether you failed to dot the i in your last blog posting.

    Great work on this site!

    Dave

  • John says:

    Great advice, Chris. You shouldn’t just expect amazing conversations to happen right out the blue. Let everything progress naturally. Just relax and go with the zen flow.

    By the way, I hope to go to Brazil in a few years. I really want to start traveling independently like you (maybe not to every country in the world).

    Have fun on your journeys!

  • Aline says:

    I must be the superficial one here – who was the actress??

    I enjoyed reading about the reactions you get to saying you write for a living. Especially the woman who said she reads books also. For the record, I breathe air and drink water, a commonality I share with everyone!

  • Amy P. says:

    Really interesting, Chris, and timely to my thinking, because I was pondering last night about networking and the general knowledge that one does not succeed as an island – there are usually many holding said successful person up.

    I had been wondering about you in particular – your online success and the people you know. It was interesting to read that you are also naturally introverted.

    The magic of being on the road, the conversations you have with other interesting travelers is different than who you know in your business. So is your network of people you have relationships with mostly online? Which is more beneficial or does it make a difference if your network of fellow bloggers and online entrepreneurs is virtual or real flesh and blood meetings?

    Sorry that it is a bit of a tangent from your blog post, but the topic of conversing with people got me thinking in this direction.

    Amy P.

  • Yes, Pierresmack, you and me both will adopt the ‘naturally introverted’ label 🙂

    Reading this helps me understand the enjoyment of traveling the way you do, with what seems like hardly any time to absorb the places you visit – but while I’m a great one for sightseeing, nature and cities, museums and everything, I must admit, meeting people can be the best part of it all.

    As an artist, I laughed a bit at your descriptions of reactions to your profession – all familiar.

  • Wil Butler says:

    I too run into people who just seem to want to talk. Apparently I’m a good listener, since I rarely have a lot to say and I like to make sure that what I am saying matters, and most people seem to have a lot to say, so it works out quite well.

    I tend to learn quite a lot from people, far more than I did even in my especially long stint in college or from most of the books I’ve read. It seems like everyone has something interesting to say, the trick is getting deep enough into a conversation to find it.

    My favorite is when I meet established writers who find out that I’m an aspiring writer, and they feel the need to impart their wisdom on me. Which ranges from “only do it on your own, otherwise you’re selling out,” to “write travel books, because everything is paid for and it’s consistent.”

    I suppose that that’s really great advice, if I’m them, but I’m me, and that means that I’ll have to do things my way, not theirs.

  • Didier says:

    I enjoyed your post. It reminded me why I like to travel so much. Now I can’t wait to whoosh away again!

  • Ryan says:

    Makes me want to go out and start talking to random people… which is exactly what you’re suggesting we needn’t do. I guess I’ll just stay here in the quiet of my library study room and live my adventurous life vicariously through you. (I hope you’re happy that I found you good for something 🙂

    Seriously though, I really enjoyed this post. I’m not sure I’ve ever commented before, but this one pushed me to the edge. I’m loving your writing and your experiences.

    Say ‘hi’ for me to all my mormon friends there in Utah 🙂

  • Leslie Strom says:

    Elephant in the room:
    Who was the actress?

    Totally enjoyed this entire essay… especially your moment of fame at security in Miami!

  • Great stuff Chris,

    I’ve always found when travelling that the best conversations are one that just sort plop right into your lap unexpectedly. People are genuinely interested and nice if you’re the same.

    Safe travels.

    Dan

  • Randi says:

    Like Ryan, I’ve never commented before, but this post was exceptional. I especially admired the way you could talk to the “gangstas” without fear, but with humor. Introverted you may be, but your self-confidence in unusual circumstances shines through. I’ve always loved to travel, but never miss it as much as I do when I read of your adventures.

    Welcome to Utah!

  • Jared says:

    Thanks for sharing Chris. Great story. You might want to see the reaction you get by telling someone you are a “musician” (just to have fun documenting people’s reaction to it).

    Then if you REALLY want to cut the conversation short, make sure to mention that you are an “Independent Musician.” It works wonders to avoid lengthy UNWANTED conversations. 🙂
    *Jared

  • Felipe Lopes says:

    Cool!

    Whats the name of the actress you met? 😀

    Your stories are awesome, I’m planning my next vacations using a lot of the tips you give in your posts, thank you for sharing your knowledge.

  • Chris says:

    Hey all, thanks so much for your input. Utah is nice.

    About the actress, since I didn’t tell her I’d be writing about our talk (and didn’t really plan to at the time), I don’t think I should say who it was. It wasn’t Angelina. 🙂

  • This was great. I laughed a lot reading this! What great stories!

  • Brad says:

    This article hit home for me. Several years ago on a winter night, waiting at an airport on delayed flights, a woman sitting nearby struck up a conversation with me. She was heading out to Chicago, I was heading to Toronto. Two different delayed flights. Then she casually asked the question I wasn’t prepared for: “Anything interesting you’re involved in?”
    I thought about projects at work and mentioned one of them, I tried to think about some of my volunteer efforts with non-profits which might be interesting to her or my own hobbies. My mind froze. The woman quickly introduced herself. She worked as a senior reporter for National Public Radio. Her name quite familiar to most people who listen to NPR.
    The next voice I heard was ‘passengers can now begin boarding’.

    Always be prepared. You never know the next person you might meet. The elevator speech people talk about should also be applied to ‘interesting things to quickly mention to people who are famous interviewers working for a nationally known radio syndicate’.

  • Jackie Jones says:

    I travel far less than I’d like, but the times I have been outside of my hometown bubble, the most interesting people are always the ones you don’t go out of your way to meet, sometimes even the ones you at first glance right over. I think the lesson in that is that one of the greatest benefits of traveling isn’t the sites you set out to see, but the accidental bits of wisdom you pick up from those you chance upon. It’s a good thing to remember when setting out to see new places. 🙂

  • Dan says:

    Just want to say, I love reading what you write. 🙂

    I have done a lot of travelling by myself too, and I too don’t go out of my way to meet people… it just kind of happens, and it’s best that way.

    I also want to comment on the ‘being a writer comments’. I think when someone says ‘It’s good to do that kind of thing while you’re young’ you should probably take it as a compliment; it is good to do it when you’re young, also good to do it when you’re not young, and great to do it other times as well – as long as you want to be doing it.

    Keep up the good work.
    Dan

  • It’s fun to continually reinvent your own vision of who you are when you meet a stranger, and even when meeting people like the immigration officials in Miami. I’m sure they appreciate people who see them as human beings and not just a government agent. That being said, I always find it difficult to maintain the same amount of curiosity and compassion for strangers at home than when traveling.

  • Margo says:

    Nine years ago, I approached a cab driver by the airport and asked him to take me to a small town in Vermont. He looked at me and smiled. Then mumbled smth with a heavy accent, got a pocket book out of his cab, flipped through pages and said “$500″. Smiled again.
    I was 19, alone, in Boston Logan, my first steps on American soil, $350 in my pocket, a heavy duffle bag and poor English. But I felt as bold I as ever remember: ” $300? It’s all I have. Will you take me? Here is the address”
    He said “OK” and smiled.
    In the car he explained to me that it would take him 5 hours to get there. Pause. “So, I will take you to the bus station. It’s cheaper. You are from Russia?” I was surprised he could tell, because I hadn’t said much. He had a thick beard. Looked middle-eastern.
    “Yes, I am”
    “I like Russian people!”
    “Good” – I started feeling uneasy for the first time.
    “I just don’t like your presidents, Putin and Yeltsin”
    I didn’t say anything. Intuitively I felt I should shut up and play “me no speak no English card”. But this time I smiled.
    He continued: “I am from Morocco. I have been to Russia. To Chechnya a couple of times”
    I was hoping the bus stop would be around the corner. It was year 2000; war in Chechnya was still fresh in my memory as I group up 60 miles away from it.
    “I was there to avenge the death of my father and brother who were killed by Russian soldiers”
    We in Russia heard of Al-Qaeda back in the 90’s. A lot of Chechen separatists’ fighters were from the Middle East. I happen to be riding in the cab with one… All the way across Atlantic, in search of bright future, $6/hr summer opportunities and peace.
    “Do you speak Russian?” was all I could come up with.
    He said some basic phrases along with swear words. And then: “Russian people are nice! I like Russian people; I don’t like your presidents. And I only fight men”
    We stopped. The meter said $14. He helped me with the bag. Walked me to the entrance of Greyhound. He didn’t take any money from me for the ride.
    “Do svidaniya” he said and smiled.
    I slept on the bus for the next 5 hours!
    I learned that day that everyone smiles in America.

  • Sheila says:

    >>“I read books,” a woman in Atlanta told me once, presumably on the grounds that this was an interesting fact.<<

    Sad but true, Chris, that IS getting to be a rare and unusual thing these days.

    I’m likewise introverted, and I’ve had some pretty fun conversations on my various travels. You’re right in that there’s no need to really force things in order to have adventures, just have enough curiosity to go around the next corner to see what’s there.

  • Alice says:

    Hmm…. I met a writer on a place this weekend and my reaction was also “oh” when he told me what he did for a living… The only readon I can think of that might make sense to you is I like to get to know people not only based on what they do but on who they are… I work as a waitress because the flexible schedule lets me travel and get judged all the time… I try to get to know new people I meet and don’t care to judge and place people into certain molds based on misconceptions about what they do for a living. People always assume I am an actress or writer wanna-be, which couldn’t be further from the truth, and I would not want to make any assumptions about the person when when a person tells me what they write about, which because we have preconceived notions on what people do is bound to happen…. so Chris “oh” is not too bad of an answer 🙂

  • Good post, and fun stories. I’ve traveled on my own a little, and I’ve tended not to interact much with people while on these trips. I think a lot of it comes down to how approachable you seem, how loquacious you are, how much you make eye contact with people and so on. If you feel out of your element while traveling, you may tend not to do these things, and you might not interact much with people as a result.

    So I do think that some people *are* going to have to make a conscious effort to make fun and interesting interactions happen.

  • Alice says:

    Great comment Margo… It is one of the best compliments to me when I travel abroad:”You Americans are always smiling and happy.” Yes, we are. And proud of it!

  • Anne says:

    Chris you are so right. I have travelled extensively (still have a lot to experience though) and I have found every time if I just immerse myself in the place you meet the most wonderful people. This like your experiences make for some very interesting tales and fabulous memories.

    I always think the funniest thing is when you are asked by another tourist where to find something – must have that ‘local’ look or something and it is even better when you can actually tell them!

  • Chris,
    You are an inspiration to me!
    I dig your honest and thorough writing style.
    I liked this current post about some of the people you have met and the conversations you have had!
    All the best,
    ben.

  • Diane says:

    You brought some laughs to start my day – thank you! Your piece supports my belief that there are still nice people out there all over the world just trying to live and enjoy life. Especially liked the piece about the Mongolian “taxi” driver…wonderful story!

  • ChristiaanH says:

    A very interesting read once again. It’s one of those thigns I always wonder about being an introvertmyself, ow do you end up talking to/with people. Now I know. They just start talking to you and with some hand gestured, a friendly smile and te best of intentions you can get anywhere I guess…

    Just point, gesture and smile..

    Thanks Chris, you just made me less frightend of the big world out there

  • Ben Slavin says:

    Great post (as usual).
    I travelled to China recently and caught a taxi to the airport. Looking around aimlessly on the street is a great way to get the attention of a taxi driver. He stopped over with extremely limited english (but his english was much better than my chinese). I said a airport a few times without receiving a positive confirmation from him. I ended up putting out my arms and running down the sidewalk like an airplane taking off (complete with sounds). He smiled and gave the thumbs up. We drove 5 minutes and picked up his daughter, sister, mother, grandmother (I’m assuming) and well all headed off. They offered me some deliciously fresh fruit and we exchanged many smiles, laughs, poor attempts at each other’s language. After a one hour drive through the backroads (probably to save on spending $2 for the main highway) I got a little nervous without signs of an airport, but a few more smiles and plane charades yielded more smiles and thumbs up. Finally, ended up at the airport, paid my $70 yuan ($10 USD) and continued on.

  • Diane says:

    Great post, Ben! More proof of the goodness of people world-wide.

  • Dave says:

    During my 15-month RTW trip, I was often asked if I felt lonely traveling alone. Ironically, it was the rare day that I felt this way, usually after a new friend I’d been spending time with went his/her own way.

    I only wish it were as easy to make friends at home in the USA as it is in random and exotic places.

  • AnnCP says:

    Enjoyed the post – I love to chat with people from all walks of life. Interesting stuff you find out!
    I got your 79 day manifesto finailly downloaded. Hoping to learn some great things.

  • Thank you or this post! What great stories. You truly are a writer and I love what you are doing. Those kinds of conversations while traveling are gems.

    While I haven’t decided to travel around the world yet with my location independent business, I am taking it from Vancouver, Canada to Sydney, Australia for 5 months. So thanks for the mentoring.

  • Mark Essel says:

    Chris, your story and life experiences are one of serendipitous discovery. I’m not quite sure how to understand the power behind simple coincidental social meetings, but I recognize that you learn from each experience and it helps fuel your passion for writing.

    For me, simply going out for a long walk (3-6hours), and chatting with friends on the phone, or reading 10-20 of my favorite bloggers posts gets me excited about sharing something. Two puppies have recently thrown a monkey wrench in my extended walking plans (gotta be home every few hours to clean up, take them outside, bond), and writing with them howling in the background is near impossible. I can sneak in a few words while they’re resting though.

    I completed my first ebook at the end of May, everyone is free to grab a copy from my blog.

  • Tanyss Munro says:

    Hi Chris,

    I wish I’d known about your travels to Dhaka. It’s a horrible, filthy, polluted, loud, ugly city, but we love it because of the friendly, outgoing, affectionate people.

    We operate an NGO in some of the 300 slums in Dhaka. We lived in Dhaka a few years ago and were appalled not only because of the extreme poverty (and the way the West ignores this country), but also unhappy about the millions of poor children without any real education. After starting some schools for children ourselves (where it would not have been possible to reach more than a couple of hundred children at most), we decided to attack the problem a different way.

    We established an NGO to teach very poor mothers (who had to learn how to hold pencils to begin with) to be teachers for their own and their neighbours children. Some of our schools are not far from where you stayed and you would have found a small tour to some of these schools interesting. Although we are struggling to raise money, we hope to be reaching 1,000 children within a few months. (Incidentally, my husband is also a writer and has written a book of short, true stories of our adventures in Dhaka – with the family. We hope the book will raise awareness – also, profits will be plowed back in to Amarok Society – our NGO).

    So, if for any reason you do go back, I’ll be happy to have some of our Bangladeshi people pick you up.

    There is also a wonderful NGO in the countryside (which you should really see as it is beautiful there) where they use old forms of song and dance in their development work – very moving and they would also be happy to show you what they do. They are a generous people.

    Tanyss

  • Greg Pincus says:

    I love your descriptions of the reactions you get when you say you’re a writer. I can change the reaction I get to the “what do you do” question depending on which aspect of my writing I mention.

    If I say “I’m a screenwriter” it always gets a reaction, outside of L.A. “I blog” used to draw blank stares but now opens up many an interesting convo. And if I say “I write poetry and books for kids” I either get the heroes’ welcome or, more commonly, the “when are you going to get a REAL job” reaction. It’s striking.

    I agree, too, that you end up having more fun and having more interesting interactions if you’re just true to yourself. And thanks for sharing the stories!

  • Jen M. says:

    I’m with Ryan. Those smug responses drive me nuts. Another one I get when talking about my art–and even back when I talked about being a psychology major–is “Oh. Well, there’s not much money in THAT.” Because of COURSE we are all in it for the money…

    *eye roll*

    Chris, your blog and stories are wonderful and fascinating. I’ve never been out of the country, but your stories really give me a feel for what it might be like when and if I ever do get a chance.

    Jen M.
    JenniferLynn Productions, LLC

  • Jen M. says:

    John Koetsier :

    There is HUGE value in not overplanning, and allowing life and circumstance to happen.

    Traveling this way, I was able to get a free 1-hour medieval longsword fighting lesson on the grounds of Vlad Tepes’ (Dracula) Bucharest castle.
    ****
    OK. I’m truly jealous! LOL! Lucky you!

  • Leigh says:

    I love this – so many different characters that make little parts of life like a movie. In some interesting situations like that, I tend to look around to no one in particular, as if to say, “did you see that???”
    I appreciate how authentic you are with those you encounter – not only does that connect us with other people, but it allows them to be themselves as well.
    I have to remember to stay quiet in some conversations and let the other person speak. I mean, I already know how I feel about things – why do I feel the need to make sure THEY know how I feel?

  • Great post. I haven’t travelled yet, but when I do I hope I get to learn a lot about different cultures just by having conversations with the people I come across. I’m quite introverted like you though and tend to open up only when I know someone, or when my computer screen and thousands of miles are acting as a barrier.

    I must say it was a bit mean to post about the actress when you can’t tell us her name. I hate not knowing stuff!

  • Chris, I so enjoyed reading this, I travel a lot and sometimes feel like engaging with people next door, but often just need quiet time as I spend most of my days talking (I’m in sales and marketing). On my flight over to the States I too sat next to a famous actress (although I couldn’t place her until I saw a picture of her in a magazine yesterday) and she arrived behind dark glasses. I smiled at her and said hello and she gave a rather fearful smile back. I could see immediately she didn’t want to converse, so left it and we travelled in companionable silence. I do think being famous has massive drawbacks and I am very glad to be just be me. But when a good conversation strikes up, what fun!

  • Chase says:

    Travel Conversations. I love it. I’ve met some fantastic people online. From world-traveling Graffiti Artists (I need to look him up again…) to inspirational 19y.o. solo backpackers. The key, for sure, is an open eye, and a willing attitude.

    Thanks for sharing your own conversations (and clarifying that it wasn’t angelina)
    -Chase.

  • Deb says:

    Laughed when I saw this post. My mom had just been asking me how I got into such long conversations with strangers. It’s fun (mostly) when you’re out of your element and easy when you’re approachable! Will always remember sharing a table on a crowded Parisian cafe sidewalk with a stranger and talking til the last Metro was due. I learned how to distinguish Parisians from regular French persons from him!

  • Stephen says:

    Hey Chris,

    This article touches on so many of the great things about traveling and meeting new people. There’s always a story to be told, and the best ones happen by accident. I recently made my journey into Iraqi Kurdistan and had an amazing time. While there, I met several government ministers by complete fluke, and it was fascinating hearing what they had to say about Kurdistan. Your blog helped convince me to make the trip, and I’m very glad I did!

  • I really enjoyed this article. Sometimes conversations just happen when you’re not looking for them. I always say that “you never know who you’ll meet while traveling.” It’s best to keep an open mind when you travel. If you don’t, you could miss out on some great conversations.

  • Isis says:

    I really enjoyed this post. That story about a taxi driver in Mongolia reminded me of an experience I had when i traveled to Shenzen, China.

    I just finished shopping at the night market – haggling with every vendor by passing the calculator back and forth. I was exhausted and hungry. I wanted to sample the local food, so I went to the nearest eatery near my hotel. But since I didn’t know how to speak or read the local language, I had to be creative. I tried mimicking the sound of a cow to indicate that I wanted to order something with beef in it. I put each of my pointer fingers on each side of my head – see I have horns? I tried drawing a cow on paper, Pictionary style. But all of these didn’t work. The servers just looked at me smiling, dumbfounded. It took me 20 minutes to order. I ended up just pointing to 2 out of the only 4 pictures on their long menu. The food arrived shortly after – hot, filling and delicious. And with beef on it. I left a generous tip. And they were all smiles when I left.

    I guess that means, they have no beef with me or I with them. 😀

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