Two weeks ago while walking away from the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Boston, I saw a young woman standing in a median who reminded me of me. While hundreds of other people around her walked by in a rush to get back home and out of the cold, she stood there quietly, looking in her Lonely Planet guidebook and pondering her next move.
Her clothes and shoes looked European in fashion, and she wore a large backpack like you often see on travelers in hostels. She was alone, and had I been from the area or at least known it a little better, I probably would have asked if she needed any help. I often travel solo and have many times depended on the kindness of strangers to find my way around or get local advice on somewhere to go, so I know the value of a friendly person in unfamiliar territory. As it was, I wouldn’t have been any help to this person in this place, but I realized she represented an opportunity to incorporate travel into my daily life.
To me, travel is the whole sum of new experiences found by putting yourself in new situations, and it’s a broader lifestyle I try to embrace. However, I’ve always thought of it in the sense of me going somewhere else. Why not turn the tables and actively get to know some of the travelers coming to the places I call home?
Kind folks I’ve met in my journeys have shared their food with me, opened their homes to me and helped me make the most of my travels, and when I return home, the people I met star prominently in my favorite memories from the trip. I’m not particularly shy about asking others for their suggestions or advice, and people are generally willing to answer questions and offer whatever assistance they can. These inquiries are usually reciprocated with a curious “So where are you from?” which often leads to a new conversation and a little connection that may or may not last beyond that moment. When someone has stopped me and asked if I knew how to get to a certain place, I’ve happily helped them when I could, but I haven’t actively kept an eye out for people who might be a little lost and in need of some local guidance. I’m going to start doing that. Just as I’ve been interested by the people I’ve met in my travels, I’d be interested to meet travelers from elsewhere who are intrigued enough by the place I call home to come all the way here, and hey, they also might want to get to know someone who lives here like me.
And what’s the worst that could happen? Say I knew Boston well and asked that girl on the median if she needed any help, and she said no thanks. That would have cost me about 10 seconds of my life. However, if she was feeling lost and alone, that offer may have been particularly welcome, and like other connections I’ve made around the world, it might have turned into a friendship from which we both could have benefited.
A few years ago, someone made me a decorated and lit glass block bearing the J.R.R. Tolkien quote, “Not all those who wander are lost.” Here’s a way to help my fellow wanderers feel a little more found.