You see that? It’s the back of the seat in front of you…. It’s the top of a stranger’s head, it’s a fold down tray table; it’s a barrier masked as convenience. It’s how we like to travel in the states, secluded to ourselves, protected from interaction.
Travel abroad often leads train travel, and more times than not it also puts us face to face with strangers from around the world. On my last trip to eastern Europe, we spent some serious time on trains, and as with most long distance trains in the EU our seats were always in a cabin of 6 or 8 people for 5-10 hours. Face-to-face & person-to-person.
At some point as American’s we began to associate interaction with stranger as a chore rather than an opportunity while traveling. I am as guilty as most, keeping to myself on a plane or on the metro to avoid some hassle that has been manufactured in our minds.
For some reason as soon as I get abroad I become more open to allowing casual encounters turn into friendships. Each train we took ended with us walking off the train with new friends, some that we would then travel with for days and in the ever-connected world of facebook, these relationships last on for more than just a day or two that you travel.
A backpacking adventure is trains, hostels and being forced to ask strangers for help which can bristle the best of us. But the output is an increased level of interaction, exposure to new cultures, and relationships that go deeper than:
“Heading home? Business or pleasure? Can you believe this weather?”
How to we change? I guess we start by sitting in the bar car on the next Amtrak ride…..