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After four months of pandemic lockdown, we did something a little crazy recently. We went on a vacation. That’s right. Amidst this unprecedented time of uncertainty and social distancing my boyfriend Mark and I took a trip. We decided it was the perfect summer to visit one of our country’s grandest and most spectacular national parks: Yosemite.

Were we crazy to travel right now?  Maybe. Our reasons for taking the chance were pretty straightforward:

  • We desperately needed a break from our Ground Hog Day existence in Austin
  • We know that time spent in a breath-taking, natural setting is restorative
  • We had the fitness and good health to do most of the hikes we wanted to do
  • We knew the crowds (both traveling and in the park) would be a fraction of what they normally are in July, so it was a rare opportunity.

Now to my point about conversations with strangers. Let me just say we had LOTS of them while on this trip. Given that Yosemite wasn’t full of the usual throngs and the overall vibe was more friendly and leisurely, the interactions we had with the folks we did see (socially-distanced and masked, of course) were absolutely delightful. And very helpful. Whether in the parking lots, on the trails, or while standing in line to get into the stores and deli’s that remained open, we exchanged greetings, stories, and all kinds of information.  To list just a few examples, we learned:

  • More about which hikes to do, when, and why
  • Where the heck we were on the trails when the maps, signs, or landmarks were a little confusing
  • How…much… (gasp) farther / higher…?
  • Where and how we could rent bikes in the park (and why it would be worth it — even after a strenuous hike)
  • Where the restrooms were (always critical)
  • Where we could see a cute bear cub tearing apart a log. (We were very careful, of course. Mama Bear was likely somewhere near. But great photo opp!)
  • Where we could get water, a sandwich, coffee, groceries — and beer
  • What was the best local beer
  • The best spots to wade and swim in the Merced River
  • Where to stay next time (although the little cabin we rented on this trip was just perfect)
  • And even wow! Look! Someone’s climbing El Capitan right now! In fact he/she has a little “camp” dangling about midway up. See? Way up there??  (Insert visual of my brain exploding.)

You get the picture.

It seems I’ve always known that having conversations with strangers, whether on the road or going about my day, can be beneficial.  My dad taught me that by his example as a small town businessman.  It’s just the right thing to do; to be friendly and show interest. Or to ask for assistance and advice.  But when traveling it can be even more vital. It helps ease the anxieties that can come with new territory. It makes you feel less like an outsider or clumsy newbie and more like a fellow citizen or adventurer. It helps you learn new things and opens up all kinds of opportunities and possibilities. It brings about wonderful surprises and synchronicities. It helps you make new friends.  Humans started learning this tens of thousands of years ago.

I can’t ever imagine traveling without talking to other people along the way, even if only to offer a friendly greeting and to hear one in return.  “Good morning!  Great day isn’t it?”  “Yes, good morning!”

The benefits of this philosophy became even more evident to me a few years ago while reading an article in the New York Times by one of my she-roes, Kio Stark. She is the author of When Strangers Meet.  The article that inspired me is here: Five Ways Total Strangers Can Make Your Trip Better.  In reading the article (right about the time I was doing more solo travel for my conference and corporate speaking career), I began to be even more open to conversations with strangers and to ask questions that would help me navigate my way to the best restaurants, must-see sights, and so on.  Since that time, my travels – and even my everyday life – have become so much richer.

I mentioned being more open to possibilities. Want to know a book that can help expand your thinking in this area and perhaps even help you see the bright side of this pandemic?  Read The Art of Possibility by Benjamin Zander and his wife Rosamund Stone Zander.  In an interview I heard recently Ben Zander told a story about a little sign he has on the gate of his front yard. It invites passersby to come in and meander around to the back yard to see his amazing garden. He is often sitting out there. Perhaps with a cup of tea or glass of wine.  Because of his willingness to “share” with strangers and to be open to social possibilities, he has enjoyed hundreds of conversations and built friendships with the people who have taken him up on his gracious invitation.  Doesn’t that sound like fun?

How about you?  How can you take the lesson of being more open to chatting with your fellow travelers – or even your neighbors, co-workers, passersby, and anyone you meet? Could having exchanges and asking questions make the journey of your life more adventurous and interesting? What would be helpful to know? What would be interesting or fun or helpful to talk about and learn?  When has a conversation with a stranger or simply asking for directions or help proven to be fortuitous or beneficial to you, whether while traveling or in your everyday interactions?

Please! I invite you to share your stories here!  (I may even ask your permission to add them to my new book!  Still working away on that. Stay tuned!)

In the meantime, I’m hoping you are making the most of the summer and would love to hear what you are up to and how you are doing.  These are interesting times and everyone seems to have interesting stories to match.

Until our next conversation….