Making Travel Connections
What is travel really about? Education? Freedom? Exploration? For me it’s not about bagging the tallest landmarks, visiting the latest museums or eating at the hippest restaurants, it’s all about the people: about connecting with fellow travellers, locals or even random strangers. In this post, which includes some video advertising content from KLM Dutch airlines, I look at how travel helps us connect in more senses than one..
Over a decade ago when the boys were just two and four we touched down in Invercargill, New Zealand to begin a cycling gap year with toddlers. We felt like pioneers in search of a new land. No one we knew had done this with two young children and everyone warned us against it.
We arrived one November morning after a thirty hour flight with overtired and over-excited kids who then proceeded to demolish the cosy homestay I had booked on the outskirts of town.
Marion and Russell our hosts couldn’t have been more patient and supportive. They made us apple pie. They bought our kids Hairy MaClary books and read to them at bedtime. They hosted a birthday breakfast when Matthew turned four a couple of days later. They took us down to the beach.
I will never forget them. Not just for their kindness but for making me believe that my children were welcome in their world and around the world.
The importance of connections
Connections, no matter how brief, are important to me. Stuart gets his pleasure through nature and the open road – the wilder and more uninhabited the better. But when I look back at a trip I remember conversations; an interesting transaction in a shop, an official showing unexpected kindness, a hotel manager who showed me around town.
It doesn’t necessarily need to be a deep and meaningful encounter and I don’t particularly need to have much in common with them. Last week I struck up a rapport with an aeronautical engineer from Munich on a flight from Germany that made the hours literally fly by.
Often you don’t even need a language in common. In a sweetshop in Japan’s Toyama on a visit a while back the shopkeeper somehow communicated the taste and ingredients of her goods and we somehow we managed to understand her. A stick dripping with honey told us all we needed to know about the flavour of one sweet and a spoonful of crushed meringue on the tips of our lips persuaded us to part with our yen for another. A smile and a slight bow of the head sealed the deal. As we left the owner of The Candy Store held out a basket. I assumed she wanted a tip but it was full of gifts for the kids. Folded in the hard edges of this city, we found the soft centre and let it melt in our mouths without a word being exchanged.
I have never found age a barrier either. Some years ago we were introduced to Marta and two companions from Budapest who were touring the UK. We cooked up some dinner for the trio in our home and when we toured Budapest by bike they offered to show us around.
The ageing musketeers arrived in a van and piled us all in the back, pushing energy bars and drinks into our hands for a long day of sightseeing. Mid afternoon we approached a pond with rowing boats. Marta pushed us towards the boats and we invited her to come with us but she shook her head. This treat was for family. “You are family. You are the honorary Grandma,” I told her. She climbed into the boat.
Some months later a parcel arrived with a doll inside and a complete wardrobe of clothes, all hand knitted by Marta. She had taken her grandma role quite seriously.
Swiss friends for life
Sandra and Philippe had already made a friend for life when we met them on our biking honeymoon in South America. They picked up their dog Che on a wild camp in Peru. He was thin and unloved and trailed after them until they put him in a milk crate and took him along for the ride. We met the couple and their dog in Chile and travelled with them for a while. Patagonia’s Route 40 was intense and tested us all. We slept in a storm drain together when it was too windy to put up a tent. We made sauces out of foraged berries when even the pizza ran out. We celebrated conquering the road with an Argentinian asado.
After a week or so Stuart and I headed south through Chile and they spun their wheels further into Argentina. But it was not the end. They travelled to see us in London and we visited them in Switzerland. I am sure we will meet again for another adventure and to introduce our adventurous children to each other.
It’s making connections I remember
Some of these connections came by accident and some are more meaningful than others. But they taught me that a journey is infused with something special when a human connection is made. In my view when a skiing holiday is over, one slope is pretty much like another. When I look back at photographs of the ocean and the mountains I often can’t remember what country they were taken in. But I remember the people. Because for me travel is just logistics unless it contains a shared story, a snippet of human interest, an unexpected moment of companionship in the wilderness.
Making all kinds of connections
The Dutch airline KLM has a new campaign that’s all about connections. Not just flight connections, although it schedules a fair few of those in airports around the world. But human connections too. The destination is ‘you,’ and your journey to connect with others. Watch this video for an insight into their thinking…and you can find out more about the KLM campaign here.
Speak to a stranger
When you next travel, why not go out of your way to talk to people? Connect with a local, discover their story and let them show you around. Speak to a stranger. Get to know the person next to you on the plane. And if you develop a meaningful connection think about keeping it up. Because sometimes it is a journey that will carry on long after the holiday is over.
Disclosure Note: We were compensated for this post by KLM to help spread news of their latest campaign and video. Aside from the video, all stories, opinions, images and memorable connections while on the road are my own.