I travel a lot, both for business and for pleasure. Sometimes the continuous travel can wear me down, particularly the endless line ups—customs, security, boarding, disembarking, collecting luggage. But one of the greatest joys of travel for me, other than seeing new places, is the random travellers I meet. Travelling gets us outside of our usual bubble of people, those with whom we interact on a daily basis. It throws new people randomly in our path. The person before or after us in a line. The person sitting across from us in a waiting area. Or the person sitting next to us on a plane or a bus. Everyone has a story. Sharing our stories with random travellers that we meet reminds us of some essential truths about being human: we are all on a journey and we all have more similarities than we have differences.
Here are some of the most recent random traveller stories that I have collected.
The Performance Artist: I was on a flight to Bogota, Colombia. Sitting next to me was a woman of somewhere between twenty-five and thirty. She had a bohemian or hippie look to her. Flip flops. Loose fitting cotton pants with a bright design on them. Hair braided loosely. It turns out she had French-American dual citizenship. She had resided in Europe for most of her life. She was travelling to Colombia to meet up with her boyfriend who was backpacking around South America researching indigenous musical instruments, particularly drums. She herself was a dancer and performance artist who was about to start her master’s degree at a university in France. We talked about performance art, which I previously knew nothing about. And we talked about teaching and how it differs from one country to the next as she shared her decision-making process on where to do her master’s degree. When we got off the flight, I was brimming with admiration for someone living such an adventurous and creative life. And I recognized some of my younger self in that life.
The New Manager: I was travelling to Vancouver. Sitting next to me was a young (relative to me) man, clean cut, dressed in business casual. I had him pegged as an engineer at first sight, and I was right. He was an engineer at a pipe manufacturing company and was going to a meeting at his company’s head office on the west coast. I noticed he was reading a book on leadership based on Star Trek: The Next Generation no less. Being a mild Trekkie, particularly for the Next Generation series which featured Captain Picard, I couldn’t resist inquiring about it. He explained the structure of the book, that it was based around an episode from the series. At each step in the story, the writers dissect the decision-making and actions of Captain Picard, to pull out important leadership lessons. The engineer said he had bought the book because he thought it would be easy for his engineering mind to process. He was new to a mid-level management position, with responsibility for a team of eight people, and knew he had leadership gaps he needed to start filling. We got into a conversation about the learning curve that we go through when we transition from a technical position to a management position. I shared some of the management books I had found most useful and he shared some of the other books he was working through. When we landed, behind schedule, he made a mad dash down the aisle of the plane hoping to catch his connecting flight. I silently wished him well on his management journey.
The Temporary Foreign Worker: On a flight from Bogota, I sat next to a young man who stayed on his cell phone literally until the plane took off. He was on video with what seemed to be his family. He was very emotional. His story communicated through his limited English and my limited Spanish? He was going to Canada to start a three-year contract as a welder with a company outside of Montreal. He said there were simply no jobs for him in Colombia. He was leaving his wife, parents and sisters behind. I described the process he would go through at Canadian customs. He confirmed that he had all of his documents with him. He said he was travelling with several colleagues who had the same contract, so he was not on his own. And he said someone from the company would meet him in Montreal. I hope that Canada is kind to him, because I know it is not always the case.
The Adventure Traveller: I met April, a 59-year old Chinese woman, who barely spoke English, at the equator near Quito, Ecuador. We had a tour around the equator museum together. The Spanish guide spoke to me in English and then I translated the English into simpler English with lots of gestures and facial expressions so that April could understand. With lots of laughter and good humour we muddled along through the explanations of the different exhibits. After the tour, April joined me as I ate a snack before rejoining my tour driver. With her limited English she said she was retired and was fulfilling a life-long dream to travel around South America on her own. I was full of admiration for her undertaking such an adventure. With our limited common vocabulary talked about retirement conditions in our respective countries. The museum was about thirty minutes out of town. I offered a lift back with my driver and we went back and forth establishing how she would get from my hotel to hers. Then she fell asleep. When we arrived in town I felt compelled to give her a goodbye hug, to somehow call down upon her the blessings of the travel gods. May they keep her safe on her journey.