I travel to see new places. I bring tons of batteries and memory for the camera.
But often, it’s the people I meet who steal the show: the Icelanders, kiwis, Aussies, ticos, etc.
If you have some decent people skills, the locals are the ones who will really make your trip better. They’ll clue you in to cool places, give you an insider perspective to their home and maybe help you out when your plans go awry. And not because it’s their job – just because they’re being nice.
Sometimes, you never even catch their name. It might be just a quick conversation, but it sticks in your mind and is part of your vacation’s story. I’m not really talking about tourist industry folks who are paid to be nice, but people who you just run into randomly.
So in honor of the locals, let me share a few memories about some I’ve encountered:
Iceland – Stjarnan FC Soccer Fans
During our first night in Reykjavik, my wife and I wandered past a stadium. We quickly struck up a conversation with a bearded, staff-wielding character with blue and white face paint. He clued us into what was about to take place: an epic Icelandic Premier League clash between league leaders Fram and his team, Stjarnan FC (just about a month before it became famous for its goal celebrations). Moments later, we were seated near Ragnar and his crew as they beat drums, sang songs and clapped incessantly. This was a perfect example of what happens when you ask a local “hey, what’s going on here?”
Australia – Random Bloke in Darwin
Just after getting off the plane from Sydney to Darwin, my backpack took a flyer. A Swiss tourist mistook it for her own on the baggage carousel. Qantas promised to track her down (which they did). During the bus ride from the airport to the hotel, an Aussie made it his mission in life to cheer me up after my backpack ordeal. So began a steady stream of tall tales told in an accent so typically Australian that it made Paul Hogan sound like a Texan. And it worked – I was too busy laughing at his story about a giant snake menacing a local airport that I forgot about my missing bag and having to traipse all over Darwin to find it. Best line: “They put a hundred gallons of fuel in ‘im before they realized ‘e was a snake!”
Costa Rica – Roy
If you had a bunch of people lined up and had to guess which was Costa Rican, Roy would probably be your last choice. Blond-headed, blue eyed … and named, well, Roy! He’s one of the many ticos of European descent. He generously bailed us out after we missed the last bus from the waterfall garden to San Jose. My wife and I took a seat in his pickup truck, and during the 90-minute drive he told us all about living in Costa Rica – from the long lines to register a car to trying to get mail. We enjoyed the talk all the way back to his neighborhood in Heredia, and he refused our offer for gas money.
From Ragnar to Random Bloke to Roy, I’ve had the fortune to run into some great people. I could probably carry on about this at length. The bottom line – travel with an open mind. Welcome the random encounter – it just might become the best part of your trip!