The conversations, like many others I had with people on trains, derived an easy candor from the shared journey, the comfort of the dining car, and the certain knowledge that neither of us would see each other again.” – Paul Theroux
Living in Nicaragua on Ometepe Island for over a decade, we effortlessly made friends with locals, tourists, and other expats. I was thrilled that the world came to our doorstep where we could share our experiences with travelers new to Nicaragua, as well as move beyond what I call “surface conversations” with longterm expats.
Now that we are somewhat nomadic travelers for months at a time, I worried about making friends throughout our journeys. Was it possible to leave cherished connections behind and stoke new connections on the road? Would we be lonely? How do we meet locals and likeminded travelers and will those connections be fleeting or long lasting?
As we age, it is more difficult to establish connections with other adults for a number of reasons: work commitments, family obligations, and demands of everyday life. As a retired expat, it was easy to establish likeminded connections because we all left family behind, so we became family sharing our traditions, holidays, language, and lives abroad.
It was depressing returning to our home in the states. Most of our friends and family lived far away. We are retired, so the work connections we once had faded to Christmas cards and Facebook likes. Plus, we didn’t fit in anymore. We had seen too much, traveled too far, explored other cultures from different perspectives, and we live in a really RED southern state, so that gives you an idea of how we are or aren’t accepted.
Therefore, we travel. Travel experiences create opportunities that force you to interact with — and cooperate with — strangers. Although, most people don’t travel to meet people, we thrive on making connections with people from all walks of life and all countries. One of our favorite places to make connections, however fleeting, is on public transportation.
Our train was late. We had tickets from Bratislava, Slovakia to Budapest, Hungary. The Asian people with the giant pink suitcases were getting on the same train, so we watched them to see what train they boarded. We had reserved seats, but we had no idea what car we were in and we couldn’t find any car number on our tickets.
Trains appeared and disappeared and our new Asian friends remained sitting on the bench beside us. When, finally the giant pink suitcases in my peripheral vision moved toward the train doors, we ran to the closest car and hopped in. Just in time too because the train pulled out of the station as I took my last big step up into a crowded car.
We were jostled and bucked into school backpacks littering the tiny aisles. Excuse me. Oh, I am so sorry. Did I run over your foot with my suitcase?
Three cars were packed with school children looking forward to a week’s adventure in an old Russian army camp.
Upon entering the third train car crammed with school children, I was almost in tears. I can’t do this anymore. I need a seat, here…now! Just then the train rounded a curve and we were thrown into a compartment with three teenage boys and two empty seats.
I plopped into the seat, wiped my sweaty brow, and settled in for our trip to Budapest. One of the boys tapped my shoulder and spoke in broken English, “ Our school director rented these three cars for our school trip. She wants you to leave, but I told her we want to practice our English, so she said you can stay. “
And that was the beginning of a fleeting friendship with three teenage boys from a private school in Prague, Czech Republic who wanted to know all about our lives in the USA. We laughed, we sang songs, we discussed politics, we compared families and schools, we shared stories and we hugged goodbye when they left for their march with their suitcases and backpacks to the old Russian army camp.