In the Company of Strangers

What is a social butterfly? A gregarious person who thrives in a social setting, navigating the room effortlessly, comfortable in any situation, skillful in small talk, often full of charm. Well, I am not one. I almost always prefer spending time with a close group of friends, rather than going to a party. Making small talk drains my energy faster than anything else, and even though I love spending time with my circle of friends and family, I don’t remember a time when I was bored spending time by myself. Don’t get me wrong, throughout my career I had to “be” an extrovert where I did public speaking, made countless presentations, entertained clients regularly. So it became a part of my work persona, and I did it as work. Even many people I met were interesting, it was still something that I did out of my comfort zone.

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When I travel, though, that’s the time I feel close to being a social butterfly – in my own way. I usually travel alone. There is something about being surrounded with strangers, often speaking another language. The experience strips one from all identities formed, leaves them vulnerable and naked in a foreign land. I feel though it is then, I feel so inspired, energized, and can’t get enough of meeting new people whether they are locals or fellow travelers. It also seems to me that people are more open to interacting with a solo traveler, especially if the language is a barrier. I feel at ease making genuine connections with locals with the help of a dictionary, phrasebook or even making hand gestures. And to me, that creates a richer experience of that country traveled.

P1000803-2I remember in one of my trips to South America, I coincidentally arrived in Buenos Aires during Christmas. I don’t know if you know, but everything shuts down during Christmas there. Everything! That was not something planned, but there I was, three days in BA with limited options. I had booked my room a night before I arrived, and I was staying in a charming B&B in Palermo. The morning before Christmas was quite hunky-dory, resting after hiking in South Patagonia and staying in bed reading, watching TV, simply unwinding. In the afternoon, I went out of my room thinking I would be lucky if I found a place to have supper, and was pleasantly surprised that the kind B&B owner had put together a little Christmas gathering for all the guests. The atmosphere was jovial, even if no one knew each other, we all had a great time together. In a good mood, I ventured out to Palermo streets and started walking. Mind you, usually, locals don’t have dinner before 10pm anyway, so I was just stopping by places that looked like restaurants and asked if they were open. After trying a few places, I went into this gorgeous place thinking no way they would have been open, but even before getting a chance to say anything, I was handed a glass of champagne and welcomed into a cocktail party. This was a private dinner party, and I didn’t want to crash it, yet they would not take no for an answer and I, the introvert, spent the next few hours having a splendid time in the company of strangers. What started as a kind of a slow day ended up being one of the most fun and delightful days I had there.

This post was inspired by The Daily Prompt: Witness Protection. When you do something scary or stressful — bungee jumping, public speaking, etc. — do you prefer to be surrounded by friends or by strangers? Why?

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13 thoughts on “In the Company of Strangers

  1. Wonderful post! I think I’ll never have the courage of travelling alone. I always thought about it as a family thing. (Not even a couple thing.) I think that’s because I want my kid to learn about the world first hand, and travelling before he was born seemed like wasting an opportunity. 🙂

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  2. How brave and self confident of you to travel on your own – I never did this. I´m sure it´s a mind opening experience that provides you with a very special view not only of the country you travel, but also of yourself and the way you interact with people and are seen by them as a stranger. Seems to me you indeed are a butterfly in some kind of way, even though you claim the contrary. And I mean that as a huge compliment. Sabinex

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    1. Thank you, Sabine, for your kind words! It is indeed a great experience, and I do think traveling is great whether you go by yourself or with others. Thanks for stopping by!

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  3. What a beautiful experience, Relish! This reminded me of my first time traveling solo. Just like you, I’m an introvert who knows how to be an extrovert when the situation calls for it. I can warm up to strangers as well as get drained by small talk, all at the same time. Traveling solo, however, seems to offer something different. When language is a barrier, as you have shared, small talk seems to be more meaningful. I can’t pin it down quite yet, but my hunch is maybe its because I know that I’m learning something genuinely new, Thus, creating “a richer experience” of the place traveled. Thanks for writing this, fellow introvert!

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