Sunday, November 13, 2011

#12 Meaningful Connections

I'm participating in the 30 Days of Indie Travel Challenge on BootsnAll. Prompt #12: MEANINGFUL CONNECTIONS. Travelers meet dozens, if not hundreds, of new people on every trip. They may become friends, enemies, lovers, and resources; they may stay in your life forever or be forgotten the next day. Tell about a time you felt a powerful connection – for however long – to another person while traveling.

My 10-day Croatia trip in 2008 was a big independent woman voyage for me. I was going solo, plus I was trying CouchSurfing for the first time, plus I was going to be making all my travel arrangements on the fly once I got there. It was the kind of trip mean to empower single ladies across the planet!

The whole thing went fine with generally no problems. I had lots of experiences that'll stay with me forever, but for the purpose of this post I'll talk about this girl I met.

Traveling alone is empowering and all, you can do what YOU want to do and not have to compromise with anyone. You can spend your money how you want to spend it, linger in one place for longer or leave another place sooner without consulting anyone. But, it can get lonely. I think I'm pretty independent, but even I got lonely.

I was staying at this hostel in Dubrovnik and was hoping to meet some people my age to explore with. I didn't have much luck, so I headed to the walled city to explore it in the company of thousands of other strangers. The walls that were built to protect the city in the 12th to 17th century still stand, and you can walk the interior circumference of the old portion of the city, which is littered with red rooftops.

It was pretty and I took heaps of pictures. I came back to the hostel at night and did end up meeting some people, but I secretly didn't care much for them. They were a few years younger than me, and to save money, they had been stealing all their food and booze throughout the trip. But, I had nothing else to do, so I ended up hanging out with them all night. I also met this other girl while I was eating alone at a restaurant one night — I noticed she was also eating alone and asked if she wanted to eat together — and although she was perfectly nice and we ended up drinking together that night in the company of strange old men, I was just something to do to pass the time. I still felt so lonely, even though I was meeting all these people.

Then I met this girl who was staying in the same hostel as I was. She was a few years older than me and had been WOOFing her way across Eastern Europe. She was a super interesting person, very laid back and interested in sustainability and organic farming (that's what WOOFing is all about). She was interested in going to visit the walled city, and asked if I had been yet and would like to join her. I lied and said no, I hadn't been, but wanted to. I paid once again to visit the old city, really because this was the first person I met in Croatia who I connected with, and I wanted to hold onto that. It wasn't even like we were super chatty and were discovering so much about each other. In fact, much of our time visiting this site was spent in silence as we took in what was around us. We stopped to rest and she took out cheese and bread from her bag and offered me some. I knew she was broke because she had told me, but I felt it rude to reject her gift, so I enjoyed lunch with her. My second visit to the walled city was a much more enjoyable experience than the first because I had someone to share it with.

We didn't spend more than that day together. One of us had to leave, so we just exchanged CouchSurfing usernames, not even emails. I remember I immediately sent her a friend request and left a comment on her page for everyone to see about how much I enjoyed her company. But she never accepted my friend request, I assumed because she was traveling so much with so little access to Internet.

What really gets me is now, I don't even remember her name. All I remember is how much meeting her meant to me, pulling me out of the throes of loneliness, even just for a few hours. I wish I could find a way to thank her one more time.

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