A few times a year, I find myself in the privileged position of traveling on my own. Yesterday, it was taking the train from Toronto to Montreal. I just attended my daughter’s graduation from the University in Toronto, and was off to the city of my birth, Montreal, to attend to my mother’s estate matters.
The four-hour train ride is one I’ve done a few times over the years, and I always relish it. The scenery is beautiful and as the sun set last night, and I looked out the train window, the colours and views were stunning.
There’s another reason I love to travel on my own, and it’s for the people I meet. Yesterday was no exception. I met the lovely Marcia, a new friend.
She told me she never speaks to people she doesn’t know when she travels and as I heard about her life full of family and friends, I understood how there wouldn’t be many opportunities for her to be traveling alone.
It’s not the first time someone has told me they don’t usually talk to strangers when traveling, yet dive into a conversation with me anyway. And in those conversations, we have mutually found pleasant and sometimes quite profound, learnings together.
That got me reflecting on what goes into creating a conversational space where even those who don’t usually like to engage, do.
Here are some of my secrets, reflecting on Marcia and another person who told me he doesn’t usually talk with people when he travels, John (on an airplane flight on the way to my mother’s funeral in February):
1.Notice the other person. There are always clues with the other person’s demeanor and even their clothes which tell you something about them that you might be able to connect with. With Marcia, she had lovely, sparkly sliver bracelets and rings as well as beautiful, wavy long blond hair. Those visuals told me there was a chance she was easy-going and might be easy to talk with. With John, he actually had tattoos on his neck and face as well as casual clothes (hoodie) and earplugs ready to pop into his ears. I knew I was going to have to be a bit more attentive, as I was imagining he was sending out stronger “leave me alone” kind of signals (which he admitted to me later). But he did have a book! Hmmm! There is something powerful about simply noticing how that person is presenting themselves. Of course, one doesn’t really know what the other person is wanting to project, but it’s more the intention of paying attention. And, it’s not an obvious noticing, like stopping and staring at them (that’d be creepy!), but just attending. Noticing.
2. Go slow to go fast.This phrase is something that came to me a few years ago in my mediation work. I say it quite a bit in my work as we all want to rush to the finish line, but there’s something important about going slow. So, with Marcia, I didn’t launch into a conversation right away. I sat down, and attended to setting up my computer etc. She asked me the time. Then I made a small joke about setting up being like setting up in a hotel room. She laughed. I waited. Soon, we were both bantering and joking – away to the races. With John, I noticed that book he had in the front seat holder. I commented on it. He said something. I waited. I asked him something else. He responded. And, again, fairly soon, we were chatting about all kinds of things (and I asked if I could speed-read his book during the flight, which I did – taking copious notes – I loved it!).
3. Balance being appreciative and curious with being personal and vulnerable. I find every person I invest the time to talk with, utterly fascinating. Every person has a story to tell and has something very special about them, sometimes something secret and hidden, and always interesting. With Marcia, I saw her as a “Sparkling Jane” (she’d made a reference to plain Janes). She had a sparkly nature, with so much interest in me and my stories and such a positive attitude about life. It was so comforting. With John, he was actually a fashion entrepreneur, with an international reach (and he dresses down when he travels). We’ve since become Facebook friends too, and does he look good in all his fashion finery! At the same time, it would be annoying to meet someone who either talked only about themselves or peppered you with all kinds of personal questions and revealed nothing about themselves. That’s why it’s important to notice the balance in the conversation and attend to it. This includes allowing silence and space for yourself and the other person as well.
This is all an art, but I hope there’s something in here that might help you in your travels. It is one of the delicious pleasures in life to share intimate times with people you may never see again. There’s a sense that all we have is this time – this small window of precious time: how shall you use it?