Sharing your story with strangers

I recently got stuck at Dubai airport because of a flight delay, with extra 6hr to spend until my next connection. The prospect of waiting around in overcrowded spaces (I hate waiting at the airports) was not very inspiring…

But then a stranger (who ended up being an Aussie going home for Christmas) joined me at my burger king table. He  struck a conversation, and we spent the next hour chatting – about travel, geography, work life balance; i know he didn’t buy a Christmas gift yet for his 2-year old god-daughter, and he knows what i got my dad for his birthday. By the time he had to leave for his flight, we built this instant familiarity some of these random encounters bring.

And two hours later I started talking to a German woman next to me at a cafe after she asked me to look after her bags while she gets another coffee; and we spent yet another hour in conversations about the importance of travel on broadening your mindset, about giving children the freedom to choose what they want to do in life (she had two grown up sons), about diversity, our families and Christmas traditions. It was great, and suddenly the whole 6hr forced stopover wasn’t that bad.

Which led me to thinking about the whole concept of meeting strangers on your way, sharing personal stories in an instant, and moving on. Reminded me of an old Russian idea of “poputchik” – when you travel long distance in a train, you always share your small private space with strangers – there are at best 4ppl in a space of 7sq meters. And often you end up having profound conversations about life and sharing deeply personal stories – because you know that person will get off at the next far away stop, never to be seen again, and taking your secrets safely with them.

But I think now it’s not just the mysterious Russian soul; it’s something about travel that makes us open up. Which in turn, because we now travel more than ever before, finds its way into our normal life.

I told my German “poputchik” about my family, she told me about hers. I talked about why I can’t go back and live in Russia, and she told me that she regrets not travelling more in her youth. I don’t even know her name, but we had a wonderful time just sharing our stories.

It might be the advent of modern times that we now share more personal things than before. We do it online through all the social media, and we do it in real time. And I think it’s good. Because when you share something personal with others, it opens them up to share something in return – and brings both of you closer.  It may be the sign of our times – we accelerate relationships in time-poor, globally connected world…

Think of blogging for example – someone might start writing about personal issues or questions they are dealing with, and suddenly there is a whole community of people who can relate. They are in the same story.

I definitely found this to be true, and positively so, for myself. I was reserved in sharing my personal stories and feelings with people unless they became my friends. But recently I put this on its head and started making friends through being open to sharing (and I only realized that in retrospective). It actually turned out great, and I’m now a few close relationships richer.

Sometimes all you need to do is to listen. It never stops fascinating me, how many different stories people have, and how much we can learn from each other, if we only listen. Travel encounters are the best for that – when there is no hidden agenda, just some time to spare.

We live, we share, we learn. And the more we share, the more, it seems to me, we are getting in return.

So next time you meet a stranger – open up more than usual. And see what happens 🙂