On The Road, Strangers Turn to Friends

Just about every traveller does some kind of planning for his/her trip. Some plans require the busy ticking off of the daily list of places: spending the morning and afternoon at the famous places in a town, finding the quickest way from one point to the next using the phone’s map app, then chowing down at a local restaurant.

But travel isn't just about that. Idea: what if you get out of the familiar routine, and seize the chance to meet new people? If you’re travelling solo, it’s the perfect opportunity to share your experience with someone in the same boat. I believe that such an authentic human connection adds richness and spice to every life experience. And I am happy to say that I have been lucky to develop friendships while on the road. 

In Turkey, after an overnight bus ride from Pamukkale-Denizli, I ended up at one of the cave hostels in Göreme-Cappadocia on 21 August 2018. It was my first experience sleeping in a human-created cave. Without AC and even in Summer, it was chilly inside the carved-out chamber, but thankfully a quilt kept me warm at night. 

In the morning, I found myself at a breakfast table with other backpackers: Su, a friendly lady from South Korea nibbling her food with hot sauce, a souvenir from Korean Airlines; Junior Kareka, a Brazilian globetrotter who had tracked just about every part of the world; Takahiro Namba, a brave Japanese teenager who was making a solo trip of a couple of weeks through several countries; and Jon Mendoza, another true voyager from the Philipines who lived in Abu Dhabi and who was enjoying photoshopping his travel pictures. 

“Hi, how is the food?” is one of the simplest ways to open a conversation with strangers. Don't be too reluctant to show a little smile on your face, to express a feeling that you are interested in talking to new people. 

And with these strangers, my question was rewarded with laughter. The conversation that followed compared experiences and built up positive feelings until we found we were at ease with each enough to plan some activities together: trying out local food, hanging out chatting over beer and sharing stories, and exploring together Göreme’s World Heritage Site, houses carved into the caves by Christians refugees escaping from the dominance of the Roman Empire.

Getting up at 5 a.m. is not usually considered one of the benefits of travelling, but when you have new friends, somehow it encourages you to yawn “yes” when it is time to get out of bed. Before dawn, we hiked to the highest point of the town. The moment when you testify to nature’s splendour at sunrise is an experience you can’t miss when in Göreme.

Because this is the number one attraction in Göreme, it means the plateau summit is always packed with tourists. But that didn’t bother me as I found some space to put my feet up for a rest and just live in the moment. As the dawn rose, it created a magical light in the sky, as if to cue the spectacular launching of dozens of hot air balloons into the sky over the stark landscape of Göreme valley. Erosion of the almost golden lunar landscape had formed fascinating towers of “fairy chimneys” that made me feel like I was on another planet. 

After three nights in Göreme, I headed to Istanbul to continue my trip, but the friendships made in Göreme did not end there. We are still in touch virtually through social media. 

A few months later, while on a trip to four Asian countries, I made it to Jeju Island, South Korea. I remembered that Su lived in Seoul, but I hadn’t made any plans to travel to Seoul. But after contacting Su, she agreed to meet me in Busan where she welcomed me with an amazing hospitality that I will not forget for the rest of my life. With her friend who also lives in Busan, she invited me to the best seafood restaurant in town. For your information, Busan is considered heaven by seafood lovers. I was in awe watching the fine food served on the full table. The table was full -- I didn’t know how to start chowing down on all the food. After spending a few hours in the restaurant, her friend drove us to Haedong Yonggungsa, a temple that lies along the gorgeous rocky shoreline to the north-east of Busan, a location which is unique as most Korean temples are built in the mountains.

It was hard to say goodbye because Su had made another plan for the evening, I also had made an appointment to meet other friends. Although it was just a short reunion, the memory will last in my mind forever. 

Research has proved that kindness is contagious, that when someone shows us his/her goodness, it inspires us, too, to be kind. And as this kindness has no boundaries, you can kindle the goodness in any stranger you meet on the road. And who knows -- she/he may become one of your best friends. 

Making travel buddies is surprisingly easy, it just takes a willingness to be a little social. You might feel uncomfortable at first, but when you get in the groove you will see the world doesn’t seem too big, or lonely, after all.

* * * 

*live for/in the moment: to enjoy the present time and not worry about the future.
*get in the groove: to become attuned to something.


  1. Outstanding things happen whilst traveling. New friendship is one of them. Even sometime it happens above our expectations. Together journey become so memorable and unforgettable. Thanks for this nice writing El. Love it much.

    1. Ahhh you are my inspiration dear Annie. You are among the travel writers I adore, I enjoy reading your well-presented blog https://annienugraha.com/


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