The departure time of 22:30 is nearing; destination Tikal. The mood is tense as I sit in the Guatemala City bus station acting like a chameleon. “I’ll blend in,” I think to myself, “no one will suspect that I am from the USA.” Yeah right, a 6’1 man with light eyes in a land where the people are substantially shorter than I and have a tendency of brown irises. A few days before this trip I learned from locals in Antigua that this bus route gets robbed on the regular, twice a week or so. Perhaps a flight would have been better.
My bus number appears on the marquee, ¨Embarque autobús destinación Tikal.¨ I wanted to shit a brick as I handed the conductor my ticket and boarded. I found my seat at the front of the bus. Just my luck! First victim of a robbery. If we come across any banditos, will my “donation” money be sufficient? Quién sabe? Someone sits down next to me and in an attempt to ease the tension I’m undergoing, I say “Hello.” He responds with the same, but includes, “Are you an American?”
We continued to talk about an array of topics for a few hours. Where we are from, where we are going, why we are in Guatemala, etc. Talking with this fellow adventurer permitted me to be distracted from the worries I had while traveling alone. We connected and formed an impromptu travel party. The conversation with this stranger helped me to relax and sleep a bit on the night bus as we traversed the mountainous jungles of Guatemala. The trip ended in success. No robberies, and I was able to enjoy the temples of Tikal peacefully.
That was just one of many experiences when talking with a stranger on a long trip made a journey more bearable. As explained above, I was undergoing some paranoia during this journey and conversing with that Austrian put me at an unexpected ease. Now when I travel, alone or with company, I continue to do what I was always told not to do as a child: talk to strangers.
Not every trip will be one filled with a nervous sense of getting robbed, but interacting with another person is always a good way to pass the time.
What I would like to share now are a few helpful suggestions that I have learned through travel experiences that can potentially make any long distance journey more enjoyable.
- Always say hello to the person next to you. It can stop at that or continue into a feature length conversation, no problem. What this does is it shows the person sitting next to you that you are recognizing them as a human being and not an inconvenience. Also, it is common courtesy and shouldn’t be taken for granted.
- Another way to break the ice is to offer a morsel of food with your neighbor. Be sure to bring snacks when traveling a long distance, a little extra can come in handy. It’s not necessary to bring enough to feed an army but, ensure that if you do wish to share and talk with someone you won’t be starving from sharing the food.
- Also, having some sort of simple entertainment is key for your own boredom and can help out another passenger along the ride. Personally, I like to carry a deck of cards. Waiting in a terminal is a breeze when you play a whopping game of solitaire or a game with someone else waiting around. Travel chess is a good alternative to the deck of cards. The rules are essentially universal, so there will be less trouble with language barriers.
Traveling long distance alone can be difficult. Long hours sitting alone in silence being bored not having anyone to talk to may result in a stressful trip. Breaking the ice with a stranger and talking with someone else can help ease any tension while traveling.