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Unique moments, part 2: Staying open

Okay, here’s another post on how to experience something unique while you’re traveling. Today’s topic is: Venue is often less important than your frame of mind.

I really like a post by Jodi on the Legal Nomads blog, What does off the beaten path really mean? Like me, she gets asked for tips by people who want a unique travel experience. Normally, they want to know a destination’s best kept secret, some hole in the wall where they’ll be the only tourist.

But Jodi’s noticed that her fondest memories don’t always happen “off the beaten path.” They depend on random encounters and what she makes of them.

I first ran into Rafa at a bar. Now he's a good friend. He's an artist, and the skeletal companion is one of his creations.

I first ran into Rafa at a bar in Guadalajara. Now he’s a good friend. He’s an artist, and the skeletal companion is one of his creations.

I’ve had the same experience. Years ago in Guadalajara, I went to a bar one afternoon for a beer. There was a guy sitting there studying, and for a while we each just minded our own business. At some point I struck up a conversation, and we hit it off. He turned out to be a nice guy, great sense of humor, as interested in English as I was in Spanish. We met up regularly after that for coffee.

Of course, I’ve struck up plenty of conversations that didn’t develop into friendships, too. But it’s worth it to make the occasional friend.

Another example: This past January I was in Cuba, and one afternoon I walked around Old Havana. There was a woman sitting outside selling cafecito, sweet espresso shots. It cost one Cuban peso – about five cents – and I realized I didn’t have any change or small bills. I declined and told her I didn’t have any change… but she offered me a shot anyways. No charge.

Here I am with Hilda, a cafecito vendor in Old Havana.

Here I am with Hilda, a cafecito vendor in Old Havana. She’s a sweetheart – and I notice that kind of thing! That’s what makes the difference between a serendipitous connection and a missed opportunity.

That’s my kind of person – generous at heart, not sweating the small stuff. I stayed there for a while, and we had a great conversation. At the end of it, she asked me to take some photos of her and send them to her mother in Miami, which I was happy to do. The next time I was in Havana, I stopped by to see her again. We’ve become friends, and I now hang out with her every time I’m in Cuba.

Random connections like these are one of my favorite parts of travel. They’re memorable. And the lesson here is, it’s not about venue. It’s about your attitude towards the people you encounter… whether you notice or overlook the good ones. With most people, you’ll never actually connect. And some people will only be interested in tourists for our money. But it’s worth trying for those few exceptions.

If you’re friendly (but not aggressive about it), open to finding someone on the same wavelength (and wary of people on the wrong wavelength), and neither desperate nor easily discouraged – that’s how it happens!

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