Travel Acquaintanceship: Friend or Foe?

I enjoy traveling, however, the people I meet on my journey have the ability to make my travel experiences either memorable or miserable. So it’s important for me to remember that every person I encounter will not necessarily make the best company. I’ve met, and avoided, many Americans— Nubian and otherwise— with whom I have not wanted to be associated on the slightest level.  Being aware of this reality has undoubtedly saved me from getting in with the wrong people, and has made a lot of my experiences richer.

Being American brings privilege; for some, this privilege fuels a disregard for basic etiquette that should be extended to other people. As Americans there are many places we can travel with little or no red tape. Naturally, you can find many Americans scattered all over the globe. Now, as Americans, there are certain double standards that work in our favor. For example, it’s totally acceptable for an American to go to a place like… Mongolia, interact with the locals, sprinkle some tögrögs on the local economy, and call it a day— all without any knowledge of Mongolian. But let a Mongolian come to America—pick any city— knowing no English, and he’s going to have serious problems. Even if he is “making it rain” at the local malls, he will not be received with a high level of hospitality in most parts of America sans anglais. However, I’ve seen Americans abroad (with no primitive understanding of the local language) cause serious disruptions to public peace in the wee hours of the night, only to be confused as to why someone called the police on them. I challenge my compatriots to consider how they would react if their sleep was interrupted at 3am by a group of rowdy Cambodians speaking Khmer loudly in drunken diatribes.

With that said, I have met many people, American and otherwise, who have become very good companions. When I do find people with tact, good humor and decent hygiene on the road I think I appreciate them all the more.

The positive people I’ve met during my travels aren’t all polyglots with advanced degrees in Anthropology. Knowledge of the indigenous language does help, but a handful of survival phrases can elevate an anonymous transaction into genuine human interaction. A ‘thank you’ and a warm smile goes a long way: it may get you an extra serving of lamb, a free cab ride, or maybe even a discounted rate at a hotel. The good [and bad] thing about travel is that it exposes an individual: if someone is graceful, open minded, and flexible, this shines through. No ethnicity or nationality has a monopoly on favorably ideal world travellers. To align yourself with the best travel companions you have to follow your own intuition, while also keeping in mind what kind of experience you’d like to have.

Suffice it to say, I think I prefer company that challenges me to grow and experience more, as opposed to company that only challenges my patience. Alas, one’s patience can only be developed if it’s tested.