Traveling is a fickle mistress.
At times, she’ll make you feel like you’re on top of the world – loved, fulfilled connected.
However, just as often, she turns on you, and you end up feeling alone, cut off, isolated, and even desolate.
I’m not exaggerating, as traveling abroad can be one of the lonliest endeavors you’ve ever undertaken, and even spiral you into dark moods or depression over time.
How the hell is that possible, as traveling is all about living an idyllic life in paradise with sunsets, beaches, new people, and grand adventures, right?
Well, sometimes, but that usually recaps a week’s vacation someplace. But, if you’re actually traveling for a prolonged period and really taking a journey – not just sitting poolside at a resort – then you will probably have far more moments of doubt, uncertainty, and loneliness than those perfect Instagrammable life moments that make everyone back home jealous.
One of the things that leads to this isolation is the fact that most travelers are actually backpackers – those ridiculously young, perpetually broke, grossly dirty, and always partying 20-somethings from around the world.
If that’s your scene, then it’s actually very easy to meet people and find a group to hang out with, as the hostel life is actually the opposite of loneliness.
However, as I’m a lifelong wanderer at the advanced age of 46 now (although I feel 96 some days!). I can’t hang out with kids who are younger than some of my tee shirts. I just have nothing in common, and getting plastered and hanging out at crappy clubs listening to crappier music all night isn’t my speed.
So, meeting people – and people of substance under the right circumstances – can be a real challenge.
Actually, I guess I DO meet plenty of people, but my nomadic lifestyle mixed with the fact that either I, them, or both of us are traveling when we meet, mean that we might share a few minutes, a few hours, or a few days as new friends, but then go our separate ways.
Trust me when I tell you that having a million friends on Facebook but none around you presently in real life is not really gratifying.
Over time, it can spiral into a strange predicament, where I’m living in the most densely populated part of the earth (70% of the world’s population live within a 1,000-mile radius of Southeast Asia) but feel more alone than ever.
How then can we “find out tribe” while traveling?
Of course, it’s far easier to mix, mingle, interact, and hang out with all sorts of different kinds of people when you’re taking those mini vacations or trips to tourist spots, like the aforementioned islands, waterfalls, sandbars, beaches, etc. I find that most people on the islands or in the “province” (as they call every place not in the big city) are actually open to saying hello and chatting with people, making it easier to form friendships.
The city? Not so much.
But, as I move to the huge, teeming, but also the hardcore city of Manila, how do I plan on starting conversations, meeting people, making friends, and forming an engaging social life?
I have several strategies that I’ll share with you in another review about traveling solo, but I’m pretty excited about this one.
You see, I just got a custom laptop skin designed that now adorns the front cover of my MacBook Air.
How the hell is a flimsy $2 printed sticker going to help me meet people and form a social life (or am I just past the point of being socially acceptable for all time)?
I had my nephew, Ryan – who’s a super talented shoe artist in school for design – come up with a cool logo for me and my personal website.
Basically, the image shows three monkeys – the see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil primates we all know. However, there’s a modern twist, as one is wearing nice headphones, one has on sunglasses, and the last one has a small laptop open (ostensibly looking at my website because there’s a sticker with my URL on HIS laptop).
Each of these monkeys is in front of a brightly colored background, so the sticker is super noticeable. On top, it lists my URL boldly, plus the tagline: “Travel, culture, and monkey business.”
Still, how is this going to enrich my social circle? You see, I spend A LOT of time working (geek alert), often in cafes, restaurants, and the like. So do a lot of others, as the coffee culture is pretty vibrant in Asia or just about anywhere abroad, and the wide cross-section of humanity that inhabit them are usually a little more relaxed and open to friendly banter than when they were on the street or in public 10 minutes earlier.
So, while I work away with my laptop open, the interesting, bold, and colorful image of my laptop skin will be impossible to miss, drawing curious looks, questions, and even sending some people to look up my website!
All I have to do then is smile back when they’re looking and say hello!
Basically, it’s a big billboard that introduces me to the world and, hopefully, leads to a few warm introductions to interesting, curious, and like-minded people.