On a bus in Peru Brian and I met a man named Bob. Bob was from India but had lived in Michigan for 30 years. Bob was 70 and I was just 30 at the time but we bonded over our shared wanderlust. Bob had traveled the world and I was just beginning. He told me, “When I was younger I had a friend in every country in the world.”
Later, as our bus bumped over the high-altitude expanse of the Andes Mountains, I told Brian that I wanted to live like Bob. I could barely imagine what a life like Bob’s looked liked but I was sure that I wanted to find out.
I don’t know how it started but in the months since Brian and I came back to the U.S. and began our 7-month trip around the country we’ve developed an unspoken agreement. We accept any invitation that comes our way. To a slightly lesser extent we employed this tactic overseas but we’ve found the invitations are much more frequent here in our home country. Want to grab dinner? Yes. Drinks? Yes. Want to go on a hike in the woods? Meet for morning coffee? Yes, yes. After all, I don’t think Bob made friends everywhere he went by saying, “No, sorry, I’m just too tired to drink tea with your family.”
Our first back-in-the-country-yes came in Bend, Oregon. Our dear friend Michele invited us to meet her family. Brian and I had been out of our minds with first-presentation nerves but we drove to Michele’s parent’s house and were steadied by their warmth. Over the hours we were offered a glimpse into Michele’s early life. I found myself enthralled as her parents and brother told stories about their own semi-nomadic years.
In Omaha we ran into a woman in a bookstore who’d been at our presentation the night before. She asked us if she could show us around the city. Even though we were looking forward to a day free of plans we said yes. So we climbed in her car and she drove us all around Omaha to artist studios and cafes. When the day came to a close the beer we bought our new friend did not seem an adequate thank you.
Our new friend Jamie who showed us around Omaha.
Later that night we met an older couple at our hotel bar. We fell into conversation and they invited us out to their lake to go paddle boarding. We could tell it was the alcohol that made them brave, that inviting strangers into their home was a wild thing they would not normally do. We said yes, but the following day they did not call.
We understood. Back in our old life Brian and I would have done the same thing. We would have been intrigued by the passers-through, curious, but in the light of day too caught up in our tired routine to invite spontaneity in.
We’ve met other travelers, like Audrey and Harry in Illinois and Lana and Mike in Michigan. We met Darcy and Erik and Jeff in Connecticut, they had us over to watch the World Cup. We sat around Jeff’s pool and ate homemade pizza and fruit salad. We talked about living life on our own terms.
Meeting the Budget Savvy Travelers in Chicago.
In Maryland we had dinner with Gary who we met while we biked through Vietnam. In Iowa we shared beers with Janet who I met while walking across Spain. In Vermont we explored Burlington with Adena and Jamie who we first ran in to on a beach in India.
Each time, when we get back to our campsite after an evening with new friends, I crawl into my sleeping bag, my eyes heavy with the weight of sleep. But I always take a second to thank the stars for this journey and the people who have given it substance and life. I imagine that this feeling of connection is one that Bob probably knows well. It might even be the thing that makes his life a story worth telling.
What Brian and I have found when we talk back over our memories of traveling around our own country is that we scarcely remember the parks we camped in or the cities we’ve explored or even the trails we’ve hiked. We remember the people we met, the stories we shared, and the kindness they showed us. Above all else, we remember the times we’ve said yes.