Conversations with Strangers: Bob from Kansas 

*For privacy reasons some of the details in this post have been adjusted- which I’m happy to do- but I must start with a disclaimer that my new acquaintance chose the name Bob himself. I would never do that to someone (apologies to all the Bobs out there.)

If it were up to me, I would have gone with G.I. Joe. My Barbies always preferred him over my Ken doll anyways.

About Him: Bob is a captain in the army currently stationed in the Middle East and was on his way home for leave. He loves Emma Watson, bacon and the adrenaline of knowing that every day he can get killed in the war.

If that’s not the wildest combination of passions you’ve ever seen, then I don’t know what is.

How We Met: I was having lunch alone in London’s Heathrow airport during my layover and noticed the handsome stranger next to me ordering a cider after having just finished a rather tall beer. “Whoa there, switching it up already,” I joked. Bob flashed a charming smile and explained why he hasn’t had a drink in nine months (active duty will do that to you.)

We started talking, and I was absolutely mesmerized. His world was just so different than mine. I’ve never met anyone who served in our war, let alone someone who lives ever day knowing they could get killed or have to kill someone. (I work a 9-5 and I sit at a desk- the only danger I face is carpal tunnel.)

Most Dangerous Experience: Bob’s most dangerous experience was during an off base mission in a bad part of a city that’s already in a dangerous country to begin with. He was traveling in a convoy, when the entire convoy got stuck in traffic. This is dangerous, as Bob explained to me, because you run the risk of someone sticking C-4 to the side of one of the cars. It’s amazing how something the size of a fist can take out an entire car and kill a few people. Luckily, the traffic cleared and the convoy left the city safely.

Best Advice: Everything is about balance. Your job can’t be everything about you, just like your family can’t be everything about you. Same way you can be sober for nine months and start drinking at the airport- balance.

We left the restaurant and Bob walked me to my gate like a true gentlemen. My flight was boarding, but I was having too good of a conversation to care, so we headed to the concourse bar for a tequila shot, followed by Kinder Eggs from the airport shop. Ironically, he chose a Barbie themed Kinder Egg for me.

I was the last person on my flight, but it was well worth it. It’s people like Bob who remind me why you should always strike up a conversation with the person next to you. You never know just how interesting they might be and what new world you might discover!

*Not pictured for privacy, but here’s another nice view of Barcelona for you.

Conversations with Strangers: Deborah from Colorado

About Her: Deborah is a retired schoolteacher from Colorado who is traveling solo around Spain and Portugal. She is currently spending a month in Barcelona.

How We Met: Katie and I were having brunch at Mama’s Cafe in Gracia, when I noticed a lovely blonde woman eating alone at the table next to us. Women who eat alone at restaurants are my favorite type of people because they ooze confidence, and I was immediately intrigued when she introduced herself.

Fondest Memory: Deborah shared that whenever she’s daydreaming, her mind immediately goes to the three life changing months she spent living in Rome. It was the first time she lived outside of the States and she called it freeing and empowering. She laughed at her own cliche when she said that, but honestly just because it’s a cliche does it make it any less wonderful. Traveling solo is certainly one of the most empowering things a woman can do for herself.

Best Advice: Deborah’s grandmother encouraged her to discover and travel the world because she had done the same back in the fifties, which was a rather unusual thing for a woman to do during that time. It’s clear that Deborah is living out her grandmother’s advice! 

(I usually add a photo of the person I spoke with, but I completely forget to take one. She was beautiful and so is this city view, so it will have to do!)

Conversations with Strangers: Brian from Los Angeles 

About Him: Brian is an actor from Los Angeles who is traveling Europe for a few months. He recently landed a role in a new HBO show. 

How We Met: Katie and I were at the Bunkers for a panoramic view of the city. The best seats at the Bunkers are on top of a little roof that’s gated off, and at all of 5’3 and wearing a denim skirt, there was no way I was going to hop over a fence. That’s when we met Brian and his two German friends, who quickly solved our problem by lifting me and Katie over the fence. The group of them then joined us for sunset. What intrigued me about Brian was his openness. While most people usually ask a new acquaintance questions like what they do for a living or how they’re liking Barcelona, I bluntly asked him, “What are you looking for,” because life is too short for small talk. He surprised me by sharing that he was coping with the loss of both of his parents and was just looking for solace.

Happiest Moment: Although Brian thinks he hasn’t had his happiest moment in life just yet, to this point it would be when he graduated college and both of his parents were there to see it.

Best Advice: Live life in the moment and don’t worry about tomorrow. You don’t know if that will show up (Amen to that.)

Perfectly Imperfect

I have a vision. An idea of how things are supposed to go, of how they’re suppose to look. Almost everything is planned, and well thought out. My trips may look effortless, but I’ll be the first to admit they’re not. This trip itself is a culmination of hours on a computer searching for flights and booking hotels rooms, reading books and guides, consulting with my parents, and chatting with the guys to plan the details.

Don’t get me wrong, I love every minute of planning. Honestly, searching Skyscanner for flights is more of a hobby at this point. But you can understand how there’s an immense pressure for everything to work out just the way you hope it does.
However, when you’re traveling, you realize it’s never going to be perfect. You’re going to be sweaty, and you’ll be covered in bug bites, and you might get ripped off, and you might book a hotel that’s a little too far. 
And that’s okay. 

It took me a hot, sweaty field of rice to realize that.

My mother sent me a photo of herself in the rice terraces of Ubud, Indonesia, in 1986 when she was 23 years old. 

She was here exactly 30 years ago, and it was such a perfect opportunity that I wanted the perfect photo. So, for half an hour, I hiked through rice terraces trying to find the exact spot she had taken hers. In retrospect, finding a specific place in a massive rice field 30 years apart is an almost impossible task. Yet, there I was, hot, humid, exhausted, sweating and frustrated, dragging my friend Nick around, trying desperately to find that little patch of field. 

We both felt like we were melting, and we were losing patience. At one point, my flip flop got stuck in the mud and broke. I stood there silently trying to keep myself from unraveling. Nick looked at the flip flop, looked at me, and looked back at the flip flop, and didn’t say a word. In mutual agreement, I didn’t speak either. 

After about a minute, I gathered myself enough to fix my flip flop and kept going. I found a spot that I thought was beautiful, and Nick took my picture, saying that it didn’t have to be perfect. 

Once we got back in the car, the A/C hit and we were human again. Nick and I started to laugh and he told me that when my flip flop broke he knew that there was nothing he could say that would have made anything better, and I laughed, admitting that if he had said one word, I probably would have cried.

I put my photos side my side, and realized that everything was actually perfect. I got to be the in the same place my mom was at my age, and I had a good story behind it- and that all made it wonderful.

So, you see, nothing is ever going to be perfect. And that’s okay, because it’s going to be perfect in its own way.