I hate to fly. I’m terrified of heights and am consumed by irrational fears of crashing or falling out of the sky. The slightest bit of air turbulence turns me cold and I am always careful not to get flushed out of the plane when I use the bathroom.
Despite all this, some of my most memorable travel moments have occurred in-flight. Now all those of you with dirty minds can stop reading now – this isn’t one of those stories. What I’m talking about are the fleeting relationships you can form with the random strangers you are seated next to.
It’s like a game of roulette in the sky; sometimes you luck out, sometimes you don’t, but when you do hit the jackpot it can enrich your journey in ways you never expected.
I have taken numerous solo trips around the world and I am always excited to see who I will be seated next to on my flight. There have been the odd disappointments, but most of the time I have been fortunate enough to share the sky with a host of inspiring and wonderful people.
I have a box filled with email addresses and phone numbers, scribbled on corners of magazine pages or used boarding passes and thrust warmly into my hand by departing travellers. Though I doubt many of these people would remember me now, I cherish those little bits of paper and value the encounters we shared.
I smile as I remember a few favourites…
Mary, a remarkable and jolly woman from Colorado. I liked her instantly, and there was a lot to like about Mary… for she is the only person I have ever sat next to who required two seats all to herself. Yup, Mary was a big lady, but it wasn’t her size that made such a ‘big’ impression, it was her confidence, graciousness and positivity. That, and the handbag stuffed full of chocolates that she gleefully shared with me.
Gwen, a lovely lady from Las Vegas who was travelling on business. We bonded over the free wine and spent the flight discussing everything from travel, to books, to Brad Pitt. Her warmth, humour and generosity of spirit turned an emotional flight home from Guatemala into a treasured memory.
Otter, a surfer dude/computer technician who worked for Amazon. We spent 10 hours flying from London to Seattle together, sharing stories and far too many gin and tonics before parting ways. I have never laughed so hard or drunk so much in one flight!
I have travelled alongside some amazing and unforgettable people, and am forever grateful for their in-flight entertainment.
Being open to these brief encounters is all part of the journey.
I try to make the most of every second of my travels, from the moment I leave home to the moment I arrive back again. The best part for me isn’t the places I go or the things I see, it’s the people I meet and the connections I make. It’s vital to keep your heart and mind open. Sometimes – actually most of the time, it’s those random and unexpected moments that yield the most fulfilling experience.
So next time you board a plane, train or chicken bus, don’t immediately reach for your iPod, book or eye mask. Try striking up a conversation with the stranger sat next to you and, who knows, perhaps you will end the journey as friends.
(Image: My lovely BFF Danica Pickett)