Of shy smiles, awkward hellos

Of shy smiles, awkward hellos

I wanted to take a short break from work so I decided to spend a few days in Florence, a city I had always wanted to visit. While a friend joined me for a couple of days, I was on my own for two more days. After a long day of walking around the city, I bought a cup of gelato from a famous gelataria and settled down on a bench near the piazza to devour it.

A few minutes later, an old man came and asked me through gestures if he could sit next to me. I hesitantly nodded ‘Yes’. He then asked me in Italian where I was from, what I was doing, and about my stay in Florence. I replied in English cautiously at first, and then more openly. I don’t know how we managed to converse for 15 minutes despite not knowing each other’s languages! After I finished eating, I said ciao and left.

When you travel alone, you are forced to interact with new people at a level you never would if you were travelling with friends or family. You are vulnerable yet resilient. Solo travel has become a trend and there are countless books, blogs and philosophies about it. I didn’t really have a choice but to embrace it after I moved to Denmark. I love exploring new places but a relatively new, small friends’ circle and a family living in a different continent means that I rarely have company.

It is natural to be suspicious of people we don’t know. After all, we are told since childhood to not accept chocolates from strangers. Our biases, stereotypes and hearsay make us untrusting and wary of strangers. One of the reasons why people take solo trips is to discover themselves but I discovered something else. Travelling alone has opened my eyes to a whole new world of kindness, empathy and warmth.

Someone put my 30kg suitcase on the platform as I struggled to get off the train with it, someone I met on the ferry dropped me at my hotel because they were driving past it on their way home, someone gave me coins for the bus without taking anything in return, someone offered me a muesli bar because I couldn’t eat the flight food, and someone said something funny while taking a picture of me so that I would smile.

Though it is important to be alert and careful while travelling alone, strangers are usually not so strange.