The Human Factor

The Human Side

I don’t know what exactly gave him away:

Maybe there was something forced in his smile. Or in the way he was shrugging his shoulders extra casually while explained he and his wife had built this lovely Lodge together. Because I knew instantly that there was trouble in this hidden paradise consisting of little white houses with ocean view. As I learned, later on, my host was in the middle of a messy divorce. And I could feel it even though he was doing his absolute best to make me comfortable, happy, and well fed. Don’t get me wrong, all in all, I had a fantastic stay. But I knew if it was up to them if hosting people was not their business but their hobby, I would not be here right now.

Good relationships can not be bought. Feeling welcome is often not about the nice things someone says, not about a performance they put up, but a genuine interaction. It is as simple as that. And though this is a good thing in itself I often felt like this is one of the most difficult facts about traveling. Because I like connecting to people. And I do not enjoy if I feel like I am forcing it upon them. Now I don’t mean to be dramatic: You can have lovely encounters and great conversations even though you initially met someone in the roles of consumer and vendor. But there is also no denying it: If you are paying for your stay in a lovely little BnB, it is the other person’s job to be a good host, not necessarily their pleasure.

Even good hoteliers who love their jobs have bad days. Or encounter certain customers they don’t like. Or experience this weird thing where sentences, that you have said too often, don’t feel that real any longer and you can feel you started performing them instead of meaning them.
Now I am not saying staying with my friends’ friends is always smooth sailing. To the contrary:

Staying with my friends’ friends is in some ways more exhausting.

Because it is so intense. In these relationships, I have to take a risk. Put myself out there instead of putting down a credit card. Even worse, I come as a kind of beggar: they don’t have to open their doors for me. They do it out of curiosity, kindness, thanks to the common friend. But if they did not want me there, they could say no. And I always offer ways out while I am there because I really do not want to impose on them if they discover they do not like this project (or me) too much. But so far it works. And that feels a little like falling in love: Meeting these people as strangers, living with them, opening your heart, showing a part of your true self and glimpse a part of theirs and then, well, leaving again. I love it.

Because these relationships are based on equality: Both can get in and out depending on what they feel like. If they have bad days I get to see it. And I can just ask them about it. And yes, in these few weeks I have traveled like this I already cooked several meals to cheer people up, bought alcohol and cigarettes, and sometimes hid away in my bedroom while my hosts were fighting in the kitchen. But all of this feels much more natural to me. Because it is out there.

I do not have to take my humanity out of the equation and neither do they.

And sometimes it feels like that is what we as a society are doing when we make it all about the money. When we feel entitled to a certain kind of encounter because we paid for it. We try to make something very personal very nonpersonal. I am not saying that that is necessarily wrong or a bad way to go. But I love the human way of traveling.

Although it breaks my heart each time I leave.

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