One of the most unexpected surprises of budget travel has been the connection with people. One of my favorite parts of our trips happens not only when we meet locals along the way, but also other travelers back home afterward.
Traveling the “five-star” way (having lived on board a cruise ship for seven years) I had certainly met many travelers. For nearly all of my six-month contracts, I quickly made friends with staff from different countries and enjoyed the dorm-like aspects of shipboard life. I occasionally made friends with passengers but that was somewhat challenging and frowned upon by our employer.
When I left the Seven Seas, I thought my travel days were behind me but after meeting George traveling began again, in full swing but a different style of budget – no longer was I Julie MaCoy Assistant Cruise Director but rather XX-anonymous of the unplanned budget scene.
Recently in Taiwan, we met amazing people who really went out of their way to help us. We also met groups of students on field trips (video) in Tainan and Keke in Bundai, the port city for Penghou Islands, also known as the Hawaii of Taiwan.
The trek to Penghou started from Tianan on the High Speed rail to Chiayi How fast is the high speed rail? We left Tainan at 10:49 and arrived in Chiayi at 11:07. After a Mos Burger, and the information counter we took the 12:45 bus to the Visitor Center for Bundai.
At the Center, Weicheing helped us figure out a hotel as the boat left at 9am. We walked around and around pointing at our map but not finding the hotel. People were very helpful, sending us in opposite directions. Nonetheless we eventually discovered our hotel.
After our evening adventure for Nio Ro Mein (Beef Noodle Soup) at Putai Kahn (Hotel), we wandered the streets of the town. A young man of about fourteen years started to follow us on his bike and to chat with us in halting English. He took us to a large temple, showed us a photo of “Taiwan Obama”; accompanied us on the bridge to the pier and fish market. He learned to say “Saturday Night”; for his trouble! We met his aunt and his eighteen-year-old cousin, Amy. One of Keke’s favorite words is “Face-a, Book-ah”; He was thrilled to realize we could be friends and that we would post video of him on Youtube.
Video: Our Guide: Keke
Our time together was so unexpected. His family was at their drink stand when we wandered by. It could have simply been that we said “Wan Ahhn”; (Good Evening) and that was all. But Keke, still our impromptu companion, enjoyed teaching us words like Let’s Go or “Who-man Soo-paa”. He shared his town with us and also his infectious laughter. Being with him was the highlight of our visit.
Recently in Los Angeles, we hosted a travel happy hour where nearly fifty travelers joined together to talk about past journeys taken and dreams of future sojurns, from Palm Springs to three-year career breaks in Asia. I feel so fortunate to have found a group of travelers in my home city who remind me of the great connections I have made on the road. As we get ready to leave this week for a summer in the South Pacific, I cannot wait to make new friends and connections on the road but feel thrilled that some will be waiting for me back here in Los Angeles!