Last year I wrote about travel serendipity - the kind where fate seems to conspire to place the right person in your path at the right moment. I have had that experience often with Imprint Tours, the travel gods providing me the right local partner for developing tours in Thailand or India. Since I wrote that article I bumped into an old friend, also in the travel business, who set me up with just the right travel partners for creating our pending New Zealand tour. But I want to write about a different kind of travel serendipity today. The kind where one is abroad, miles from home, and seemingly randomly, you bump into someone you know. The odds seem fantastically against such chance encounters, yet they happen. And it seems that everyone has more than one similar story to tell. Additionally, in my experience, it seems these “random” meetings provide some important or needed information. In September I went to Seatac airport to fly to Amsterdam for a Rick Steves tour. While in line at the check-in the couple in front of me asked about my Rick Steves hat. Eventually we realized that I know the woman - she is a friend of my sister. We laughed a bit about the coincidence and I even mentioned my speculations surrounding these seemingly chance encounters. This particular one didn’t seem overly remarkable, but it set my mind working. Eventually the couple got in the long boarding line and I went to sit at a nearby table until the line diminished. I felt a tap on my shoulder - one of my colleagues was sitting at the next table. We laughed and chatted a bit. I told of the first encounter and my ideas about random meetings. Like that connection, two Rick Steves guides crossing paths at Seatac at the beginning of Sept is hardly remarkable. In fact, it turns out a third colleague was also on the flight. But I’m not finished. When it was time to board, who do you imagine was sitting next to me but my colleague? Now what are the chances of that? Pretty unlikely. Also, in our conversations I was able to glean some important advice for the tour I was to begin, elements that were causing me some concern. It seemed as if this random connection was intended to communicate some important, needed information. Interesting.
The events I’ve described don’t seem to be amazingly unlikely. But I’ve had other, truly remarkable encounters. In 1993, Julie and I spent several days with a couple we met in Pukhet Thailand. Afterwards, we wrote a few letters (pre-email) and eventually lost touch. Five years later I was in Haarlem, Netherlands having a falafal when the two of them walked by. Thirty years ago, when I was a student in Germany, I was traveling by train to Sweden about four weeks after school had ended. I won’t recount the details but I’d had a traumatic experience and was rather shaken. I boarded the train to find it completely full. There were two seats available on the entire train, both reserved. I plopped down in one, knowing I’d have to give it up. After a couple stops, the person arrived and turned out to be one of my best friends from school. Moreover, the occupant of the other reserved seat (next to my friend’s), never showed. So I sat with a close friend and confident for the next several hours at a time when I really needed a shoulder. Interesting.
You have probably noted the preponderance of the words “seems” and “seemingly” in my description of these events. But now I come to the point of my rambling - is it chance? Is it random? Or is the universe organized in a way that we always make that “seemingly” random connection. Viewed strictly statistically, it seems fantastically unlikely that this sort of encounter would happen with the frequency that it does. Pick any example, and if either party were five minutes earlier/later, visiting a different day (or week, month, or year), or even simply turned the wrong way at the key moment - the connection would be missed. So if one accepts the premise that these encounters are statistically random, one must conclude that for every connection made, there must be thousands, tens of thousands (hundreds of thousands??) of times when we just miss someone. To me that is simply beyond the pale of reason. There is something more than chance at work. Moreover, the fact that many of these encounters also provide some important or timely communication makes this view even more compelling.
The evidence, albeit anecdotal, keeps mounting. In Septermber I was in the alps with a Rick Steves tour. While there, I had a drink with a friend - but not just any friend. I met up with Craig Papworth, whom I met 2 years ago, prompting my initial writing about serendipitous encounters. Without recounting the entire story, I’m certain I’ll be working with Craig when it comes time to create our Southern Africa tour in a couple years. It would be exciting if I could report we connected “randomly” a second time, but this meeting was arranged. However, I shared my current musings about “chance meetings” and it turns out he is a complete believer in the phenomena. I guess I am not alone in my musings. The concept I’ve been discussing has a name: synchronicity (one which many of you are no doubt familiar with). Craig and I had an animated discussion which enabled the crystallization of my thinking on this subject. Was it chance that we connected at this time? I think not. Instead, I’m now convinced our paths crossed again because I was specifically ready for that specific conversation - key pieces of information, provided in a timely manner, made possible by the initial “chance” meeting two years ago. Interesting.
This subject might not seem like a real travel blog - but I am 100% certain that my evolving belief in universal synchronicity has been nurtured by my lifetime of travel and the exposure to new ideas and new ways of thinking it has provided. I’ll close with one of my favorite travel quotes, by Marcel Proust: “Travel is not about seeing new landscapes but about learning to see with new eyes.”
Anyone else have a remarkable synchronicity story to share?