As an avid traveler, I always make it a priority to seek out the cheapest options that I can, especially when it comes to lodging. This summer, my best friend and I decided to take a trip to Portland and Seattle for my 21st birthday. I had heard great things about AirBnB so I thought I’d give it a try. After skimming through a few different places, I found a couple who seemed right up our alley. They loved reading, hiking, and drinking good beer, which basically sums up my friend and I’s entire existence, so I booked two nights with them. We figured we’d make nice small talk and they’d give us a few suggestions on what to do around the city, but we were pleasantly surprised at just how great our time with them ended up being.
After an afternoon of getting lost in a maze of bookshelves at Powell’s, gorging ourselves on falafel and curry at the food cart park, and conducting a makeshift tasting tour through three breweries, we wandered tipsily around downtown trying to figure out our next move. After a few blocks, I got a message from our hosts inviting us to play trivia at their favorite brew pub. We had just been talking about trivia and my overly competitive ways earlier in the evening, so we immediately accepted the offer and headed their way. We were a little nervous to meet them, as most people are when encountering strangers for the first time, but I figured what better nightcap for our first day in Portland than this?
It was an absolute blast playing with them and getting to know them. We had a surprising amount in common, and it felt like meeting with old friends. Most of the time, it is difficult for me to connect with new people (I am utterly repelled by small talk), so it was such a cool experience to make a connection like this on our quick trip. Our hosts said they never expected us to actually come, and we were the first guests they’d ever really hung out with, which made the whole thing all the more fun.
After chilling with them over coffee the next morning, my friend and I went out on a day guided by their where-the-locals-go suggestions, and ended the short lived romp with all of us reading in comfortable silence in their backyard. It was such a nice experience to feel truly comfortable in a place where you’re a guest, especially for a short time, and our hosts couldn’t have made us feel more at home.
Our experience highlights one of the coolest things about traveling, and existing in general: making human connection. No matter where you go, there will always be people who you gain something from, whether that be a smile and a wave, a helping hand, or a genuine friendship. Our hosts didn’t need to be so welcoming to us, but they did it out if the goodness of their hearts and their love for their city. Their passion for Portland truly shone through, and it made us appreciate the city even more. If it weren’t for their hospitality, the trip would’ve been a completely different experience.
As someone who feels passionately about where I’m from, it was inspiring to see that same enthusiasm for home from our hosts. That kind of appreciation is contagious, so now as I’m meeting new people who are new to my city, I’m making it a point to express my enthusiasm for my home. For example, I met a group of international students in my program the other day, and made a point to tell them all my favorite places to go in town, as well as invite them to hang out with me and my friends. I could tell that this act of hospitality and enthusiasm really made an impact on them, just like our hosts’ gestures made an impact on us.
When you get down to it, we all have something to offer, yet more often than not we end up letting fear, discomfort, or pure laziness keep us from forging these human connections. I know I do. When you sit down and think about the little things, like a stranger paying you a compliment or opening the door for you, or just a simple smile of acknowledgement from that acquaintance who you aren’t quite friends with but would love to get to know more, you notice how much all the little gestures that will make your day. I hope next time you get the chance, you make the effort to do these things for someone. You never know who desperately needed that smile.