I glanced through a list of “101 interesting conversation topics” on the web, hoping to find something to spark a new talk with Morgan over dinner. The idea had come from a deck of playing cards I saw in a factory in Mumbai, where each of the 52 cards listed different conversation starters. I scrolled down the web page. Icebreakers was the first section. That wouldn’t do. I continued scrolling until I arrived at a more promising subheading, called Personal Questions. I read through the first few questions.
- “What are some of your long term and short term goals?”
- “What was your most embarrassing moment?”
- “What is the craziest thing you’ve ever done?”
I laughed….Not only did I already know the answers, I could even phrase what Morgan’s responses would sound like in my head. Nothing new to bring to the table here.
But I suppose that’s what you can expect when you’ve been traveling with someone for almost seven months.
There are times when Morgan and I eat meals together in near-silence.
Sounds depressing right? Well…not entirely. First, understand that it’s not because Morgan and I are sick of each other. More than anything, it’s because after spending 24/7 together, we don’t always have novel things to say.
Typically, this happens when we’ve been effectively alone for days at a time. The situation goes something like this: we’re on a 5 or 6 day long stretch of bike touring, passing between major cities. We spend most of our time riding through countryside and rural villages, and our daily task list contains no more than five items — wake up, bike, eat, read, and go to sleep. The day begins and ends in old, decaying hotel rooms, and the off-chance of finding a proficient English-speaker, able to carry a conversation beyond basic yes-no answers is rare. We’re on our own.
On such a day, we might reach Kilometer 65, and decide it’s time to find a lunch spot. Morgan spots one and we park our bikes over next to a group of curious onlookers. We squeeze between cramped tables and collapse into the booth near the back corner.
Fatigue and endorphins kick in. I say the first thing that comes to mind.
“So…those were some cool fishing villages we passed earlier huh?”
“Yeah, they were.” Morgan might respond.
A pause. We then realize we’ve already discussed this. Not to mention the fishing villages look exactly like they did yesterday. Damn!
My mind gravitates towards our journalism project. Hmmm…Nothing there either. We have a destination ahead of us, but no feature stories or entrepreneurs to talk about until we arrive there. We’re completely out of touch with news, because we haven’t had internet for days, and nearly all our road experiences (even if they are awesome – like finding a private beach along the Indian Ocean) are shared. It kind of kills the act of story-telling when the other person was there.
So then we’ll talk about the books we’re reading on our Kindles, or joke about small observations we made during the ride that day, or pass a remark about how excited we are for our next shower. These don’t usually preempt inspired, in-depth conversations. Which isn’t to say we don’t have them – we do. Just not all the time.
If anything, it’s because there’s only so much to say to a person in a given amount of time together. And for us, that time happens to be every minute of every day. So what do we do?
The trick is to get someone else to provide the spark.
It’s our third day in Bangalore, and we’re sitting in a café waiting for a Couchsurfer named Hari to meet us. We had not much opportunity for interaction with English-Speakers since Goa – about seven days prior — so by this point we’re absolutely itching to meet someone cool. We had sent out about 10 meet-up requests as soon as we arrived in the city, and had already met with one of them the previous day. He had been friendly, but kind of boring. So we were hoping this couchsurfer would have a little more personality.
“Next Saturday my friends and I are going on an adventure” he said, after settling into the booth next to us.
“We’re going to buy an all-day bus pass, and continuously ride different buses three stops at a time — seeing what new places we end up in…perhaps we’ll take a shot at each stop.”
Morgan and I looked at each other. This guy was different — quirky, funny, engaging.
After lunch, Hari’s bus adventure gave us the idea to play Morton’s list. The game involves rolling a die and embarking upon a specified quest for 90 minutes, and the quest we were given was to “hunt a prey.” You can interpret the quest in any way, so we decided to “hunt” for another white person and invite them to a bar.
It was a blast. While failing to find another white person, it was the most spontaneous fun I could remember having in a while. Finally, we found ourselves joking with another person who actually understood our nuances, and had the conversation twisted and directed into unforeseen directions and unexplored topics. It was so refreshing.
When we parted, we enthusiastically promised to take part in Hari’s upcoming bus adventure. How could we not? Morgan and I looked at each other and grinned. We had made a friend.
It’s perhaps one of the most effective and indispensable travel technique we’ve learned. The practice of putting ourselves out there, and meeting as many people as we can is critical. The stories and friends we meet are what ultimately breathes new life into our own relationship. They challenge us to think beyond ourselves, and provide outside perspectives we can employ to still learn undiscovered things about each other. Because though Morgan is my best friend, the nature of this trip makes us completely reliant upon each other and inseparable. Without the ability of sharing this amazing journey with others, we would become insular. Fortunately we have learned a way to avoid that lonely experience.