If you travel, you will meet your first comrade on the initial journey overseas and realize you both plan to spend time in the same city. You exchange numbers and have every intention of meeting up in a couple months, knowing deep down it won’t happen. You will meet many tourists throughout traveling, stuffing their hiking backpack up beside yours in a forever-too-small overhead bin. You’ll share a smile over this one thing you have in common.
You will have temporary families. There will be a frantic mother one row ahead of you on the plane with her two young daughters. The 2-year-old will keep peeking over the seat at you, giggling when you say hello. The mother might need your help getting the infant into the baby-carrier, and the giggler might hug your legs before running away quickly when you all exit together through the terminal.
Other stand-in relatives have uprooted their lives and made them mobile, condensing all possessions to only those that can be carried with, each family member allotted two duffels. Mom and Dad will tell you about Cape Town and Indonesia, cruises through Europe, and their excitement about seeing Paris. They will remind you of the Wild Thornberrys and you will bond with them. They will give you some of their food since you obviously have no money for your own, and you’ll offer to help their 8-year-old daughter with her homework and escort her to the bathroom. You might have a hard time saying good-bye.
Children in general will be memorable. There is a 10-year-old Harry Potter look-alike riding the Amsterdam Metro on his way home from school, and when you and your 20-year-old friends clearly miss your stop and are debating what to do next, he’ll say he knows the city inside and out, take the map from your incapable hands and figure out everything for you. Another bored little boy will peer across the train aisles at your art class sketches until his curiosity overtakes him and he plops down beside you, sitting so close his head invades the space between your pencil and the paper.
The meetings you are picturing in your head right now (the ones involving you and a foreign lover you cross paths with while traveling) will actually happen, but the timing may be a little off. Like when you and your friends fall asleep on the train, unshowered and in the same clothes you wore the day before, the most attractive team of soccer players will be the ones to awkwardly poke you and let you know that the four of you are sprawled across their twelve seats. Later, a cute Bostonian from the Barcelona bar will ask to share a cab and you’ll slap yourself after for even hesitating before saying no (we’ve all seen Taken), but you will, however, split a taxi with some Canadian cousins who are staying at the same hostel as you, and never at any point think it’s a bad idea. You’ll be thrilled when one adds you on Facebook and possibly continue to creep on him from time to time.
There’s a chance you’ll sit parallel to a boy in a dining area of a ferry, both quietly watching the Irish Sea stir behind the massive boat as you sail away from the port village of Rosslare, entranced by the water beads that slap onto the window, making it look like it’s raining outside. You’ll be the only two in there, and half of you will want him to leave so you can have the moment to yourself, the other hoping he’ll stay, though you don’t plan on saying a word to him.
Not all the people you meet will be remembered fondly. You’ll be on a metro on your way back to the hostel and you’ll be stared at in a way that makes you wish you had more clothes and less money on your person. He will yell at you, and though you don’t speak the language you will blush anyway, the intent understood. You’ll wish your dad were next to you. But you’ll calm down, summon an inner strength and dodge his hand as he reaches for you when you exit one stop sooner than you had originally planned. At the end of the night, you will be fine.
At some point you see a thief, or rather, don’t see a thief. When your friend loses his laptop at the end of a train ride, your mind won’t be able to help but wonder if it was someone you had conversed with or bumped into or smiled at — someone who had fooled you, too.
You’ll see countless performers on city metros, mesmerized by their talented and outgoing personalities, only to have the magic die when you are harassed for money after the spectacle. This will only make it that much more wonderful when you encounter the rare someone entertaining you with his music purely out of the happiness in his heart.
Ticket troubles are unavoidable. Of course you’ll have a moment where you and another man argue over whose seat 24-A really is. (Note: If he tells you he’s a local and takes this train daily, it’s more than likely his seat, so admit defeat then and there, or he will flag down a worker who makes a big commotion and attracts the attention of everyone around you, and your face will get really hot and your palms will be sweaty and you’ll have to quickly walk away with your head down.)
Other times you will be completely ticketless. You’ll hear a Marseille trolley ride up the mountainside to Notre Dame de la Garde costs a whopping €10, and decide to jump it instead when it takes off again, as to escape the conductor’s attention. A mother and her 10-year-old daughter will both turn and give you looks that will make you feel guilty. You still won’t pay.
You’ll have run-ins with the authority from time to time. You’ll plead with a conductor not to kick you and your friends off the train, and that you really did just forget your ticket in the café back at the station, and you’ll promise up and down it won’t happen again when he stands aside and warns you to be more careful. But the Austrian undercover police officer will not be as understanding as to why you are using a bus ticket that expired over 24-hours previously. And, when you have the wrong ticket, departing Barcelona for Paris in an attempt to see the south of Spain, conductor and strangers alike will console you, and some will even help look up train times and schedules at the next stop, and wish you luck when you exit.
You’ll meet people you thought only existed in stories, like the young Irish man in the worn leather jacket who is going home for the first time in years, a small backpack his only luggage. You’ll wonder if (and maybe secretly hope) that that will be you someday. You’ll notice a businessman buy food on a train, look up at the beautiful Spanish cashier and falter for words. You’ll continue to stand silently, and probably somewhat creepily, in the corner and stare as the two begin to flirt sheepishly and feel as if you’re watching a movie. You like to think that they were destined to find each other and you witnessed the whole thing, and really hope that that will be you someday.
These things might happen to you. They probably will. And afterwards, you might realize that these people, the ones you met while waiting to arrive somewhere, the ones whose paths you never would’ve crossed had you stayed the extra weekend in London, or hadn’t craved an overpriced orange juice on that Swiss train, are the ones you remember most clearly and hold most dearly after using the second ticket of your round-trip journey.