Friday, January 18, 2008

Sunday Scribblings: Fellow Travellers

(No, it's not Sunday. Apparently that's how Sunday Scribblings works. Write a post on the prompt, and post it on a day that's not Sunday).

For some reason I read the prompt "fellow travellers" and recalled it as "travelling companions". I must have seen that prompt somewhere else recently. "Travelling companions" brings to mind friends on a quest, for instance Frodo and his companions in "The Lord of the Rings". Or alternatively, the travellers in the "Canterbury Tales", who met on the journey, and travelled together on a pilgrimage, because in dangerous times there is safety in numbers. I think of the tales they told each other to while away the time on the journey.

We don't really seem to travel that way any more. I don't, anyway. Of course I travel with other people sometimes - almost always my family. I don't think of my family as travelling companions, or fellow travellers, because of course they are so much more than that. They are - well, family.

Other than that, modern travel discourages getting to know the strangers around us. From what I've seen on long plane journeys, people don't pay too much attention to the people in the neighbouring seats. Other than to hope they won't be seated next to a squalling infant, or an obnoxious drunk, that is.

We travelled around the UK in a rental car, some of it on motorways, which were filled with fellow travellers, all tucked away safely within their own hurtling balls of metal, where no interaction is possible. And we stayed in bed and breakfasts where we arrived fairly late in the day, went out for a meal and returned in time for bed. And then in the morning we got up, showered, had breakfast and left. We weren't without human interaction - we visited quite a few friends and relatives, but they weren't fellow travellers - they were on their home territory.

Most bed and breakfasts these days seem to provide separate tables at breakfasts for the guests. I'm told it wasn't always like this. And then, there was that one place at Shrewsbury. There were two large tables in the dining room, and we were seated around one of these with, yes, fellow travellers. There were a young American couple who were taking the opportunity to travel around Britain by train. They don't have the opportunity for train travel in the US, he said. Well, a few years back, my daughter travelled vast distances around North America by Amtrak - but then, America and Canada are huge countries, so I suppose there are even vaster distances where the trains don't reach. And then there was a Welshman, who had travelled for quite different reasons - his wife was in the hospital. I can't remember what we talked about much. I do remember that for half an hour or so, I enjoyed the feeling of being in the company of fellow travellers.


OldLady Of The Hills said...

Hi Catherine...Michele sent me this early morning here in Los Angeles...."fellow travelers" has a strange connotation for me. Back in the early '50s "red scare" here in this country...the term "fellow traveler" was used for those who weere suspected od being Communist Symarthizers and these people were Black Listed, along with others who supposedly actually were comminusts....It was a terrible and shameful time in this country and so many lives and careers in show business were ruined by this reckless disregard for ones 'rights'....So I can never hear that term--fellow traveler' without thinking of that terrible dark time in our history.

Shari said...

I have noticed that it is harder to interact with fellow travelers. When traveling by plane, I try to start up a conversation with the person seated next to me, but it ends quickly. It seems like a lot of people aren't open to it anymore.

Tumblewords: said...

I traveled alone in Europe for several months and enjoyed the conversations rampant on trains, buses and was particularly fond of huge dining tables which seated twenty or thirty strangers- all talking and laughing at once. Enjoyed your post!

Sara said...

Hello, Catherine, Michele sent me to say that it is sad that we don't take the time to talk to "fellow travelers"...I always do. I don't know strangers...I speak to everyone! In strange cities, I'll ask strangers for recommendations for places to see, eat, whatever. I love talking to locals!!!

My daughter traveled to a business conference - the first time on a plane as an adult - and when the plane started taking off - she was so scared she grabbed the arm of the man in the next seat to her. She told us he was a very nice fatherly type who helped ease her fears!

Anonymous said...

*sigh* I want to go back to Europe. It's one of my favorite places.

Michele sent me over.

Anne said...

Michele sent me again. (Sorry it took so long, computer had to reboot, etc.)

Fellow travelers and traveling companions conjure two different things, fellow travelers are the people whom you have to travel with, companions are those you choose to travel with.

~A~ said...

Michele sent me traveling this way. :)

Have a great weekend.

Anonymous said...

Catherine you bring to mind a motorcycle trip that my wife and I took to Dahlonega, Georgia.

My parents rode their Gold Wind trike and my brother and sis-in-law rode their motorcycle and my sister even came along in the car.

We stayed at an inn that had a sort of "bed and breakfast" feel to it. One night we went to have dinner in their restaraunt. The place was packed and you sat at long tables with strangers and ate "family style".

Dahlonega is a tourist destination and the people were all travellers staying for a few nights. The conversation was lively and interesting. It seemed that the usual confining walls were down during the time we all sat to eat our dinner and we all enjoyed the time immensely. What a great memory. Thank you for bringing that back to mind.

Zeborah said...

Pilgrims didn't have to worry about airport security and jetlag, and they had enough room to move in and air to breathe: being comfortable makes one far more inclined to be pleasant to strangers. Even so, not all of Chaucer's pilgrims were that fond of each other: there were Words Spoken more than once. Now imagine being cooped up in a plane with two people shouting and swearing across the aisle at each other. We may miss out on some stories, but at least we avoid the air rage.

If one really wants to meet strangers while travelling, head for the youth hostels and the public transport: they're full of people striking up conversations with each other. (A couple of my own experiences: from the youth hostel I was at in Japan I still have the portrait someone sketched of me, and fond memories of a conversation in mixed English, French and Japanese. Contrariwise, once at a bus station in Mongolia I was so desperate to escape from the borderline-crazy person talking at me about his coin collection that I pretended to see my bus and then hitched a ride with some complete strangers with whom I could barely communicate.)

Shephard said...

Interesting post. I think meeting fellow travelers should be part of the fun as well.

I think I understand what the American couple was getting at. Having ridden the Eurostar and also Italian trains, I can tell you that American Amtrak is a joke. They share the same rails as the freight trains, so horrendous delays are not only common, but expected. My in-laws took a 21 hour trip that lasted for 44 hours. Also, Americans don't get extended holidays of a month, so every day counts to us... we can't rely on our trains to get us there. Interesting difference, eh? :)

I liked your reference to Frodo & friends. :)

Michele says hello!

Anonymous said...

I used to open up to my fellow travellers. Not any more. I catch up on my reading...


Pat said...

It is sad that it is almost 'not done' to chat to fellow travellers. On the rare occasions that I travel alone now, I do, unless people look frightening. It just seems perfectly natural to exchange a few pleasantries and then I am happy to go off into my dream world.
Michele says hi!

Anonymous said...

I forgot to mention before! Travelling companions was the prompt for Read Write Poem.

John E. Tran said...

I wonder what would happen if strangers started talking to one another on Big City subway trains. I do think some good mornings and thank yous might do everyone good. Glad I read your post.

rashbre said...

The chit-chat varies. In commuter mode people are often silent in the UK, but go to quite a few B&Bs and there's still some communal discussions.

When I've travelled in the US, the B&B mentality that I experienced was much more communal, with mini pre meal gatherings and comparing of notes.

In the UK the so called country hotels also often have large lounges where people can wander in to interact. Urban can be different with everyone busy and quite a lot of business types just passing through.

Tammy Brierly said...

Hi Catherine!

Times are a changing aren't they? I always chat with strangers on journeys but people and neighbors are keeping more to themselves. Fear is rampant.

Good to read you!