Any traveller will say that the best part of travel is the meeting of awesome people. They’ll either tell you in person if you’re unlucky enough to have a travel-addict friend that bores you to death with their stories every other night in the pub, or their lame-ass WordPress blog will say “meeting people is the best part of travel” in a hundred different ways using various anecdotes that are an unsubtle narcissistic brag about exotic places they’ve been.
Well, I don’t think those people are going far enough. They’re not being at all specific. They’re being vague and unhelpful like adding ice to an already watered-down glass of Coke. Yes, of course meeting awesome people is awesome. No shit. The people who say that are probably the people who say “Oh look, it’s raining!” when they notice it’s raining outside.
Personally, I think the best part of travel is the meeting of Welsh people. Welsh people are genetically-engineered to be awesome, in much the same way that otters are designed to be cute or ITV is obliged to broadcast shit TV shows. I’m not sure what it is about them – the accent, their outlooks on life, I don’t know – but I’ve never met a Welshman who wasn’t the most fun person in the room.
Thankfully, I was lucky enough to meet a Welsh backpacker (here comes the anecdote) on the overnight train from Hanoi to Da Nang in Vietnam. Sharing our little sleeper room on the train was me, he, a Vietnamese woman who spoke no English and her baby who spoke even less English, and a Vietnamese student. Oh, and at least one cockroach who we’ll call Roy. We each had our own bunk with a mattress, a sheet, a small bedside light, and most importantly for us backpackers, a socket for charging our various devices.
Allan – or maybe Allen, because that looks Welsher – was easily the funnest person in the room. He was 32, had been travelling for 9 months across Europe, through China, and around Southeast Asia. He was one of the most enthusiastic, amiable people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. His travel exploits also made me jealous. As we lay on our bunks staring at the ceiling, feeling the satisfying rattle of train wheels beneath us, and watching Roy’s scurrying out of the corner of our eyes, he told us about his most recent highlight – tubing in Laos, dangerous enough in daylight hours, but he told me he’d continued until long after sundown.
I don’t consider myself a “daring” traveler. I mean, sure, I go to far off places by myself, often without much of a plan, which some people consider to be brave enough (non-travellers, mostly), but I don’t take unnecessary risks. I did once climb a set of slippery steps without holding the handrail, which some might say was pretty wild of me. But here I was, talking to a guy who went downriver in a strange and unfamiliar land, at night, on nothing but a small piece of rubber. His adventures made mine look so bland I might as well have been holidaying at a service station Travelodge in Dorset.
The view from the train was mostly dull, and made worse by the thick coating of grime on the window nobody’d ever bothered to clean. Sleeper trains are often similar, no matter what country you’re in. A lot of people had told me I might as well have flown the distance I was going because it was both quicker and cheaper. But those people had clearly never enjoyed the company of a Welshman on such a journey.