More Degrees of Travel Separation

By Dave Fox

I wrote last week about a woman who saved me and my wife from being stranded on a Malaysian island, and an incredible coincidence that followed. So what’s up? What’s going on out there in the universe? Here are my thoughts….

Abstract - Clouds
There is something to be said about the “small world” cliché. Frequent travelers – particularly those in the budget travel circuit – have weird ways of bumping into each other.

Many years ago, on a ferry from Greece to Italy, I met an American guy who was busking his way through Europe with a Casio keyboard. He had a voice just like Elton John’s. On the overnight boat ride, he entertained us for several hours.

Two weeks later, more than 1,500 miles (or 2,400 kilometers) away, I was walking down the street in Galway, Ireland. The streets were lively. It was the day before Saint Patrick’s Day. There were lots of street musicians playing Irish folk tunes.

Then, suddenly, I noticed a familiar voice, belting out “Piano Man” by Billy Joel. I couldn’t see the singer. But I was sure it was my temporary friend from the ferry. I followed the sound a full street block before I tracked him down.

When he saw me, he smiled, and finished his song. When he was done singing, we chatted, and figured out that not only had we each decided — randomly and spontaneously — to head to Galway for Saint Patrick’s Day; we had also booked accommodations at the same youth hostel, and been given dorm beds right next to each other.

*     *     *

At a party in Madison, Wisconsin, back when I was in college, I spotted a guy in a Danish military shirt. I asked if he was Danish. He was not, he said. He was American. He told me he had lived for a summer in a little Norwegian village though – a town called Drøbak – with a host father named Svend and his son, Knut.

Drøbak was the same town where I had been an exchange student. During my first week there, my host family for the year had been on vacation, so I had been assigned a temporary family for that week.

Svend and Knut were my temporary family.

*     *     *

A few years ago in Stockholm, on the first day of a two-week tour I was guiding, I joked with my group at our orientation meeting that although Fox was not a very Scandinavian sounding last name, they needn’t worry; my mother was a Hanson from Rochester, Minnesota.

The next afternoon, one of my tour members approached me. “The name Norbert Hanson doesn’t mean anything to you, does it?” he asked.

There are thousands of Hansons in Minnesota. But Norbert Hanson in Rochester? Yeah, I knew him. He was my grandfather.

He had also been this man’s mentor in medical school. Back in those days, long before I was born, this guy on my tour had eaten dinner at my grandparents’ house on Sundays. He gave me a perfect description of their house.

*     *     *

These are just a few of the coincidences I’ve experienced in my travels.

Or are they coincidences?

They’re the sort of thing that makes people wonder what’s going on out there in the Universe, on the levels we don’t understand.

What freaks me out more than wondering if there’s a “why” to these moments is the question of how many missed coincidences we have in our lives. The Malaysian encounter I wrote about last week, and these above three connections, all occurred because of random conversations that almost never happened.

I almost didn’t go to Galway. The guy in the Danish military shirt didn’t live in Madison. He was visiting for the weekend, and happened to go to the same party as me. And at the beginnings of my Scandinavia tours, I didn’t usually mention my mother’s name or Rochester, Minnesota. I just happened to blurt it out to this particular group.

But how many conversations never happen? How many times do we miss these connections? Who’s out there? Who’s near us?

When will our next coincidence occur?

We never know the answer to that last question. Moments like these can never be planned.

And that’s a good thing.

It’s the randomness of these encounters that makes them so exciting.

Have you had any coincidental encounters while traveling or otherwise? Tell us about them in the comments section below. Or if they’re truly incredible, consider sharing them as a guest Globejotter. Check out our writers guidelines for details on how to submit your stories.

Published on Monday, September 15, 2014

2 Responses to “More Degrees of Travel Separation”

  1. Kattina
    September 18, 2014 at 3:30 PM

    And the fact that we met once, and didn’t click, and then remet 4 years later and did, is a pretty good coincidence.

  2. November 26, 2014 at 10:30 AM

    YES! While camper vanning up the east coast of Australia this Spring we met another American on our Fraser Island trip. He was from NJ, we are from WI, but we hit it off and spent 4 days traveling with them and camping. We parted ways and then ended up bumping into each other again further up the coast. He had looked up our FB page and said to us it was funny because someone he knows had also liked our page. Turns out the girl is now one of my sisters best friends and they both live in TX. Small world.

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