Of course we said yes. When the Strangers Project asked if they could use a Zipcar to drive across country gathering anonymous travel stories from strangers, we said oh hell yeah. If you haven’t heard of it, this is an art project of volunteers who travel around, gathering stories shared spontaneously by passing strangers. What are they about? Whatever they want to share. As long as it’s true.
From coast to coast, the Strangers Project has collected over 20,000 anonymous handwritten missives. Creator Brandon Doman started it in 2009 by asking people outside an Ann Arbor coffee shop to stop by and share their story. As Brandon says, “Every person that you pass on the street has a story to share. We are all just waiting for the right time for someone else to listen.”
We rounded up some of our favorite handwritten tales of wanderlust and adventure. Dig in. It’s juicy stuff.
Six years ago I was backpacking through the mountains with an unlikely group of friends. At the beginning of the trip, all of us wished we were in a different group of people, but things changed. How could they not, sharing the difficulties of the journey, each other's burdens, the highs and lows, and witnessing all the beauty and wonder around us? All of these experiences brought us together, they inspired honesty and an unprecedented sense of unity. We became more ourselves, and delighted in being recognized and loved for who we were, and were just as delighted to give love. Then, back home, we returned to high school. We slowly began to act like we didn't know each other. We became less ourselves as the memories faded. But I still know more of who I am because of that hike through the mountains, and I hope everyone else feels the same. I hope they still know what it's like to be loved for who they are. I hope they are brave enough to be that.
How do we learn how to love? How do we share—how do we become greater, more powerful than ourself? I love language—it's the miracle of human and animal kind. We are better people because of our ability to share with the world our stories. Here's my story. I was backpacking this Summer in Olympic National Park up in Washington State and there was this one day where we hiked 6 miles up to see the Glacier—it was like the climb to heaven, as we got closer, the rocks and paths turned into fields of grass and those tiny white flowers that you think only exist in fables—but there were patches of snow as well, along with piles of rocks, which we climbed, slowly, with some sort of great purpose. Finally, we got to the top after we climbed over this saddle of rock and the mountains opened up—I thought that I would cry, so I did because it was just this giant pool of silent, white, sheet of snow. We were so quiet, and I sat down and tried to listen to the Glacier move. I sat there and felt my body ache with the knowledge of some small significance—how is it possible that my hopes and my dreams and my everyday beliefs feel so large at times but then, seem so small in comparison? I felt love, I felt the most divine joy I've ever known and I thought for just a moment that perhaps my existence is only worth as much as I can give to this Earth. I wanted to move, but with great silence and I wanted so desperately to be completely at one with it all—if we were all connected in this way, then we wouldn't have such a hatred, or have such an indifference knowing how small we can be but how beautiful it could be. Don't you ever wonder if all the people in the world could instantly recognize each-other? I don't know you but maybe we do? Where have you gone, I'm from Chicago. Going to school in Oberlin—it's been pretty amazing.
I love traveling! When I go to a new place I feel reborn! Like if someone splashed a glass of cold water on my face and told me: "Hi, Wake up! Go and see..." So that's what I do! I travel. For pleasure, business, studies... anything really! And you know what?! In all those years I changed, grew up, and every place I've been, every person I met along the way, every restaurant I tried and every museum I explored, made me become who I am today! And still, I'm hungry and curious of what the world has to offer, of all the people I still have to meet and the food I shall try! I'm excited! I'm excited of life and what life has to offer!! And to YOU who are reading this... please travel, do it for you and your soul. Trust me, it's worth it!
We met here. UA #125 Me: "Would you like some chocolate?" Her: "Yeah sure... why not?" Nine months later she moved from Berlin to Jersey City for love... and more chocolate. I was working a flight from Berlin to Newark. I happened to bring Guylian Belgian Chocolates. After hours of noticing her on my flight, I was happy about just smiling at each other. It wasn't until our unexpected fuel stop in Goose Bay, Canada that I finally was standing next to her. I am so happy she is addicted to chocolate, and now we are addicted to each other.
In just a few weeks I will be turning 16!!... which means I'll be all grown up. I don't know if I'm ready... I mean driving, getting a job and being a woman all at the same time feels like a lot of work. So, beside the nervous part I am really excited! Right now at this minute I am in New York City on a road trip with my friend and I am feeling powerful, like if I can make it here I can make it anywhere! Turning 16 means my life or my adventure is just beginning! I hope someday I can travel the whole world!! Until then I will just enjoy being an American Teenage Girl.
I'm from London and last month I had the opportunity to visit Ecuador and do some trekking, camping, rafting, and volunteering. It was the best experience of my life. I went with around 15 of my friends and we stayed in some towns for the first few days to acclimatize before heading to the jungle. We were on the border of the Amazon and spent an entire day climbing waterfalls. Obviously that was before we ate some lemony-tasting ants from a tree, ate the grub of a scarab beetle and killed a poisonous snake. My comfort zone (which was already pretty flexible) expanded after all that and made the jungle experience much more enjoyable. Climbing waterfalls is the one. There's nothing like it—the high ceilings of the vines, birds of paradise and expectations of running into a couple tarantulas. White water rafting was awesome too—I was in "Team Extreme" but ironically the more tame group of people were the ones who capsized and almost died. I also learnt that it's best not to give me too much power—I can turn into a dictator if I win too many games. My Spanish improved — "uno más" — 1 MORE! I think I've definitely changed after the trip—at the very least, I no longer run away screaming from spiders.
I'm not from here – I'm Australian. I'm travelling the world (mostly) by myself. Oh, also – I'm female. Apparently that makes a difference to people. I left with not much of a plan and seeing where I end up – which is very unlike me. When I was three, my mum, sister and I were kidnapped. Apparently I learned early on that the world isn't a safe place. (Not something I tell people ever). So to travel by myself is a big thing for me. To overcome my fears and anxiety. And you know what? It's flipping difficult. I've read so many blogs about how amazing it is to travel solo and why every female should do it. But what they don't say is how LONELY it can get. Don't get me wrong – I love to be alone. But when I have to meet new people and never be with anyone who already knows and understands me, who I am underneath just gets squashed down into an emotional battle, to deal with "later." But I have learnt a lot, too. I've met some amazing people, and seen some amazing things. So what next? Well there's no plan for when I go home, but I hope to take my experiences – the ones of hospitality from strangers; of sitting in Chicago immigration for five hours, getting a glimpse of the uncertainty people seeking refuge and asylum live in for so long; of working the land in Turkey, Portugal, France... to take all this and become a better friend to strangers, the lost, homeless, and wonderers; and better lover of people and the Earth.
I'm a traveling musician and yesterday I was facing the drive from Kansas to Colorado. Sometimes I can face the long drives, other times I truly can't. Yesterday's drive seemed impossible, so I pulled off the interstate at every rest stop. A man pulled off and parked next to me. He was letting his dog out to walk and we met. I gave him my number and we talked all the way to our destination 400 miles away. It felt like a movie. I think I'm incapable of a real long-term relationship, but I have learned to love the serendipitous encounters that I have. Short, shallow relationships have changed my life...