“The most important sacred spaces are not in the guidebooks. They are the sacred spaces created when human beings reach out to other human beings and pull them into their lives, even for just a short time.”
Simply stated, if this quote resonates with you and how you view travel, then you will enjoy this book. “Chance Encounters“, the first book in the World Traveler Tales series, focuses on the people who meet and move us in our travels. It collects 23 stories from different authors, spanning five continents. Each is a first person account of people never forgotten, even as other photographs and mementos of travel may fade.
The ability of the authors to stir up the familiar magic of their locales is striking. The first story is set in Paris. While the narrative followed an event that lasted mere minutes, words exchanged during an elevator ride, Kimberly Lovato transported me back to the electric feeling of my first visit to the city. The next story took me to a place I’ve never been to or even heard of, the tiny town of Nebaj, Guatemala; yet, I found myself connecting just as much to the story as it churned up the desire to meet the people of the town for myself.
I have to admit, there were a couple stories that did not hit home with me personally. Though well written, they didn’t seem to fit the tone or really explore the theme of being affected by another person while traveling. That said, it didn’t much sully the experience for me. Editor Janna Graber successfully brought together a colorful variety of stories. Some stories hit very deep emotional chords while others were more lighthearted. This balance means no story comes off as trivial, nor does the reader become mired in heaviness.
Another thing to consider: the short story format allows flexibility in reading. Most stories run around 8-15 pages, so it is very easy to pick up during a short break and read a single story. I did this for some, but was also happy that I read several stories in succession as well. I found that the more poignantly moving pieces opened my heart and made me connect a little more deeply to the stories that followed which may not have resonated as personally before (another nod to the editing for this arrangement.)
“Chance Encounters” definitely ignites my desire to travel, but this spark is only ancillary to the narrative. The real excitement in this collection is not exotic locales, but about connecting to people the world round. It’s a beautiful small reminder that an exciting vacation destination is someone’s home, where they live each day, in and out. Every story exposes the unique flavor of the many locations, but the more I read, the more I drew ties between the people at the heart of each story. The collection crosses not just miles, but different classes, cultures and experiences, yet; familiar emotions bind them together. Compassion, curiosity, love and respect all connect these humans together in very real ways and as Janna Graber wrote, “Travel has a way of making the world a much smaller place.”