Since embarking on my year abroad, I’ve seized every opportunity to travel, whether by train, bus, or plane. Typically, I find myself among average people, navigating the mundanities of life, or, if luck isn’t on my side, slightly obnoxious individuals. I’ve overheard countless animated conversations and sorrowful phone calls, but whenever I feel overwhelmed by the chattering around me, I’m grateful for my trusty headphones. I usually avoid talking to strangers while travelling as I find the experience quite stressful. This makes it all the more unusual that I struck up such a long conversation on a flight this year.

In January, I planned to travel from Milan to Paris for a concert. Despite booking the concert tickets months in advance, I hadn’t arranged any travel. Naively believing it’d be easy to book transportation between Italy and France, I didn’t bother looking at flights until a week before. To my dismay, the only available Ryanair flights were at 4am. Wisely, I decided to opt for a Flixbus instead. Predictably, my Flixbus to Paris got cancelled, and in a last-minute scramble, I decided to fly to London to meet my boyfriend and then join him on the Eurostar to Paris the next morning. 

In typical Ryanair fashion, the plane was delayed by an hour. By the time I reached my seat, it was quite late in the evening. I planned to spend the hour and a half flight cocooned in the comfort of my headphones, arriving in Stansted past midnight. However, things didn’t go quite as planned.

I was sitting in the aisle seat when the guy next to me asked whether I could grab something in the overhead compartment for him. After handing his belongings over, he suddenly asked if I was Australian. Confused, as I had only said one word, “sure”, I clarified that I was actually from London. He then asked if I was Nepali, mentioning that his family was from Nepal and I looked a lot like them. I wasn’t fazed by this since I often hear that I look Nepali, but once we started sharing our family ancestries, it became clear that our conversation would last more than a few minutes.

The man in the middle seat, whose name I no longer recall, appeared to be in his early twenties, like me. I can’t remember his exact job – something about being an entrepreneur – but he hadn’t gone to university. He had a book on his lap, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus by John Gray, and mentioned that he’d recently gone through a breakup. He wanted a calm weekend with one of his friends, who was sitting a few rows away. He explained that his relationship suffered from miscommunication, hence the book. Though I was unsure whether to delve into his past relationship, I found him very open and willing to share details about his life. 

He was friendly and reflective, calmly discussing what went wrong in his last relationship and the issues they faced. I quietly shared that I’d had my fair share of disastrous relationships, and the small talk seemed to shift to a much more meaningful topic. I wasn’t expecting to analyse my own attachment style and how my BPD had impacted my behaviour, especially not on a delayed flight in the middle of the night. The conversation continued when the man in the window seat asked me to put something in the overhead bin again. The middle-seat man invited him into the conversation, where we discovered that this guy was a second-year Physicist at Cambridge. We found this Oxbridge sandwich amusing and the middle-seat man remarked that he was intimidated to be surrounded by smart people. 

The flight felt like a therapy session, as the man detailed how he became self-aware of his actions and his behaviour, realising his role in the downfall of his relationship. He mentioned wanting to understand himself better and asked about my experience with therapy. Talking to him was almost healing; I shared whatever he wanted to know about me without the pressure of judgement or a friendship, knowing the likelihood of ever seeing him again was slim. Things got even stranger when I found he lived ten minutes away from me, went to a local school, and probably shared mutual friends with me. The thought that I might’ve already crossed paths with this man was both frightening and comforting. After all, we were on a random Monday night flight from Italy to the UK. The world is small, but I never realised just how small. 

In an hour and a half, I managed to learn about the innermost thoughts of this stranger – all his fears and ambitions – yet now I can hardly make out what he looked like. It made me wonder how many people we form brief emotional connections with, only to part ways forever. I suppose that’s part of the beauty of travelling. Perhaps I will meet this man again; it’s not impossible. But there is something special about a no-strings-attached encounter.