Random Travel Encounters: It’s a Small World After All

You travel around the world and think you’re free to be yourself because no body knows who you are right?


The more you travel the more you realize the world is tiny. Random encounters with people you know, and six degrees of separation experiences are not as rare as you might think.

Indonesia ’97

My two girlfriends and I arrived in Bali after almost 3 months backpacking Indonesia to meet with a group of friends who had flown in from Oz to party before we moved to London. If you haven’t been to Bali, you might not know that it is overrun with Aussies, surfing Aussies at that.

So it might not seem so random that as we were bar hopping one night we ran into two very good surfing friends from our home town. We had no idea they were going to be in Bali and the wild nights that followed were lots of fun.


people holding glasses of beer
Mark and my friend Shannon

Aussies can’t help but journey to any place were copious amounts of drinking can be done. Our merry little beerfest tour group, expanded itself somewhat when we ran into our local barmen from Belushi’s in Covent Garden. This wasn’t all that random, even though the halls are crowded with thousands of people, as we knew they were going to be there.

What was really random was walking through the pig pen to hear a familiar deep voice shout out “Fogsy.”

I turned to find the voice and above the heads of many others was the beaming face of Mark Catley. Mark played cricket with my brother for years when we were growing up and we were very good friends with his family. I had no idea he was even in Europe.

My random beerfest experience doesn’t end there.

My flatmate (in London), Patto, was with us on our little tour and he had brought his girlfriend Tash, who was just visiting from Sydney for a couple of weeks.

Tash and I were pushing our way through the hordes of people  when a guy in front of us turned around.

We both yelled out “OMG Paul” at the same time. Tash and I immediately turned to each other, “WTF, how do you know him?” I ‘went to University with Paul and Tash had gone to high school with him.

Tash and I had only met 3 days before.

people holding up a mans legs
Patto, Flo and I with the Belushi boys

Pampalona ’98

Morrocco Random Travel Encounters
Mark, his friends and us in Morrocco
a woman dancing in a party
Finding Darius

I can’t even remember where I was when I ran into Paul again. But it was somewhere on a busy party street in Pampalona, almost a year after our random encounter at Beerfest.

And then, walking back to our van after a long day of partying, who should be walking across the square at the same time as me? Mark Catley. We hung out for awhile, discovered that we were following the same Euro van path and then went our separate ways.

Our van ended up meeting with his a week later, randomly in Lisbon, and then again in Lagos, Portugal. It was then that we decided fate wanted us to hang out. So our van of 4 girls, traveled Spain, Morrocco and Gibraltar with his two vans of 10 boys (including another friend from home) and had an unreal time.

But once again, that was not the most random thing from Pamps.

My friends and I had decided to e party with the locals down a small side street. We were dancing and having a wild time, when I felt someone’s eyes on me. I looked up and sitting on a bar two marques down, was the smiling face of my old University friend, Darius.

We just looked at each other shaking our heads and laughing at how small the world really was. What a fun afternoon we had together catching up. (I randomly ran into him years later walking along Bondi)

London ’97-99

At one stage in London there were about 20 people from my home town living together and hanging out. The UK Working Holiday Visa is such a popular thing for Aussies to do in England and we always had new people from home coming over to visit.

I was always running into people I knew from home in the pubs and clubs or dossing on the couch in my backpacking house of 20 people. Not so random.

But, when I first arrived in London, school was out for the summer and I needed to start earning money. I found a job serving drinks in a Liverpool St city bar. I was chatting to the other Aussie bar chick, Michelle, on my first day.

She had been living in London for 2 years and was sharing all her stories. She began telling me about this good friend of hers that she worked with in another London bar and had a lot of fun hanging out with.

“This guy, right, he was called Stilts, because he was so tall.”

“You are KIDDING me?”

“What? Oh my god, do you know him?”

“Ah, know him? Stilts is my brother.”

Yep. A small world after all.

And then there was that time when Dan Toovey, who was a couple of years above me at school, came to stay in our house. He told us how he thought his mate who he worked with in Oz, was coming to live in London for awhile. His name was Craig Makepeace.

I was going out with  a South African at the time and had to hide my excitement. Craig was someone I only knew to say hello to at our home town, but knew him quite well due to the many hours I had spent ogling him from afar. I’m glad he never made it over to London, as we probably wouldn’t be married now.

Greek Islands 97

As soon as I had arrived in London, my friends convinced me I needed to take off with them to the Greek Islands for 2 weeks. Arm twisted. We left behind Matt, Kunta and J.P in London with jeers to make them jealous and headed off for some Mediterranean fun. We didn’t get very far after landing on our second island Ios, remaining there for 12 days lost in the myriad of bars that cram the small town square.

On the night we were supposed to be in Santorini, we walked into the Dubliner, our favourite bar for dancing and drinking. A few tequila shots later, we looked up and blinked through the boozy haze several times to make sure that it really was Matt, Kunta, and J.P  dancing on the pontoons and falling all over the beautiful Euroepean ladies.

Our jeering was too much for them and they decided at last minute they weren’t going to miss out on Ios. Two days of fun later, they fled the island while I remained for more table dancing.

people holding their arms out
Re-enacting the random encounter scene 2 weeks later at our house party

Gallipoli, Turkey, Anzac Day ’03

15,000 Australian and New Zealanders gathered at Gallipoli for ANZAC Day in 2003. Numbers were dramatically down due to the start of the War in Iraq. On our tour bus, Craig ran into a guy he knew from home, and I only recognized his face. We hung out with him for the 3 day tour. After the dawn ceremony, we were making our way up the hill to Lone Pine for the Australian ceremony. As we rounded the bend, I ran into Adrian and Brendan James, or Snooksy as we used to call him, when we were children running around our neighborhood streets playing Searchers. (Years later I boarded a plane from Sydney to Melbourne and sat down in my seat, right next to Snooksy!!)

Later that day, we were walking around a memorial site, when I looked up and there was Nathan, his wife Sarah, and their friends Justin, Lane and Brooke. They were all from our home town. We did not know them as well as Nathan, who I had spent a lot of time in my twenties hanging out with, as he went out with a good friend of mine. Craig also knew him through football.

And it was every ANZAC Day in Australia, that Craig, Nathan, and I would spend hours standing in our local pub, toasting to the diggers and talking about what it meant to be Australian and just how much we all loved this national day of celebration in our country. And he were were bumping into each other in the very place where it all started.

San Diego ’06

It was sundowner time, and we were sitting in the beer garden of our Ocean Beach backpackers in San Diego. It was packed with travellers. Craig was over at the bottle shop getting more supplies and I was chatting with some Irish girls. An Aussie bloke found his way to our table and it wasn’t long before he asked me where i was from in Oz.

“Just north of Sydney.”

“Fair dinkum. Like what? Terrigal?”

“No. Not far from there, Woy Woy. Do you know the area?”

“Yeah for sure mate! I live in Terrigal but I used to play football for the Woy Woy Roosters.”

“Serious. When? My husband played for the Roosters. It was when he was a junior though. He played for North Sydney Bears after that.”

His eyes, rounded in disbelief.

“No way. What’s his name?”

“Craig Makepeace”

“Craig Makepeace! Fullback and goal kicker? I know him. Fair dinkum?” His voice picked up in excitement. “Where is he?”

“He’s over at the shop getting some beers.”

“No Way. I can’t believe this. I played for the Bears. I was a couple of years under him but shit I know him. I know him well!”

Random travel encounters
Craig and Corey

For the next week, we had a wild fun time with Corey and spoke about a lot more than just football.

Laos 2006

We were ambling down the main market street of Luang Prabang, Laos. It was another humid day and we were slightly hangover, intent on finding a cafe to bum around in. All of a sudden a group of visiting Thai people walking by us, stopped and stared and we heard a squeal “Ahh. Kuhn Caroline and Kuhn Craig!”

Kuhn Gai!! Sawadee Ka” A wai and then a great big hug.

Kuhn Gai was my mentor at my Bangkok high school. She was the one who helped me daily with adjusting to my new life teaching English to high school boys. She was also with two of the other teachers at the high school who we got along well with. We spent the afternoon exploring the nearby waterfalls and having an enjoyable dinner catching up. (Actually it was from this dinner that I became severely ill with food poisoning the next day.)

Laos Random travel encounter
Our friend Gai in the yellow- but this is at her house

Raleigh 2009

Craig’s parents were visiting us in Raleigh and we were walking out of Golden Corral- a buffet style restaurant. A bus load of tourists began walking in at the same time.

I immediately picked them for being Australians on a tour. I decided to wait and let them come in, so I could eaves drop and listen for an Aussie accent. After two thirds of them walked by, I decided to stop one and ask him what they were doing in Raleigh (Aussies on tour aren’t usually in Raleigh).

He told me all about the Contiki tour they were doing across the States and how Raleigh was just a one night stopover.

Craig and his parents soon joined in the conversation. We discovered that this guy came from the Central Coast, where we all come from. It was then that he said to Craig’s mum,

“You know this might seem really ridiculous and random, but I swear I know you.”

“Oh really. I’m not sure how.”

“Yeah. Do you have a daughter called Michelle?”

“What??” we all squealed, looking at each other in disbelief.

“Well, yes I do actually. Why? How do you know her?”

“I’m Steve’s brother.”

Steve is Michelle’s fiance.

And I’m sure there have been many more like this that I can’t remember. It is a very small world after all.
What random travel encounters have you experienced on your travels?

15 thoughts on “Random Travel Encounters: It’s a Small World After All”

  1. Great post! I think about this so often – synchronicity is a major part of my adventures around the world. I chalk it up to fate and being on the “right path” at the right time. Some examples from this year:

    I booked a weekend trip to Lima on a total whim, never having been. Within 6 hours, I received an email from a friend upstate who asked all his NYC pals if they could spare a couch because his friend from LIMA was coming to the city in a few days. I said yes, and had a fab time making a new friend, then one week later Luis picked me up at the airport in Peru and we had one of the best weekends ever.

    At a random birthday dinner at Nougatine in Shanghai, where I only knew one person, I sat between the Australians and the Italians (I speak Italian) and got to talking with a lovely girl in town for a week from Italy. Turns out her grandparents were born and raised in my tiny Tuscan country village (population <500) where I spend my summers.

    I'm friends with the Italian-speakers/crew of a certain U.S. airline, from flying back and forth so many times. Last summer I hung out with the Mon-Wed crew every Tuesday night at a wine bar in Rome. My two best Italian gal pals always joined us, my one friend I've known 14 years. One night we were all at dinner together when an Italian journalist stopped by the table. He knew my friends (also journalists) and incredibly, also knew the girls from the airline crew, because they had frequented the same bar for 8 years!

    There are many, many more instances. But this is already the longest comment ever!

    1. It is so cool when moments like this happen. We had one two nights ago as well. Our host from Gold Coast Tourism is cousins with someone we know from our hometown, whose girlfriend I am currently working with- and are two of the people we bumped into on ANZAC Day

  2. Great article about one of the best parts of travel. My random moment —> Meeting travel friend Arjana, who’s an actress, in India and realizing that I had seen her perform in a play in California.

  3. There’s the folk you meet on the travel circuit, who keep popping up in different countries, months and months apart.

    We met someone in the Philippines (diving), bumped into him again on a train in Thailand (where we were diving); met another girl in Laos, then, months later, in Indonesia…

    I used to do a lot of work in bars and with bartenders, which gets you a long way in terms of six degrees of separation. But folk from home? Not on this journey…

    1. Oh gosh yes! I could write so many stories on this alone. I guess so many travelers follow similar trails that you can’t help but bump into them somewhere further down the road. And if you really got along well with them then you are alwas super excited about it.

  4. It’s a small world. Cosmic love —- TRAVEL!

    I’ve met a lot of people in my travels but so far have not bumped into them again. Can’t wait to bump into them again.

    Great posts! And boy, it looks so much fun!

  5. What can I say? It’s a small world indeed. Encounters can be fun but they can also make you want to run like when I happened upon my second ex-husband’s new marriage in…Bali! Ahemmmmm

  6. Wow! That’s a lot of chance encounters! When I backpacked around Europe after college (years ago!) I ran into 3 or 4 of my high school friends, separately. I think a lot of people make a similar “loop” around Europe though.

  7. Holy cow, you guys have had a whole lot of random encounters! How fun. I love when this type of thing happens–make the world feel a lot smaller and more communal. I ran into a friend in Washington, D.C. (we are from the city but both happened to be there at the same time!) once. I have also run into so many Texans I know in various Colorado cities; it gets so hot here in the summer that we all escape there, and it’s inevitable that some of us run into each other!

    My craziest chance encounter was in Paris. I was so far from home but ran into an old friend from high school in a Paris subway station. We played in orchestra together and it was so fun bumping into each other half-way across the world!

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