Lessons Learned from Living with 40 People for 14 Days

The last few weeks found me roaming around China. I’d like to say I did it with a sturdy map and an ever sturdier pair of exploring legs, but that would be a big, fat lie. Instead, hubby and I signed up for a tour…one that found us on a bus, at meals and in hotels with 40 other people.

Now, we all know that vacationing with others – even those we know – can be pretty…tricky.

vacation movie

So what happens when you spend 14 days in close quarters with 40 strangers?  You learn some lessons – about life, about relationships and – of course – about yourself. And if you pay enough attention, they translate directly to the way we live, work and play.

Here are just a few little nuggets:

#1: The Lesson Learned from Steve

Every group, circle and family has a Steve.

You know him. Nice guy (or gal, of course), who just wants to be liked, has the best of intentions, and never…shuts…up.

He’s the one who turns every comment from others into a story about himself…the one who loves to answer questions posed to other people…the one who really, really believes he knows it all. And can’t wait to show everyone.

Our Steve made his presence known the second he arrived. As time passed, whenever he was at a different table or away from the bus there was a knowing, collective sigh of relief that things would be a bit calmer. At least for the moment.

The lesson? Be wary of being a Steve, especially if you – like me – are an extrovert. We need to let others talk, ask for their opinions, and bite our tongues…no matter how fascinating we believe ourselves to be.  Because, the truth is, we’re not.

#2: The Lesson Learned from Paula and Frank

Just like in our offices and friendships, we’ve all got some favorite go-to folks. And mine led to a big surprise.

Paula and Frank were just so…nice. (gotta love you Midwesterners!) Since our assigned bus seats were near theirs, we couldn’t help but hear their conversations as they floated over the starched seats.

Unlike many others, this couple of more than 40 years together was always positive…smiling through rainstorms, laughing at every bad joke from the tour guide, walking hand-in-hand from destination to destination. They were also super smart and clever.

I assumed they were one of those fortunate couples who always had things go their way…who had perfect careers and perfect children and got to travel to perfectly wonderful far-away places. Perfectly.

Some couples, I reasoned, were just plain lucky in life.


But then I learned that Paula was battling a painful blood disorder. And Frank recently had surgery that left him uncomfortable during much of the trip.

They shared this information naturally, over time – no whining involved. Instead, they chose to recognize the good in their lives, and to celebrate it.

The lesson? You never know what other people are dealing with, so don’t make assumptions. We’ve all got crappy stuff going on, and believing we’ve got it worse than others only hurts our own experiences and connections. Attitude is a choice, and some people are just better at choosing theirs than others.

#3: The Lesson Learned from…Everyone in China

Perhaps my greatest lesson of all was the one that came simply from watching the people of China.

Sure, in many ways China is a whole lot different than life here in the U.S. But in the end the bigger lesson wasn’t about how different we are as countries, but how alike we are as people.

It turns out that living on the other side of the world, speaking a distinctly different language and coming from a completely different history doesn’t change the fact that, in the end, we are all people.

Without understanding a word they were saying, it was actually easy to observe what was happening as families laughed together, babies cried, and couples fought. Just like what we all  do each day.

As I came across these so-called foreigners, I actually found that smiling warmly at them and making a little effort to show interest/appreciation led to striking connections…something we all need to some extent.

Heck, a guy at the top of the  Great Wall even handed over his special baseball cap, just because I smiled, pointed and said “ I like”.


The lesson? If relating to people from such a different culture can be done fairly easily, there’s no telling how much we can connect personally and professionally with those we come across everyday…with just a warm nod and a little bit of effort.

This week…

Learn from Steve, Paula, Frank and a country full of people who are just like us.

Consider how their lessons can help us all find greater connections, success and happiness.

Think of the lessons you’ve learned along the way from others.

Oh, and if you can…give the Great Wall a try. It’s totally worth it. Just ask our favorite traveling companions of all time.


Now, go do good…and do it well.

8 thoughts on “Lessons Learned from Living with 40 People for 14 Days

  1. Perky says:

    Thank you Deirdre for helping us to all to remember how unique yet similar, people really are! Welcome home!

    1. Deirdre Maloney says:

      My pleasure – I’m just embarrassed it took me travelling all the way to China to recognize it! 🙂

  2. Hannah says:

    Great nuggets, Dierdre. Thanks so much for sharing. Something I learned in my travels is that, cliche as it sounds, happiness is an inside job. You can be in the fanciest hotel, surrounded by luxury and beauty, but if you’re there with the wrong attitude or partner, or if you’re there for the wrong reasons, it can be lonely and miserable. If you’re happy and living with integrity, you will have a good time wherever you are.

  3. Patty Costa says:

    Thank you Deirdre for sharing your awareness and experiences. Truly we all have our good and bad but what makes one different is attitude. I always thought you can teach someone a job but you can’t teach an attitude (good of course) which is the best characteristic you can have. With that tool, one can deal with anything or anyone in life.

    1. Deirdre Maloney says:

      Thanks for your comment, Patty – and you’re right on I think. Attitude is tough to teach…but it sure does make a difference in life!

  4. Sharon says:

    The title got me. I tried a cruise in a group around the med a few years ago with 55 SD women of all shapes and sizes- on one of the giant cruise ships. I did it because I thougtht perhaps i was getting old and it would be a good idea to travel with a group so someone would notice if I went missing. What i learned: as long as i am mobile i will never join a tour group or a cruise again. Only when i can’t move around easily on my own will I submit to the herding, the wasted time, and the inability to sit in cafes or walk into shops and just chat with people who don’t even speak the same language as I.

    There are some people I believe born with that sort of positive attitude everyone likes to talk about, and promote. Perhaps in my next life. I prefer solo travel, and have enough experience and confidence to proclaim that loudly. Viva solo travel. Viva getting lost. Viva having total strangers reach out a hand to help!

    1. Deirdre Maloney says:

      Thanks for your comments, Sharon! I think the most important thing is setting yourself up for success by knowing just what works for you and doesn’t…sounds like you’re experience gave you a tough but important lesson on how you can get the most out of your travelling!

  5. Susan says:

    You’ve shared some valuable life lessons’ based on this adventure you and yours had.

    Your post serves as an affirmation for me to acknowledge my assumptions.
    I also like to state that people are people. We all have our idiosyncrasies; it just takes patience to learn about ourselves and others. We are all in this together.

    I too am an extrovert and I’ve learned to listen more. May we all keep things in perspective and recognize how our emotional intelligence influences our relationships, experiences and overall professional and personal growth.

    All of these life lessons promote overall health and wellness; which will help us to enjoy adventures in new places.

    Thanks and Stay well,

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