For Clint Buffington, who makes a hobby out of it, that moment is still special but not so rare. In fact, he's found more than 80, some dating back more over half a century.
"They are scattered like crazy treasure all over the world's beaches, and the only way to find them is to walk, walk, walk," he told ABC in an email.
The Utah man picked up the adventurous hobby in 2007 after he discovered his first bottle. Over time, he collected enough bottles (and stories) to start the blog Message in a Bottle Hunter.
And he's made friends, too. Message in a bottle enthusiasts connect over his blog, and Buffington said he's met a dozen senders in person.
"I believe we all wish it were easier to connect meaningfully with one another," he said. "I just got really, really lucky when I stumbled into this hobby that gives me a free pass to talk to strangers. To make friends of strangers!"
One of the most recent and most meaningful connections he made was with Paula Pierce of New Hampshire, whose father sent a message in a bottle about 50 years ago. Buffington found it on a beach in Turks and Caicos, 1,500 miles away. Earlier this year he was able to deliver the message to Pierce, whose parents are both gone now.
"As soon as I connected with her through email and over the phone, and I began to realize how significant this message was to her, I knew I had to return it," Buffington said of getting to deliver the message. He added that it was especially meaningful because Pierce has spent years reuniting adopted children with their birth parents.
"I felt strongly that it was now my turn to reunite Paula with her parents," he said.
In addition to the friendships, Buffington has found another way the hobby gives him fulfillment: advocating for the environment. Many of his blog posts work to raise awareness of plastic and other pollution on beaches.
Buffington said that all of it - the friendships, the adventure, and seeing the pollution - makes the hobby worthwhile.
"What do I love about this hobby? EVERYTHING!" he said. "The sense of adventure when setting out to look for bottles, spending time in the beautiful natural world, even seeing all the overwhelming plastic pollution on our beaches teaches me to live differently, to use less, to waste less."
Read more about the Message in a Bottle Hunter's adventures on his blog and Facebook page.
Images used with permission of Clint Buffington.