The travel friendship is a very particular kind of relationship – short, sharp, intense, deep and transformative. These relationships we form when we travel come out of nowhere and change us, and then inevitably leave us again as swiftly as they came.
I’m a serial traveller/nomad, making my way around the world with my blog, so I’ve had my fair share of these friendships land in my path. I’ve observed them, the way they come in, the overwhelming benefits and the hard bits too. I think these relationships are one of the best parts of travelling.
So what is the travel friendship exactly? It’s a friendship that sparks when you’re travelling in the same place as another person. A complete stranger, usually from a different country to the on you grew up in, fast becomes a friend while you’re together in that place. If you’re willing to do the work to keep the friendship alive, these friendships can outlast the duration of your trip.
How do you know you’ve landed yourself a travel friendship? A common symptom: you call home and you can’t help spending the first 20 minutes talking about your new best friend Alessia from Italy who’s sharing your dorm room and how it’s weird how she just ‘gets’ you; or your incredibly exotic new friend Jessica from the Netherlands who lives in rural Thailand, has been to 15 countries already this year and is teaching you all about sacred dance. This is classic travel friendship behaviour., It’s almost like developing a new crush, it sweeps you off your feet and makes you see things from a whole new light, in vivid colour, so it’s hard not to gush!
A classic instance where the travel friendship struck up out of nowhere for me comes to mind. Living in Ubud, Bali, I was having lunch with a friend and noticed a girl in a beautiful dress. I commented to my friend on how beautiful this dress was and he immediately called her over to talk to us, to my embarrassment. We all got talking and I ended up giving her my email address, and she emailed me but I spelled the address wrong so I didn’t receive it! I didn’t think about it again until a week later when I found myself in a yoga class in my favourite, quiet studio and there she was sitting behind me. We both found this quite funny, clearly we were meant to meet. From then on we hung out several times around Ubud. She introduced me to her world – she was my age, from The Netherlands, she’d been living in Asia for years just seeing how life unfolded. That meant working jobs as they came up, with the true focus of her life being on personal growth, happiness, creativity and freedom. I can’t say for sure what I imparted on her but she imparted on me the sense that this freedom and way of life was possible, which is something I’ve taken with me ever since.
Another travel friendship found its way to me in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I was headed there, to a completely foreign country all on my own. I had nowhere to stay and no one to hang out with for the first 10 days of my trip. A friend from home had often told me I should meet her friend Jane as she was often in Phnom Penh; when I told this friend I was headed Cambodia way, she immediately put us in touch. Jane and I became fast friends, she took me under her wing, introduced me to her Phnom Penh, her Cambodia and her friends in town. She showed me a very local side of life in the city – local markets, a hair salon, ethical clothing workshops, temples. This was also a girl with the same sense of independence and hunger to see the world as me. We’ve stayed close friends ever since, and we’ve worked together and have even managed to schedule in another visit since our first meeting in Phnom Penh.
I didn’t find it that easy to be open to these friendships when I first started travelling solo. You need to be consciously open to these new people entering your life, and this is something I’ve had to consciously learn. These friends are not going to be the same or as effortless to relate to as your friends from home. They might not think you’re funny or interesting at first, you might need to show them who you are, speak up, be brave, but that’s all part of the process. The best tip I can give, is to just say, ‘Hi’ to every person you come across. When you put your bag down in the hostel dorm room, pluck up your courage and say ‘Hi guys’ and look around the room; introduce yourself and tell them where you’re from, ask them the same. When you go down for breakfast in the dining room, sit down at a table with strangers and say ‘Hi, how are you?’ to whoever catches your eye. If you see someone in your hostel wearing a dress you like, reading a book you’ve read, looking at a map of the city with the same puzzled expression you wore a few days earlier, say something. It’s these small, initial moments, where you could easily take the easy way out and keep your head down, your mouth shut and pull out your phone, that can spark an important friendship and change you for the better.
The benefits of the travel friendship are many and varied. From spending time with one another, you get a window into another culture, you’ll always have a friend to visit in their home country, you’ll enjoy a sense of kinship through your shared love of seeing the world. You can also be whoever you really are at that point in time in these relationships too; they have no existing ideas of who you are, you’re free to be yourself exactly as you are at that time in your life. These relationships allow us to exchange our unique perspectives and idea so we can move on having learned something.
The nature of these friendships however, is that they sadly must end, or their intensity dialled down at least. So how can you continue the relationship when you’re not living in each other’s pockets, sharing a room at the hostel, borrowing euro notes from one another, hiking mountains at dawn or running around town in tuk tuks together? I suggest to schedule Skype calls, plan trips together, email the funny things you remember from your trip. Inevitably though you must accept, it might not be the same, you have to let go just a little, and treasure that very special moment in time you shared together, take all the things you learned from one another forward with you.
We want to hear YOUR inspiring travel stories! Post your memories in the comments box below to appear in our next blog post 🙂