Long-term traveling and friendships

Long-term traveling and friendships

If you travel frequently, you probably agree that the people you meet are what makes it an experience to remember. But you might also get questions like "isn't it lonely?" or my personal favorite "isn't it frustrating to get to know people when you'll never see them again?". The short answer is nein. But if you want the longer version, read on. 

I was at a meet-up last week and one guy shared a comment from a girl he had met here in Berlin. “If she doesn't think someone will stay at least six months, she won’t bother getting to know them”. An interesting take on which relationships are worth pursuing. Another guy fully agreed: “That’s the worst about traveling, it’s pointless to waste energy on getting to know someone you’ll never see again.”

This attitude is not uncommon. If you’re traveling long-term, the lack of consistent community will likely affect you eventually. Some people manage it by slowing down, staying longer in each place. Some, like me, decide it’s time for a home base. A place where I not only can indulge in expensive linen sheets (after three nomadic years, this is my definition of luxury), but more importantly (yes, more than linen sheets), a space I can share with friends from all over the world, as they’ve done so generously for me.

Now, I know I don't live the most traditional life. Despite having a home with linen sheets*, I still have places I want to see, people I want to visit, and that remains part of how I plan my life. Not everyone has that privilege or priority. But here's how I approach this travelers dilemma of meaningful relationships: 

Expectations do more harm than good. 

I rarely have any expectations when I get to know someone. If we connect at a conference and decide to have a coffee later, I don’t think we’re gonna be best friends and start planning weekend getaways. If I go on a Tinder date, I don’t think we’re gonna get married, or even necessarily spend more time together than it takes to finish one beer. If I go to a meet-up like the one where this conversation started, I don't expect I want to grab a burger with someone afterward. 

I'm just curious. Curious about other people, who they are, where they come from. You can find something interesting about anyone, given enough time and energy. Then we'll see where it goes.

If you struggle with relationships on the road, it’s likely you have unrealistic expectations of what these relationships should be. If you enjoy spending a week getting to know someone, is it really a waste of time, just because you don’t live in the same country? Is a meaningful friendship characterized by how close you live to each other and how frequently you see each other face to face? 

That might have been a reality a century ago, but as we all know, distance matter less than now it ever has. You still need to put in some effort though. 

 December 2012. Embracing the stereotype of backpacking in the Australian outback with Ching and Viriya, who I had met a week earlier. A few years later I visited them in Thailand where we did another road trip outside Bangkok (hey, isn’t it time for the third edition of Yumcha trip soon?!).  Also, #foreverawkwardposer. 

December 2012. Embracing the stereotype of backpacking in the Australian outback with Ching and Viriya, who I had met a week earlier. A few years later I visited them in Thailand where we did another road trip outside Bangkok (hey, isn’t it time for the third edition of Yumcha trip soon?!).

Also, #foreverawkwardposer. 

 January 2016. Went scuba diving with the Philippines with Jeremiah, who I met three months earlier in Bali, here not yet suspecting how insane our dive master was. In September he's finally coming to visit in Berlin!

January 2016. Went scuba diving with the Philippines with Jeremiah, who I met three months earlier in Bali, here not yet suspecting how insane our dive master was. In September he's finally coming to visit in Berlin!

 May 2016. I blame all three of you for tricking me into drinking beer instead of doing yoga for two weeks. Also, meeting these guys who live in Munich is the reason I ended up going to Oktoberfest, which has since turned into a tradition.

May 2016. I blame all three of you for tricking me into drinking beer instead of doing yoga for two weeks. Also, meeting these guys who live in Munich is the reason I ended up going to Oktoberfest, which has since turned into a tradition.

 July 2018. In 2015 I spent a couple of days in Ubud with Ronja, and since moving to Berlin, we've managed to survive two festivals together. 

July 2018. In 2015 I spent a couple of days in Ubud with Ronja, and since moving to Berlin, we've managed to survive two festivals together. 

There's no way I ever could have predicted the trajectory of these friendships when we first met. That's the beauty of it.

Then there are people I liked, but haven't stayed in touch with. I still have fond memories of the guy I hung out with for a week in Bali, getting lost in the rice paddies, even though I’ll likely never see him again. Or the girl I shared a dorm with in Thailand, who felt like a sister in spirit and made me laugh till I cried five minutes after we met. Or the guy I sat next to on a long bus trip, who kept hitting on me and talked about how he loved Sweden and wanted ten kids - I could not have been more in the wrong target group for that pitch, but I still enjoyed our conversations. 

Maybe that's the most important lesson traveling has given me. Meet people, be open for genuine connections, and appreciate the time you have with them, no matter how short or infrequent it is. Maybe you meet once a year. Maybe you only got to hang out for a week in South Africa. Maybe you end up in a relationship lasting a decade. You can never tell, and that makes the world so much more interesting than picking your friends based on zip codes.

*Sorry, not sorry, for my obsession with linen.