What does it mean to have travel friendships?

Hello and welcome to this post that is all about the travel friendships that you can make when you’re out exploring the world, how they differ from friends at home, how to manage them and how they shape you. I can only talk about my experiences on this matter so if you’ve had similar or different views on the friendships you’ve had then I’d love to hear about them in the comment below!

When you’re out travelling your mind is probably already open to new experiences, new scenery, new food, culture and so just like the rest of it, friendships also need an open mind to form. Why an open mind to friendships is necessary is because they can happen anywhere. My first travel friends came about because I was teaching English with the Teach and Learn in Korea programme where I had to attend a month of orientation. In programme style of settings, friendships are the aim of the coordinators who run the training. So friendships will happen through the classic ice breakers of 2 lies 1 truth where you have to guess the truth so you learn something new about everyone, short introductions of who you are, where you’re from and a fun fact and daily interactions of waiting for lessons to start but in these situations it’s very easy to shut yourself off from new relationships after you’ve established a new friend base. Obviously you can’t be friends with everyone but what you can do is give everyone a chance and if they don’t vibe with you, you can say hey at least I was open to trying and you can move on. By getting into habit of being open to friendships – even if they don’t work – just means you won’t accidentally stop yourself from forming a great friendship with someone or it’ll be a great “hey remember when we first met?” story that you awkwardly have to laugh off…

For friendships that aren’t in a programme setting they can be anything from the barristas in your favourite cafe recognising you with a smile, your colleagues at the school you’re teaching at or other travellers camping out at the same hostel as you. Like regular friendships you’ll enjoy some more than others and you’ll seek out certain people over others but after your own process of finding the friends that you want to keep, you’ll find yourself giving everything to maintain them.

How travel friendships differ from home friendships

Now this is not to say that one is better than the other but just simply stating how each differ and nurture different sides of you. So breathe easy you aren’t going to lose your best friend if you or her decide to travel! Travelling is one of those things that yes we’d all love to do spontaneously – if I was a rich girl- but more often than not it’s something we have to plan and budget for and we all have various reasons for jetting off. So travel friends are people, who you’ll discover, have very similar reasons for being in the same place as you. Some reasons could be they wanted to leave their country for the first time, wanted to try something new, start a different career or it’s another destination in their world tour. Therefore they are far more likely to understand you and the ups and downs of travelling.

Culture shock though it can be broken down into various stages and symptoms, it’s still difficult to describe to a friend who simply hasn’t experienced it. Sometimes, whilst in the midst of culture shock, you just don’t want to go through the hassle of trying to explain what it feels like only for your friend to only grasp half of why you got so angry that no matter how many shops you tried you still could not find the right adapter for your electronics. With travel friends, they not only understand everything but recommend the best places to eat your feelings away, push you to work through the frustration and physically be there with you to finally realise that yes in fact this adapter you’ve been staring at for 15 minutes will work.

Different Perspectives, your home friends will have known you since forever – I have a friendship that started when we were 2 – and they know your family, where you grew up, been to your house to play, seen you scrape your knees falling off your bike, been your support system when you moved to different universities so what could a travel friend offer that you didn’t already have? Well your home friends have grown up and been exposed to similar experiences as you and so whether you realise it or not your friendship is contained to those parametres. However, with travel friends you have not only the location that you both share right here, right now but their own world. Experiences that you thought were normal could turn out to be the most interesting thing about you and you can sit listening to the complete difference in your new friend’s life that make you splutter “what, no way?!” or find striking similarities that make you cry excitedly “I thought it was only me!” Travel friends offer stories, experiences and inspiration to try so much more than you’d ever imagined for yourself or you can be that for your friend – I mean why haven’t more peopled skydived 50 times in their life already is beyond me! Through their stories your mind is stretched, your imagination is sparked and your ambition grows to seek out the adventures your friend has had or you relish in knowing someone who has undertaken certain ventures that are definitely not for you. Your travel friends also get to do something very obvious with you – travel.

That innate sense of direction that you have can compliment your travel friend’s utter cluelessness or their confidence as a seasoned traveller gives you the reassurance to explore areas without limitations or their gung-ho style of speaking the foreign language of the country you’re in encourages you to learn the language for yourself and simply at the end of it all you will both see each other stressed. Now hang on a second, this friend is relatively new so what happens if they see you stressed? Wouldn’t they be like Bye Felicia and leave you at the next stop? The thing with travel friends is that they expect you to get stressed at some point, I mean how can you not? You’re potentially in an unfamiliar place, tired from being up most of the night talking, hungry, hot, sweaty, have sore feet or you are simply over everything that is happening. Travelling brings out the very best and the very worst of you and is the ultimate process of finding those forever friends. The ones who stick with you after you’ve lost your cool because a mosquito bit your eyelid whilst you were sleeping are the ones you want in your life.

Exchange rates – I don’t mean for currency or maybe I do but this is something that applies to both home and travel friends. Since both of you will be in differing financial states, money can be exchanged for time and have the same value. What I mean by this is that I had a home friend from High School who has an amazing job but still lives in Scotland, whereas I was spending my time teaching and earning just enough to fund my lifestyle in South Korea. For my birthday my friend had some last minute holidays, booked a flight over, paid for our hotels in Seoul and Busan without hesitation. However to me, I kind of know that I won’t be in the same financial situation to be able to do that so easily, though I would want to for my friend to repay her for this huge gift. So what could I offer in return? My complete and utter attention and time. If my friend was doing this for me it’s only right I planned everything to make sure she could have the best time and it was an opportunity to show my friend my whole new world. Show her who I had become in my time in South Korea, use my language skills that I had acquired and be thankful that such a special person who knew me in the awkward High School stage could see me as a confident individual, living life how I wanted and just spend time with her as this familiar but upgraded friend. We recently had dinner together and I had to tell her again how much I appreciated her coming over and her response was that she would come at the drop of a hat but was worried that she would be taking up my time but in life and especially travelling, time is the most valuable thing I could offer. So it was agreed that this exchange works well for us!

For travel friends, after you’ve spent however much time you have together, you do have to leave. Whether that’s for a new destination or to return home, it’s a relationship limited by time and even though you do say to people “I will visit you!” In the back of both of your minds there is an acceptance that that next visit might not happen due to a number of reasons. So what I’ve found when I’ve successfully made it to see my travel friends in their home lands is that they offered me not only their time but their money too. Now I’m not saying they gave me money directly but it’s all the instances of paying for parking, buying a meal here or there, giving you gifts of your time together and on top of all that you have their time because they understand that for you to be with them on their turf you had to pay money and spend time to do so. I never expect anything because just seeing my friends again will forever be enough for me but the kindness and understanding behind these gestures touch my heart as does my presence in my friends’ home countries does theirs.

Time difference/ talk different – Wherever you are whether you’re still out travelling or if you’ve all returned to your respective countries, travel friendships have certain barriers that need to be overcome in order to maintain them and the way to do this is to talk differently. The first obvious barrier is time difference, one of you will be 8 hours in the future or 16 hours in the past so it’s difficult to keep a conversation flowing if one of you is always heading to bed or if you’re waiting for someone to wake up. However what time difference does, is bend the usual rules of conversation. Instead of having complete streams of messages you’ll have cliff hanger messages or drawn out discussions of how you’re coping with being back home and it keeps the communication between you open. For me, having friends in various time zones usually means I’ll have different people I can talk to at all times which is pretty awesome! I can wake up and see the familiar notifications on my phone from my favourites who’ve updated our dialogues from the day before so even though we can’t physically be in each others lives, we are far from disconnected.

Another barrier is that your world view, your immediate players in your life and your priorities will have changed. So this is where home friends come into play because they are the ones who are physically back in your life and so travel friendships can sometimes be neglected as you try to settle back in. A way to overcome this is to have the time zones of your travel friends set up on your phone/computer so you can check who is awake and when to send that “how’s home?” message if you haven’t heard from them.

Being understanding and accepting that life is happening for both you and your travel friend is key. Messaging can’t always be instant but it doesn’t mean your travel friend doesn’t want to talk to you if it takes a bit of time to get a response.

Scheduling regular Skype calls or any form of video/phone call will help to maintain your friendship and give you a more immediate part of their life feeling. Skype/phone calls are my favourite because seeing my friends is always special because it means they are happy to put aside this time to catch up with me. It’s on these calls that we can reminisce about that time we set off fireworks at the beach or that it’s weird to be in an English speaking country because now everyone can understand you or how you’re still trying to shake off the habit of bowing to everyone. It also means that our worlds have been shared enough that we can’t envision the other not being a part of it.

How travel friendships shape you – Other than providing you with forever friends, travel friendships shape you in that you’re probably a lot more dependent on Social media because it’s such a convenient method of communication. Facebook, Kakao Talk and Skype are my main apps that are flashing up with notifications but you’ll find yourself thinking of your travel friends when you’re out and about. For some of your friends your home land, you’ll never understand why, is a travel destination for them and so you’ll find yourself sending a small key chain or postcards or some kind of care package to them to provide another token that they will always have your time and to further share your worlds. My brother recently asked me if I get lonely travelling because I’m always leaving people but for me every time I leave somewhere or a travel friend, I know  have a home there with that person. So in my world’s view I have several homes dotted about the globe and that just gives me the motivation to visit those places and people again. So even if I don’t have my friend to physically hug, I still have the letter she sent me or the hundreds of pictures we’ve taken together and those are enough to keep my heart from feeling too heavy.

By having travel friends, simultaneously, makes your world bigger and smaller: bigger in that it gives you clear destinations to aim for and smaller because you become more connected with every new friendship. The understanding and kindness of my travel friends is something that I deeply appreciate and hope that they know that wherever I am my door is open to them.

Thank you for reading and like I said earlier if you’d like to share what your travel friendships mean to you and/or if you feel similarly/differently to anything in the post then I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!


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