Surely one of the greatest joys of travelling is the meeting of new people. Often, when I think back to the best places or happiest adventures I’ve had when travelling, brilliant, new and exciting friendships are at the centre of them. Go on, think of a great travel memory … I bet one, if not more, fun travel friends you’ve met feature prominently in them.
Travel Friendship as Fleeting
Yet the travel friendship is a bizarre and enigmatic relationship. So often, like travel romances, it can be fleeting, idealised and, dare I say, inappropriate! Born of a particular moment in time at a particular place on the globe, travel friendships are inextricably caught up with these specificities. However, unlike other friendships, which of course evolve and take shape as they translocate across a broad spectrum of events and environments, the travel friendship is transfixed. Caught in the throes of a moment in time, the travel friendship lives and dies in one particular location. Even if the friendship does move across a number of countries or even continents, and last over a period of weeks or even months, inevitably it is truncated by a nomad’s necessity to move. One or other of the party leaves, returns or changes course. If they do not, then the friendship moves into another realm, puncturing the travel membrane and entering the world of home life. If it does not however, it remains a travel friendship, that is, a friendship rooted in and hinged on a connection formed at a temporary point and place in history.
Travel Friendship as Fun
Yet despite, the transient nature of travel friendships, no one can deny their potency. Even when we are more experienced as people and travellers and know that, in all reality, such friendships are unlikely to last, we can still easily fall under their charming spell of excitement and entertainment. The fact that most people are having a good time whilst they’re exploring the globe and that, as social creatures, we want to share that fun with others, is a key ingredient in many travel friendships. Without the worries of routine, the frowns of finances or the cares of careers, it’s much easier to have a carefree and good time. Unlike the friendships of home, which are often strengthened by struggles, the travel friendships are cemented by smiles.
Travel Friendship as Security
In addition, there are the practical elements to travel friendships. Let us not forget that a very crucial point in defining those relationships is that they are created in places where at least one party maybe new or unfamiliar, a stranger or a visitor. Surely, if we are being logical, we recognise it is easier to fall into a friendship with someone when you’re strangers in a foreign land. I realise this a broad generalisation of friendships made, and lives lived, on the road, but let’s run with it for a while. Strangers, perhaps those who don’t know anyone else, and who recognise similarities in each other, be those physical, situational or historical, might well be more likely to stick together or to become close, even reliant on each other. It’s almost a survival tactic. Equally, no one likes to feel alone. These 2 factors draw individuals together. Add into this mixture a feeling of fun and excitement, along with a dreamy landscape and, in travelling, the perfect friendship formula is created
Travel Friendship as Education
Yet please don’t misinterpret me, after all, this is no bad thing. Indeed, it can be a very good thing. If you have decided to travel to learn more about the world and yourself (whatever that might mean!), then the travel friendship is a very good place to start! Meeting and befriending people around the globe, you are inevitably more likely to learn more about different countries and cultures. Travel friendships can certainly open your eyes to information, perspectives and politics you’ve never encountered. They can open your mind and open your heart. This is never a bad thing.
Travel Friendship as Self-Reflection
As a solo traveller, I do find I am even more prone to these connections. Perhaps this is because I become more out going, more reliant on strangers as I am for conversation and amusement because I am alone. Perhaps, I also make greater travel friendships when I travel solo because I am also less confined by the patterns and habits of home life. Time and time again, being away from others who know us well, gives us the space to flourish; when we are no longer subject to the social roles or images we play and uphold in more familiar settings, we are more likely to experiment with new identities and new activities. This newness also applies to the travel friendship – it always interests me greatly to reflect on the type of people I connect with away from school friends I’ve known for decades or family I’ve grown up with. Set within a moment in time, the travel friendship provides us with a great opportunity to reflect on who we are at any given period. We can do this by noticing what type of people we are drawn to and why (or, if you care to think about it in this way, which sort of people are thrust into our life and why). In this way, the sort of personal illumination that travel friendships can bring is born of the very fact that they are created in a particular place, a place that is generally unfamiliar, strange or new, at a particular point in time.
Travel Friendship as Memory
And because of the reality of the world we live in and the fact that all points in time are, of course, transient, each moment will eventually slip away. This inevitably means that as we move away from the physical time and place of a travel friendship’s existence, it will also slip away, or at least it will slip away to the confines of memory. If we agree, that something still exists as long as it is remembered, then it can be argued, that the majority of the travel friendship’s lifespan is actually rooted in memory. Often we will remember the travel friendship for longer than it physically existed.
Travel Friendship as Technology
Or at least we used to. By that I mean, memory is where the travel friendship used to stay, at least it did before the days of Facebook and Instagram and Pinterest and Google+. Nowadays, however, the travel friendship exists on the screen. That’s where it lives most of its life. It’s wonderful, of course, to be able to communicate with people you’ve met all over the world; to view their lives continuing, in more than your imagination, beyond the point in time and place where you left them. Yet, it is also slightly confusing. Technology, you see, is elongating the process of the travel friendship and therefore its memory too. And just when we thought we had it nailed! In many ways, technology is maintaining an element of the physical existence of the friendship, or at least making that line more fluid. As the services of Skype and Whatsapp bring travel friendships through the invisible divide wall into our home lives, technology is blurring the boundaries.
Travel Friendship as Reconnection
Never is this more apparent than when you are reunited with travel friends, as the wonders of the Internet allows us to restage travel friendships in different locations. Currently stationed in Australia, with something of a semi-permanent home base (due to visa stuff) it has been a joy to have been reunited, in the past year, with 4 or 5 people I’ve met before from travels in New Zealand, Panama and Nicaragua. This has all been through the power of Facebook – the chance newsfeed alert that someone is in a town near you or the planned and executed visit without so much of a phone call. For all its faults and misgivings, I do have to credit this as Facebook’s greatest gift and it’s one I’m thoroughly grateful for.
Travel Friendships as Tricky
Yet, as with all the strange, new dimensions technology brings to human life, the gift of Facebook in breaking down the boundaries of travel friendship is not without struggle. You see the problem of friendships born of a particular time and place is that, despite technology, they have essentially have remained there; as much as travel friendships can illuminate who you were at a certain point in time, they can also make you very aware of who you are not anymore. Technology, sadly does not allow for this. The travel friendship you maintain online, unless punctuated by a recurrent physical reconnection, often just remains mimicry of the short-lived moment in time that the friendship existed. And that moment lives in the memory, which we all know can be subjective and slippery at the best of times. Enticed, as it is, by emotionally bouts of reminiscent fondness, memory’s penchant for rose-tinted glasses cannot be denied and it’s easy to dress up the 3 weeks of fun you had with people under the steamy tropical sun. When technology facilitates the reconnection of travel friendships it does not allow for the different place and time one or either of the party might now inhabit; it does not allow evolution or reality and that can difficult. Sometimes, it can be the case that some things are best left to memory not technology.
Travel Friendships as True
Yet this is not always the case. Sometimes reconnecting with travel friends can be nothing but pure delight. Sometimes the ideas are just all in your head. Sometimes the worries that you have changed or they have changed or that’s its all down to rose-tinted memories are not true. Sometimes you need to let Facebook physically reconnect you with someone to remember that travel friendships can exist beyond foreign lands and can be still be fun. That travel friendships aren’t necessarily fleeting or about security, but about two people who genuinely get on and engage each other the world over. Sometimes you need to learn that travel friendships can be true friendships.