Sharing, strong emotions, joy, madness, discoveries. But also vulnerability, challenges, questioning, creativity, open-mindedness. Connection, happiness… Friendship.
Essential to our well-being, friendship involves us all: it crosses generations, time, cultures and distance. However there are no two friendships alike.
“Every friend represents a world within us, a world that might never have existed without them, and that this encounter has made possible.” – Anaïs Nin
When we’re traveling, friendship seems to take on a whole new meaning. Because travel isn’t just about landscapes and new experiences. No, travel is also about the people we meet and the moments we share. We experience fleeting friendships, intense connections. We share stretches of road with strangers. We lose sight of friends, mourning past ties. We meet up with casual acquaintances to experience incredible things together. We recount our lives to a stranger drinking coffee at the table next to ours.
While traveling, paths cross and part. Friendships are born and built, while others fade over time. We recreate bonds again and again, but say goodbye just as often. There are moments when our hearts are filled by all the bonds we’ve created. But there are also moments of emptiness, moments of questioning, when we may wonder what’s the point of starting all over again if it’s only to part again.
In fact, sometimes it’s hard. It’s hard to get attached, knowing that time is running out, it’s hard to open up, to show our vulnerability. It’s tiring to have to start all over again, to ask the same questions: where are you from, how long have you been traveling, what are your plans for the future? We need connections, contact and sharing, so we get involved. Except that sometimes, that bond doesn’t blossom and the connection doesn’t happen. It’s frustrating.
And yet, it’s also so easy. It’s easy to share things when you’re on the other side of the world, to express what you’re feeling to those other travelers who are going through the same thing as you. It’s easy to understand each other, to share their joy and wonder, but also to understand their fears, their distress and their questions. It’s thrilling to listen to each other’s stories, to be moved by each other’s experiences. When time is limited, it’s easy to have fun, to enjoy. It’s easy to live in the present.
It’s as if the journey highlights the passing of time. It highlights the fact that this special moment will no longer exist tomorrow. A tomorrow so near and yet so far. And so, although sometimes bonds don’t blossom, there are also connections that are created in an instant. And then, there are also those people who have remained semi-acquaintances, but who are the only ones to have shared certain experiences with us, the only ones to be able to understand them.
And how incredible! These connections are like little bubbles that seem to float in time. Fragile, ephemeral, but also beautiful and light. Bubbles with rainbow halos that reflect the diversity of encounters and connections we can make on our travels.
Because although travel unites us all, there’s such diversity among travelers. And I’m not talking about culture here. No, diversity in travel goes far beyond cultural differences. I’m talking about our life stories. I’m talking about identities. I’m talking about experiences. Because on the other side of the world, it’s not uncommon to make friends with people who are completely different from us in the way they lead their lives and see the world. We become close to people who seem so far removed from, or even opposed to, our friends back home.
And, for me, that’s what friendships while traveling are all about. It’s about sharing our ways of seeing the world, it’s about questioning, it’s about seeing things in a different way. And despite all that, it’s about sharing common values, even if they’re sometimes expressed differently.
On a trip, we meet more people, therefore there are more separations, more sadness, but also more adventures, sharing, intensity and crazy memories.
And what about our friends back home? The ones who’ve always been there, and who we leave behind for a sometimes indefinite period. There are transcendent, self-evident friendships, those that will probably be with us for the rest of our lives. And there are others that are perhaps a little more fragile. There are people you only talk to once a year, but with whom nothing changes once you’re reunited. You wonder which ones will stay, which ones will grow stronger, and which ones, perhaps, will fade away. We relearn how to connect, how to communicate through time zones, how to share and understand experiences without being able to live them or have them lived. How can we be part of the lives of those we love when they’re so far away? But also, how can we live in the present, without neglecting those who are far away?
So, I think traveling pushes us to redefine friendship, or rather friendshipS. Friendships that last, friendships that pass, friendships that are born and friendships that fade. Friendships that are so different, but each more beautiful than the last.
As I write this article, dozens of people who have marked my travels cross my mind. Some are still present in my life, others are not. Some fill me with nostalgia and a twinge of sadness, others bring a smile to the corner of my lips. Some fill me with impatience, others leave me with a curious uncertainty. Who will I see tomorrow? When will I see that friend I met at the beackpackers? Under what conditions will I be reunited with that other person who remains so important to me?
I remember screaming my lungs out at a waterfall with my lifelong best friend.
I remember tears in a driveway.
I remember a discussion so long in a car that the restaurant kitchen had closed by the time we walked through the doors.
I remember a missed sunset in Bali that ended with a crazy free fall on a merry-go-round suspended several meters from the ground.
I remember a thank-you message from someone who had contacted me a few years earlier and was finally realizing her dream of traveling to New Zealand… followed by another meeting months later.
I remember reconnecting with my college roommate, who had never mentioned traveling so far from Belgium.
I remember hosting a friend in my dorm at university. She had gone to the same high school as me and had followed my travels since she was 12.
I remember a tattoo I saw in a hostel in New Zealand. It looked so familiar. The tattoo belonged to someone I’d exchanged with a year earlier in a travel group.
I remember exploring Bali with a yogi I had interviewed a year earlier.
I remember hosting an Austra-Kiwi in Belgium, and realizing we had friends in common.
I remember a drunken evening singing karaoke with my mom’s colleague and his best friend.
I remember laughing in the back of a van on the way to Aoraki with two other incredible people.
I remember getting on a plane, meeting in person a very dear friend contacted via her podcast, and feeling like we’ve known each other forever.
I remember surprising my family after 3 years away.
I remember a nostalgic hug that already felt like goodbye.
I remember moonrise under the glow of sunset on a New Zealand beach.
I remember meeting my colleagues for the very first time on a pretty terrace in Paris…
All these memories, all these moments, all these people…
So it doesn’t matter how long we spent together; a few days, a month, three months, a year, or more… And it doesn’t matter if we’re in touch every week, half-year, birthday or not at all. By sharing these little bits of travel with me, these people, from here and there, then and now, have marked a part of my life. They’ve made it more beautiful. And sometimes, I hope that in some way, I too have brought a little happiness to theirs.