We just got back from what was my fourth visit to Argentina in 10 years, to celebrate the wedding of the friend I met and travelled with from Quito, Ecuador to the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia in mid 2004.
It’s funny how travel friendships are solidified. Emily and I met sharing a hostel dorm in Quito after I’d spent a week studying Spanish there. She was at the very beginning of her 18 month South America, New Zealand, Australia and South-East Asia trip and I had already spent four months travelling in the US, Brazil, Northern Peru and Ecuador. We both had the same vague plan and decided to travel together for as long as we could stick it out. Two and a bit months and the addition of another travel buddy later, we parted ways with sad hugs and promises to keep in touch as she went to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile and I went back into Bolivia to make my way to Paraguay.
Little did we know that that was just the beginning of a long-standing friendship as when I returned to Australia I met up with Emily twice and then she came to live with me in my hometown for a bit. Five years passed before we saw each other again when I took my mum on a trip to Latin America which included visiting Emily as she had moved to Buenos Aires with her Argentinian boyfriend.
Another two years later, mi novio and I stopped in to visit them in Buenos Aires on our way back to Colombia. Leaving our two boyfriends to speak Spanish together, we laughed and joked about how we never would have imagined that we would both end up living in South America with Latino boyfriends. It was just too many stars aligned.
We are now just two months away from the 10 year anniversary of when Emily and I met and I know we’ll be friends forever. That meeting at the Posada del Maple in Quito and that first daytrip to the Otavalo markets was the beginning of this long-standing friendship that has withstood a lot of distance and dozens of home bases.
As I am a travel buddy from far-off lands, I hadn’t met any of Emily’s family or friends and her wedding was the perfect opportunity to meet them. Her family greeted me like some kind of adopted daughter they’d never met and her friends were all so fun and friendly and also eager to meet her South American travel buddy they’d heard about. It was the most perfect experience and we got to spend a few days together with her family and friends where they became my friends too.
It got me thinking about what is the secret of travel friendship longevity. I have quite a few friends on Facebook from that year of travel in 2004 and I love to see what they’re up to and how their lives have changed in the past decade. Those that I’m not in touch with via Facebook, I still think about as I recall my travels and the many wonderful experiences I had. So much so that one of them could contact me out of the blue saying they will be in Colombia and I would go out of my way to help them or offer them a place to stay.
If I had to explain what makes a travel friendship work in the long-term I guess it’s similar to my thoughts on making a long-distance relationship work – you have to plan to meet up again. Once you see a travel buddy outside of your trips, you are more likely to maintain closer contact with them. If they visit you or you visit them, you have additional shared experiences together in a more homely, real-world setting, and your stories span multiple time periods and give you more of a platform for the friendship.
It’s also important the amount of time you spent travelling with someone. The more time you spend together on the road, the better you get to know someone, and the more you know about a person, the greater the connection and the friendship will start to bloom as the connection is more emotional and less geographic. If you only have a short amount of time travelling together, but you maintain that friendship with numerous visits or phone calls, that will also help preserve the friendship beyond the life of your passport.
There’s something about travel that helps you to open up and share things with people that you might not normally do. Perhaps this is because we may never have to see them again, or perhaps it’s the conviviality of a mish-mash of people all just trying to get by in a foreign country where they feel at sea in a small lifeboat. Sharing the experience is what bonds you, but sharing more of you is what helps bind you to others.
One of the things I’ve found has helped cement my friendship with Emily and others that I’ve met on the road, in addition to the above-mentioned, is that we don’t live in the past. While we have wonderful shared experiences of the road and of course those stories come up regularly, that’s not all we have because we are interested in what our friends are doing now. These friendships live in the present and we have the expectation that they will continue into the future regardless of if we communicate frequently or not. Like any good, true friendship, time nor distance do not diminish the friendship.
Do you have any long-standing travel friendships? How have you kept these friendships alive post travel?