My suggestion to people under the age of 30 has been to spend the younger years of your adult life exploring, learning and filling it with as much travel as you can afford. Then again, I’m biased. I spent over two decades traveling the world and I turned travel into a virtual way of life. I put away my suitcase for a more conventional life a few years ago but I still fondly recount the days of charting parts unknown. Most importantly, though, I’m so grateful for the deep and meaningful friendships that I made through the course of those years.
My traveling adventures began with a guided tour in the Perastroika-era Soviet Union (the first and last tour-led experience I’ve ever had) and shortly thereafter, with a 6-month gig in 1990 teaching English in the newly democratized Czechoslovakia. Those early experiences marked me for life, altogether in the best way possible, and they changed the way I saw at the world. Of all the things I took away from the years that followed, the deepest and most rewarding element has been the people that I met along the way and the connections that traveling enabled me to create.
The friendships that I’ve made from traveling are the deepest ones that I’ve had in my life. Travel had a profound, expansive and transformative impact on me. It gave me a shared perspective and a common outlook on the world with those fellow travelers that I met along the way. The people that I shared that journey with have been a great asset, as they enriched those experiences and helped me interpret them for myself.
Traveling surely builds friendships just as it tests and refines friendships. Not all travel experiences are fun and games and that’s where the real growth takes place. Travel in a new place and a foreign culture was often stressful. Dropping into a new country where I struggled to navigate the simplest daily tasks could be stressful. Finding my way and getting around on a shoestring or a student’s budget presented its own set of challenges, which was frequently stressful. Learning to let go of my expectations of what an experience ‘should’ be like was similarly stressful. All of this ‘stressy-ness’ provided a great workshop for burgeoning friendships.
My experience is that my friendships which came through the fire-kiln of world-travel are as solid as bricks and they last just as long. I love the fact that many of those friendships from my early travel days have become life-long connections. When I reunite with those friends we simply resume the conversation and amend it with the more recent milestones of our lives. These days I also really appreciate having a global network of long-time friendships that I can drop in on, catch up with and reflect on what life has taught us. The travel experiences that we shared together gives us a common framework and understanding of one another that has provided a great basis for a genuine connection.
One such friend of mine once reflected on such travel-connections, saying: ‘The World is round! People come into your life, they leave and then they come back again!’ It was such a clever and truthful thing to say about those deep friendships that she and I made while traveling the world.
From my own reflections, here are a few take-away thoughts for fellow adventurers and globe-trotters who seek like-minded friendships:
- Be open to what you experience while traveling with other people. Know that the journey will probably be a lot different than you expect, and take joy in the surprises. It will teach you the virtues of flexibility and learning to live in the moment.
- Know that when you’re traveling with other people you will have different interests and different opinions. Allow those differences to flourish and be willing to occasionally agree to disagree, or spend time apart for a while. Your experience and friendships will be richer for it.
- Embrace the bumps in the road that you are experiencing together. Accept these as the gift of growth, especially when it’s difficult to do so at the time. These are the makings of great stories and great friendships. You’ll later recount these together and it’s likely that others will marvel at what an amazing journey you must have shared.