Let's face it... stability is not a strong suite for most travelers. We prefer uncertainty and never knowing where we are going to be a month from now. And 95% of the time it's great. We are open to adventure and we throw ourselves fearlessly into whatever opportunities life hands us. But then there's that 5% of the time... and that's the 5% that causes us to sigh and look longingly out the airplane window as we fly to god-knows-where.
Because friendship is hard when you don't live anywhere
I've met countless amazing people along the road. But that's the problem... I can't count them. According to a New Yorker article published a few years back, we can't really have more than 150 casual friends, 50 close friends, 15 best friends, and 5 super-best friends. While I think these numbers are fairly arbitrary, I think the argument is valid. I might have a lot of love to give, but I can't give it to everyone at the same time or else no one is really getting anything much at all.
Friendships tend to be based on shared experiences. Where you live, where you work, what you do in your spare time... that kind of stuff. But when you are a traveler, you share experiences with just about everyone. And not silly, irrelevant experiences, but powerful, life-changing ones that bond you beyond what you realized was possible. Whenever I leave a country I leave with a handful of new friends that mean the world to me and I usually convince myself that I will stay close to those people no matter where we both go.
But not every friendship can withstand the strain of distance
Whether I like it or not (and I don't) the vast majority of the people I have met on my travels I haven't spoken with since. Then there's the handful that I send a Facebook message or Snapchat to from time to time, but our connection is surface-level at best. Then there's the special few who I text/skype with regularly and make an effort to see, whether I'm visiting them or vice versa.
It's no one's fault, it's just the reality of life. When you don't live in the same area, it's hard to stay close. You are both busy with your own lives and all your shared experiences live in the past. Very few friendships of mine have withstood my constant motion and it amazes me how strong my bond with those few people is even when I only see them once a year.
So what is the point of travel friends if most of them don't last?
It's embarrassing how often I used to ask myself this, but not unsurprising. After my first few times sitting on a plane knowing I would never see those people again I started to get really depressed. What was the point of meeting all these people and putting so much effort into bonding with those people if I was never going to see them again??
It took a few more trips for me to find the answers. Because there are answers. And lots of them. In fact, I could talk forever about all the great things that have come from the people I've met while traveling. But for your sake, I'll keep it short.
First of all, there's so much to learn. Every single person you meet knows something you don't. They have experienced something you haven't and see something in the world that you don't. The more people you open yourself up to, the more you let in, the more you will learn. I can't remember who told me what or when I learned which lessons, but I know a massive amount of who I am today is because who I've met throughout my travels.
And then there's the fun. Let's face it, life is so sad and boring when you don't have people to share it with. I would love it if all my friends wanted to gallivant around the world with me but the fact is most people aren't as attracted to the traveler's life as I am (or have convinced themselves it is impossible). So I travel alone. And I love it, but I would love it a lot less if I didn't make friends everywhere I go. As a solo, female, young traveler with a panic disorder the world can be a big, scary place. But it becomes a lot smaller and less scary when you have people by your side... even if you've only known those people for a day.
I could write hundreds of books about the memories I've made and the wild things I've done around the world. They would all feature different people, different places, and different experiences but there is one thing that would remain the same: the friends I've made along the way have shaped, defined, and influenced every single moment of every single trip I've ever taken. Without them, I would just be a lonely girl strolling through a bunch of foreign streets.
Yes, it is sad to say goodbye knowing I will likely never see someone again. But I don't get as sad when I say goodbye anymore. Because I know one of two things will happen. One: we grow apart. We don't talk or we talk less and it's sad, but it's okay, because years from now I will still do things and think certain ways because of the time I spent with that person. And I'll be better because of what they taught me. Or they'll be amongst that magic number. One of those 5, 15, 50, or 150 friends that really stick. And for years to come I'll think about how much plainer my life would be if I had closed myself off to that person just because I was afraid of the inevitable goodbye.