There’s this quote about looking for love that you’ll have seen on some meme somewhere, probably shared by your strange aunty on Facebook. It goes: “I’m not looking for Mr Right, I’m looking for Mr Right Now.” Cringe-worthy, sure, but it’s a sentiment that celebrates the fact that not all relationships or connections need to be life-long promises of devotion. Now, apply this to the travel friends you’ve met on the road. It totally rings true, right? Generally, when you’re travelling, you’re in a constant state of flux so it doesn’t really matter if the people you meet are friends forever or friends for right now.
Whether it’s connecting with a stranger you have nothing in common with in an electricity-free beach shack somewhere in Colombia, or joining forces with a friend you meet on the road to tackle a four-month South America trip, the people you meet on your travels can offer a totally different version of friendship. They might not walk in your wedding, but they’ll be by your side as your experience the other best day of your life – when you reached the top of that completely punishing mountain or partied ‘til dawn in Barcelona. Here’s what travel friends can offer you that not even your dedicated lifelong best friends can.
1. A fresh slate
Ever noticed how social circles in inner cities seem to intersect like a stacks-on Venn diagram? You add a new pal and notice you have 50 mutual Facebook friends. Suddenly, your new friend doesn’t seem so new. This isn’t the case with travel friends, who often come from the literal opposite side of the planet, with only your six degrees to Kevin Bacon to connect you. They don’t know about that embarrassing thing you did at that party last week, let alone that thing you did in pre-school, like your lifelong besties do. Travel friends offer a totally clean slate on which you can lay out the fruit of your friendship like the prize that it is, completely free of expectations.
2. An open mind
Whereas choosing friends in your hometown might restrict you to those people who have the same hobbies or – realistically – frequent the same dive bars as you, you don’t really have that luxury when you’re on the road. Really, all you have to go by before saying “hey” is their choice of destination and their travel wear. At the end of the day, though, if a stranger is inviting you to sit down and play cards with them at a hostel, and you’re not a dick, you’re likely to do it, regardless of if they’re into the same stuff as you. That sort of judgement goes out the window when you’re out of your comfort zone, meaning that it’s easier to be exposed to people with different views or life-experiences to you. This can be a seriously eye-opening thing, and a beautiful one too.
3. A new audience
Recognise this? You’re having a conversation with your mate, you start telling them this hilarious related story, you get to the punchline, expecting them to be bent over in laughter – only for them to say that you’ve told that story to them at least three times already. Maybe even this week. Well, you don’t have that problem with travel friends. To them, you’re an entirely new human, full of brand new, bespoke experiences and stories; whether it’s that same hilarious tale from above or even just hostel advice for the destination they’re headed to that you just left. They won’t be bored by your stories because they’re a totally new audience. Crowd-please away.
4. A judgement-free zone
You’ve no doubt read enough horoscopes, or done enough Myer Briggs personality tests, or been told about your personailty traits by those people closest to you to have a pretty good idea of who you are by now. But sometimes the obsession with typifying or categorising can make you feel like you’re trapped in a nutshell, especially when the people around you have a set idea of how you act in their mind. But remember, travel friends don’t know you at all. This grants you a special freedom and a hall pass from personality jail – you can act however you want and your new pals won’t know it’s out of the ordinary. If you’re a Sensible Susan at home, you can be ~wild’n’free~ around them without raising any eyebrows. Go on, live a little.
5. A unique canvas
The glue of your friendships at home might be small things – say,Game Of Thrones on the couch and $10 schnitzel-and-trivia night at the pub – but after a while, these bonding experience all blend into one big, lovely, warm and fuzzy thing you label “NORMAL LIFE”. With travel friends, you’re painting on a unique canvas from the get-go, which can lead to pretty intense bonding. The things and places you experience together are so removed from your day-to-day life that they’re almost frozen in time. You’re on this totally grand adventure. You’re making memories. You’re making the most of it. Together. Your friendship with your travel friend is completely distinct and – yes – even special, in a way that a weekly bottle of wine and Netflix just isn’t.
6. A natural conclusion
“I didn’t come here to make friends” is a statement that most reality TV show stars seem to be contractually obliged to say on camera. It also rings true for travel, but in a completely non-jerky way. While the connections you make on the road are inevitably a huge part of your trip, they’re rarely the main motivator for booking your adventure. At the end of the day, they are like the bonus stage in Super Mario Brothers 2; it’s not why you play, but the rewards sure are nice.
If you didn’t travel to make friends, but then you do, what you end up with is a series of high-impact, low-effort connections that reach a natural conclusion when you part ways for your next country or hostel. Anyone who has ever ended a real life friendship knows how draining that can be, but with travel friends, there’s no need to “fade out” the friendship or “let life get in the way”. Travel friendship expectations are beautifully, almost comically low. Just add them to Facebook, promise them a couch when they’re next in your town and part ways with only the fond memories of the fragment of time you spent together.