Side-effects of traveling—and articles written about them—abound. However, not enough is said about the changes traveling brings to the way you connect with people. Friends and relationships will never be the same for those who have discovered the wonders of moving beyond borders and oceans.
Traveling has a way of introducing you to fascinating people while providing a myriad of opportunities to connect with them. Constantly changing scenery and embracing new experiences leads to accepting relationships as they come, for as long as they may last.
Although most of my traveling experiences have been solitary, plenty of the fondest memories involve people I’ve met on the road. Some of them I never saw again, and others will remain friends for life.
You see, the great thing about friends you meet while traveling is they don’t need constant FaceTime calls or updates about your life and whereabouts. They’re happy with knowing you’re on the other end of an occasional Facebook comment or Instagram Story reply. Yet, whenever you happen to be on their side of the world, they’ll gladly join you for a quick tour around it.
Traveling teaches you to live in the present, accepting it as it comes. The same goes for the people you meet.
Five years ago, I never would’ve imagined I’d end up spending a whole day with a Hare Krishna, a member of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). But a casual walk through a small hippie town in Brazil led me to meet Thiago, a 60-year-old craftsman who invited me for lunch at his place in the woods. We shared a meal, great conversations, and a bath in the nearby falls. I never saw him again, but that encounter remains one of the most particular and unforgettable ones I’ve ever had.
When you’re out on the road, every moment is cherishable. There is tremendous openness to everything, including human connections. There’s an understanding that the moments and experiences that make them are ever-fleeting.
My mom would be terrified to know I went into a stranger’s home for a cold beer one exhausting afternoon in Fez, Morocco. Still, the conversation we had before led me to accept the invitation. I can’t remember his name, but this Italian man of Moroccan ancestry entertained me with a private living room drag show. That story remains one of my favorites.
Turns out, the freedom and confidence you experience while traveling becomes addictive. And after a while, you’ll find it translates into every aspect of life. Once you come back home, the ease of befriending strangers remains; the eagerness for new experiences and the ability to laugh at misadventure becomes second nature.
Even if you only met them for a few hours, friends made while traveling always linger in memory. The shared experience of adventure, however brief, bonded you together.
You accept that the person you met on that long bus ride from Brussels to Berlin has a life completely separate from yours. Yet, you appreciate that fate placed you two next to another for 12 hours—which went by much faster thanks to great company.
Once you realize that borders are imaginary, every destination seems much more attainable.
Going back to that bus ride as an example, hearing your companion talk about their hometown or the places they traveled widens your worldview. Somewhere you never even knew existed is now home to a friend you remember dearly, and an excuse to visit suddenly appears.
When traveling Europe for the first time, I had difficulty planning my route. I’ve never been too eager for the must-sees. So instead, I decided to base my itinerary around visiting friends I’d met backpacking in Latin America. Knowing I had a couch to sleep in took me to a myriad of places I never would’ve expected. It made my trip more significant and personal than if I had decided to stick to what the travel blogs told me.
As a traveler, you’ve now figured out the world is your oyster, and no place seems too far away. Goodbyes don’t necessarily mean forever. The possibility of another encounter is barely a flight and some planning away.
There is no such thing as attachment. Traveling teaches you to enjoy the present and accept that sooner or later, you and your new friend(s) will continue your route and split ways. Yet, the memory remains, and hope for the possibility of running into each other again helps ease the goodbye.
After enough reencounters, I feel like traveling has given me a different sensation of time and space. The same friend I was dancing with at a festival on the coast of Colombia took me to their favorite club in Berlin a few years later, and it felt as if time hadn’t gone by at all.
Connections, however momentary or rare, have a way of clinging on through years and kilometers, thanks to the fact they were made while traveling. Once at home, you want to relive those moments with new strangers, and you seize any opportunity to do so.
Parting ways is no longer a tragedy. You learn to cherish that, in such a big wide world, you were lucky enough to share a path with a unique person for however long life allowed.
And on the note of fateful encounters, life-changing experiences, and adventure, hitchhiking is sure to provide all three. Read on about The Solo Female Traveler’s Guide to Hitchhiking to do it right and safely.