Finding Life Long Friendships

By Nomadic Matt | Published May 31st, 2011

friends in paris black and whiteI hadn’t seen Paul and Jane in over four years.

The three of us met on the island of Ko Lipe in Thailand in 2006 – a place we loved so much, we stayed a month. The three of us became close friends in that time. By the end, it was as though we had known each other for years. However, with my visa expiring, I had to leave. Yet, as I left the island, Paul and Jane made me promise to visit them in New Zealand. It was something I could easily do.

Four years later I finally arrived in New Zealand. Despite the amount of time that had passed, when I saw them, it was as though there hadn’t been any time between us. All the jokes and mutual understanding we had formed on Lipe was still there.

I often feel that the “rawness” of travel can lead to instant lifelong friends. You meet someone once and, in an instant, feel like you’ve known them for years. As fellow travelers, we already have common bonds that make friendship between us more likely. That doesn’t mean we all become the best of friends, of course, but I think traveling removes all our baggage and our history that we often carry around.

My journeys through the world have made me many close and lifelong friends. People from La Tomatina. Friends from Ios. Friends like Paul and Jane. Friends from my time in Bangkok. Friends who I haven’t seen in years but send me invitations to their wedding.

group dinner in ko lipe

And friends like Erik and Anne. I met them while I was in Bruges in 2009. We spent a few days tasting good Belgium beer and hit it off so well that we ended up going to Amsterdam together for a week. I saw them a few months later when I stopped in Copenhagen, but since then hadn’t seen nor spoken to them much. We got caught up in our lives.

Yet now I’m leaving Copenhagen, having just spent the last 5 days with them. Just like with Paul and Jane, it was as though Erik, Anne and I had never been apart. The conversation flowed as easily and rapidly as it did back in 2009. We picked up right as though time had frozen our friendship just as it was two years ago.

I don’t know how many people I’ve met during the last five years of travel. Too countless to begin to guess. Since you meet so many people on the road, it’s hard to keep up with all of them, especially the further away you get from your travels. Even with the best intentions, messages can fade as separate lives begin to be led.

group dinner in ko lipe

But sometimes you meet a Paul and Jane. Or an Erik and Anne. Or a Joel. Or a Matt. Or a Nick. Or countless others. And it doesn’t matter how long it’s been since the last time you saw them. Time just can’t break that bond you have. It may be months or years but whenever it is, you pick up right where you left off.

And that is the greatest gift I think travel gives to us.

comments 23 Comments

So very true! What we share in such moments is so special that it somehow bonds us closer in no time. I wonder though if our “internal space” kinda fills up after a bit. Inherently, by going back to see old friends, we are taking time off from making new ones…

That’s interesting because I’ve kinda had the opposite experience. Whenever I return from a trip, the brief friendships I made there start to drift away. We may stay in touch online for a while but that always fades. I wonder if this is because I don’t stay in one place for very long, so I don’t get to connect with people for long enough periods of time.

I met two of my best friends on a backpacking trip around Europe when I was 19. I walked up to them under the Eiffel Tower and introduced myself (traveling does make you bold like that). Eleven years later they were both in my wedding party. And we have such a ‘romantic’ story to tell about how we all met.

I was just thinking about the same thing! I am going to leave Mexico in 6 days and I will never forget all the friends I made here during the last 3 months. Let’s see which ones can survive the time and the distance! But definitely the best friends will do.

Dorian

@Crazy sexy fun traveler,

Hope you guys keep in touch….. I have never been anywhere long enough to establish a relationship where I would truly miss somebody. That’s awesome that you have build that foundation. Good Luck

Dorian

Michelle

I love bonds like these…. it what makes traveling so special!

Michelle

it’s**

Id say I’ve had the same experience as you – have some close friends I met years ago on the road, and some that while we were so close at the time, slowly drift away…its sad! I wish I had more time to keep up with everyone, but its hard when everyone has their own busy lives…i guess thats the beauty of social networking though!

memorable journey with friends in pic

True friends no matter how brief the encounter (on your travels) will always be there whether you have spoken to them every day since you met or you meet again after several years. It is the experiences that you shared when you were together that will keep a bond when you are apart. My plan is to one day have a giant party and invite all of the crazy amazing people I have ever met and get as many in one place for a catch up as I can! You can come if you like and bring Erik, Paul Jayne and the gang :-)

One of my favorite things about traveling is the people I meet. Social networking like Facebook and Twitter makes it even easier (neither of which even existed when I set off on my first trip!). I’ve met up with people again years after first meeting when I’ve visited them in their hometowns and I’ve hosted several here in Chicago. I think there’s something about meeting friends when traveling that just creates a stronger, faster bond than meeting people at home – you’re sharing a unique experience together, sometimes over a short period of time, and likely spending more time together all at once than you do with folks back home.

When I was traveling in Spain, one of the best encounters I ever had was a couple we met in Canada – Max and Anna. At breakfast in Ronda, we talked for 2 hours. We’ve kept in touch intermittently but I would have no hesitation reaching out to them when I make it to Calgary. Not only is making life long friends (or even temporary ones) fun, it makes the travel experience, wherever you are, that much better!

I would love to begin and cultivate a lifelong friendship like that. I usually travel with my daughter and we tend to be insular….mostly because we’re introverts, but I want to change that. I will be traveling to Sedona by my lonesome and I will be forced to interact with others which is a good thing as I look forward to putting myself out there and meeting some really great people.

Totally agree with you. I met a few of these “Paul and Jane” types while traveling for 7 months last year. Brad and Chelsea (http://driftinduo.com) certainly fit in that bucket. I haven’t seen them since September in Valencia for La Tomatina, but I consider them life friends…and fully expect to see them again somewhere on the travel trail soon.

completely agree, its an amazing and different way to find long term friends!

bruin

this article just made me so teary eyed. best quote: “I often feel that the “rawness” of travel can lead to instant lifelong friends.” amen.

Andrew Wanner

So very true – all of this! I have taught in Korea, Japan, India, Saudi Arabia, and Taiwan. I’ve now been to 37 countries outside the USA. Every place, every memory has its own brand of special. And some of the closest friends I’ve ever made have been while travelling!

Ditto…I met a bunch of great folks on an overland Morocco trip. Visited them in London a few months later, then went to their wedding, they came to mine, they visited us in Japan with their two kids, my wife visited them in London recently…Another friend from the same trip moved to Hong Kong with her then boyfriend (now husband). When living in Saudi Arabia I routed myself thru HK enroute to Japan to visit my wife, and always spent a few days with them. She and her husband came to Tokyo the same time that the other friends were visiting us, so we had an incredible, improbable reunion. While punctuated by lots of time, the friendships are solid as ever! I think it’s the shared experience that you have. Sort of a “band of brothers” thing without (hopefully) someone shooting at you.

I’m traveling through the UK right now and meeting up with all the friends I made in Asia over two years ago. It’s such an amazing feeling to know there are people all over the world who’s arms you can fall into after a long journey!

I completely agree! I went to Stockholm to visit a friend who I hadn’t seen in 3 three years since we worked together in London and we picked up right where we left off.

NomadicMatt

It’s wonderful isn’t it!

True true true!
I have friends in India and Sweden and Azerbaijan that I feel closer to than my friends back in America. And I would go back to their countries just to visit em again..and yes, wedding invitations are completely normal!
I’m super thrilled I found your site! Eases my homesickness for the road..even as it makes it worse ;)

NomadicMatt

I’m glad I can help and not help at the same time.

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