I 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 were 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.
And friends like Erik and Anne. I met them while I was in Bruges in 2009. We spent a few days tasting good Belgian 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 own lives.
Yet now I’m leaving Copenhagen, having just spent the last five 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, communication can fade as separate lives begin to be led.
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.