Prior to a trip, a lot of thought can go into who would make a good travelling companion. I’ve known best friends opt out of travelling together for fear that they wouldn’t gel whilst on the road. This fact makes it all the more interesting when considering the faith in their compatibility people put in strangers whilst on the road. Often people will meet in the bar of a hostel, perhaps spending one or two days together, discuss travel plans and realise they’re heading in the same direction. “Should we get the bus together?” And so it begins.
Friendships are formed quickly and often very intensely whilst travelling. Complete strangers go to being best friends in the space of days. All of a sudden you are spending every waking moment in the company of someone that just a few days ago was unknown to you. If you think about it, when was the last time you spent weeks, perhaps months, spending nearly all of your time in the company of one of your friends back home? You eat every meal together, take buses together, share rooms, see bizarre sights, ride elephants together, have profound and life changing experiences together. When was the last time you did that with a friend back home? In fact, some of my most frequently recounted memories have involved the company of “Nathan and Doobs, these two Aussie blokes we met in Puerto Escondido”, or something similar. This can bring you very close to someone very quickly, which is brilliant.
And what if it’s more than friendship? Coupling up whilst travelling happens frequently, especially amongst solo travellers. However getting to know someone whilst travelling is very different to your usual dating game. Whilst back in your home town, you might go on a date or two a week, getting to know people slowly. You want to look your best, come across well and dates tend to last the evening or a weekend. This is a stark contrast to how this works whilst on the road, which is much more honest and full on. The makeup goes out of the window, your imperfections and stresses are laid bare far faster than they would be normally. You’re not just meeting for brunch; you’re having breakfast, lunch and dinner with your new partner.
This is made all the more bizarre by the fact that when you say goodbye to these people who have touched your life so deeply whilst on the road, you then have to deal with them suddenly leaving and saying goodbye. Often plans are made to visit each other and meet again, but this rarely happens. The odd Facebook message may be exchanged down the line, but that can often be the end of it.
So you make the most of your shared experiences and then promptly move on to your new new best friend, and temporarily forget all about that funny German bloke you travelled through Bolivia with. But when you get home and go through your photos and are in tears laughing at some inside joke that no-one will ever possibly understand, you know that even if you never see that person again, you’ve got a friend for life. That’s something to hold on to.