Backpackers and students travel for lots of reasons. One of the primary, seemingly universal reason is to meet cool people, new friends, companions, have new relationships, possibly even get more serious in a romance or two. We travel to expand our awareness of life through these relationships. This is the prime side benefit of travel that is, in itself, so very important.
I have many great memories, and I’ve acquired a range of meaningful personal benefits as a result of my travels. Alas, these days when I’m back home, at times I do feel nostalgic for past times on the road. What always really sticks with me are the friendships I made while out there. Some may be content to endlessly pour over the pictures they took while travelling, or look at postcards of places they visited, and all this has its merit but I prefer to spend my time catching up with those in my international friendship circle. I enjoy emailing and reading emails from distant friends I met while travelling, and I admit that I even like to just look through my social network news feed and see what’s going on with my friends around the world.
Of course, making friends while travelling doesn’t come naturally to everyone. So let’s talk about why it’s so important to set up connections with others while you travel, including those you may never see or speak with again.
Combating the Loneliness Factor
Paradoxically, travel can be a lonely activity. This is always true, even those who travel with friends will find quiet moments of isolation and melancholy from time to time, but those who choose to travel alone will experience this loneliness to a deeper degree than they ever experienced back home.
Even if you’re travelling to escape home, even if you’re trying to unplug from the life and the relationships you held back home, even if you want to be alone most of the time you’re travelling, you will still have moments when you feel so separated from those you know and love that you will have days where you will feel like you’re the only person in the world. During those times you will need to fall back on your ability to make quick, nourishing friendships with whomever you find around you.
You never know whom you’re going to meet while travelling, and you never know where life will take you in the future.
While I’ve enjoyed staying in touch with several travel friends that I will probably never see again in my life, I’ve also been surprised by how many people I’ve met while travelling that have become permanent or semi-permanent connections in my life. These are people who had become good friends and companions while travelling. As time went by, we went our separate ways. I’ve met others that, in turn, become important new friends in my life.
Thus, this continuous process of meeting new and interesting people who form a bond and become friends is a progression that builds an international circle of friends.
I learned to never assume that travel friendships will be as fleeting as they may seem at the moment. Not every relationship is going to develop into something particularly deep and lasting. But all of those relationships that take hold are worth developing. They are often unpredictable, sometimes they are a transitory companion, a brief romantic liaison, or a mate to hang-out with, to tour the town and party with.
- I met a girl backpacker in Copenhagen who was a uni (university) student in London. In fact, we very soon discovered that she had graduated from a high school near to where I was raised in Manchester. Later that trip, I stayed with her in London, saving me a small fortune in London’s excessive hostel fees. A year later, we both separately relocated to Rome. There we discovered each other and began the pleasant habit of hanging out a couple of times a year. Sometimes, we would go on a joint, brief holiday together, mostly to Lugano, Switzerland. Lugano is an incredibly beautiful town where by brother conveniently owns a villa.
- I met a Dutch backpacker in Madrid through an old friend of mine who was teaching English in Spain. I only hung out with this new friend once in Madrid, but then he took a 3-month work-placement in Rome the following summer. We then got together and we discovered we had many things in common. So not only did we become close friends during that time, but through him I met other Netherlanders and Spaniards working and studying in the city, who have since become good friends as well.
Why am I giving these examples?
Am I just trying to brag about the many friendship connections still pervading my life? Well, that’s not my primary goal. I do want to illustrate the way the kind of seemingly casual or incidental friendships you make while travelling can grown and evolve in many ways. Some friendships are predictable while others are unexpected.
This means the value of learning how to make friends while travelling goes well beyond simply having a fail-safe to fall back on during those moments you feel lonely.
Travel Forges a Predisposition to Making Friends
When you travel out of the country, out of your cocoon or safe-zone, you are in a very different and new environment. You are in a very different mindset where you are psychologically open to new possibilities.
The loneliness factor you feel naturally allows you to weaken any social hesitation you may normally have and minimizes self-consciousness to a remarkable degree. The result is you can make friends faster and easier. This is because you and your fellow travellers are both eager to accept new friends, both at the same time! This is quite significant.
Thus, a backpacking jaunt to Europe or wherever is truly a learning situation that can lead you naturally to self-improvement. It lends itself to improving your social skills, and you will learn to lose self-doubt and naturally gain the inner fortitude to be more assertive and confident in making friends with the people you prefer, both during your trip and then when you return home.
When the Self Gets In the Way
In reality, it is the most natural thing to make friends while travelling abroad.
Those who feel especially anxious about saying “hello” to strangers and starting a conversation, or if they feel they can’t bring themselves to go out with others in their hostel, then there is a mental block that is in the way. It is my opinion that if this is true with you, seek professional help. It is best to get rid of such a hindrance now, before you leave home on a trip. This will enable you to interact freely, and you will feel the most incredible liberation. I would suggest hypnotherapy provided by a professional hypnotherapist is relatively inexpensive and it has a track record for being highly successful. Usually one or two visits is all that you will need..
Trudging Down the Road
Travelling offers a great setting to work on social skills. In a travel environment there are no lasting negative consequences if you make some sort of nasty faux pas, and there is so incredibly much a gain. It is actually the perfect training ground for social experimentation.
While the outcome of successfully making friends while travelling are often expansive and unpredictable, the blowback from messing up while trying to befriend locals and fellow travellers will be non-existent. This is due to the transitory nature of travel. If you really embarrass yourself and make a gnarly disaster out of a situation, no worries- no one you know at home will see it happen or even hear about it. Unless, of course, you tell them. Hence, you’ll leave any possible negative impact behind you when you move on.
Overall, making friends while travelling is worthwhile because it’s one of the best ways to enable self-improvement in the social skills necessary to successfully interact with others. This is true while you are travelling and when you return home. Travel offers a unique wealth of benefits that will make you a happier person, benefits you’ll later think you can’t live without.