One of the main reasons why some (especially women) tend to shy away from solo travel is because of close friendships cultivated back home.
“I’ll lose touch with my friends and they won’t remember me!”
Um, no. That’s not how it goes. It’s a two-way street, and a friendship doesn’t work unless both of you put in the concentrated effort.
Here are some of my personal thoughts on friendship in relation to long-term travel.
BFF: The Acronym Says it All, Best Friends Forever
Most girls have a BFF growing up (or two, three, or a million, depending on your zip code). My BFF is Victoria, my wonderful soul sister whom I’ve known for a whopping 23-24 years (I can’t remember if we met in 1996 or 1997, but now I’m just aging us).
We both turn 30 this year. Time flies. We’ve been friends longer than any other human I’ve known (aside from my parents).
And yes, while many people grow apart (welcome to adulthood), we never have. We’ve also never been in a fight (what is there to fight about? She’s literally my idol), and we have completely different interests (I wouldn’t drag her hiking with me, and she knows I don’t have a thing for succulents like she does), but we still have so much love for each other.
We did everything together. We went to Vegas, procrastinated in “study sessions,” worked on the Features page and as Managing Editors for our high school newspaper, chatted on AIM and MySpace, got way too excited when I finally got texting on my phone (I was late in the game), had matching Motorola Razr and LG enV phones, joined middle & high school band (and survived yearly band camp), had mechanical pencil collections that could supply an entire stationery store in Japan, were each other’s dates for Sadie Hawkins dances, endured braces and retainers at the same time, entered speech contests, went to a cat cafe together (despite her feline allergies, omg), went on our first massive trip together (that typical 8th grade D.C. trip), and were known as BFFs to both faculty and principals at our schools.
One of the first gifts I remember from her was a Laa-Laa Teletubby (her fave) keychain in 2nd grade, and I’m positive that I still have it at home, along with all her thank you notes and letters that I’d never throw out.
Through heartbreak, career uncertainties, FOMO, YOLO, and timezone differences, we’ve been through it all – and she’s always supported me 1000% with all of my endeavours (and vice versa). That’s what BFFs are for, right?
Sometimes, all a girl needs is that ONE core BFF that she knows she can trust, love, and be supported by… for life. Despite most likely being based in Australia from hereon out, I’ll always find ways to be connected to my absolute rock.
The Friends Who Matter Always Support You
Before I became a long-term expat, I also figured out fast who my true friends were. There were situations of note: 1) When I worked at Disney and random people just wanted to get signed in for free, and 2) when I struggled with an eating disorder in high school and had to learn who actually supported me and cared about my well-being.
Relatedly, when you move away and your communication is limited to sporadic messages across opposite timezones, you learn that only your true friends will support you.
And that’s 100% okay. In fact, it’s scientifically proven to be healthier and more meaningful to have a few close friends rather than a plethora of watered-down friendships that aren’t as deep or impactful. Quality over quantity.
I used to think of myself as a social butterfly when I worked at Disney (2011-2013). I had tons of friends, went out of my way to mingle at career mixers and networking events every week, and I never made time for myself. My calendar was always full.
And then I moved to New Zealand… and a whole different hemisphere.
My friendships whittled down to ones that could be counted on one hand, and I still only message 1-3 close friends from California. And I’m happy with that.
I have the best friends in the world, and I value them all. As you grow older, it becomes harder to nurture friendships and stay in touch (especially if you’re an expat), so the importance of having your solid “girl friend network” is crucial.
If one of your “friends” doesn’t support you when you want to start your own business, they’re probably dealing with their own fear of failure and thus not acting as a true friend to you. Be cognisant of the people you surround yourself with, since your time is precious (especially as an adult). No one should be dealing with negative energy in an already turbulent year.
You’ll Make Friends Wherever You Are
Regardless of your personality type, you’re bound to make friends with people on the road. It’s just human nature.
I’ve connected with countless people while staying in hundreds of hostels, working on ships, going to random meetups, and via friends of friends. With technology and apps nowadays, it’s also even easier to meet people – there’s literally no excuse. Everything is done for you.
Some think it’s lonely to travel alone. I counter that statement with this: you only feel “lonely” if you don’t make an effort to meet new people first.
I suggest groups like Nomadic Network, run by Nomadic Matt, which connects thousands of travellers worldwide through region-specific chapters. There are tons of free Facebook groups like Budget Travel Babes that also connect female travelers from all over the world.
Check out this article for more app recommendations to meet other fellow travelers.
Distance Means Little
“Distance means so little when someone means so much.”
Yeah, that quote is cheesy. But it resonates. Your friends are constantly busy; they never won’t be. Working, planning a wedding, raising kids (and teaching them at home), buying a house, cooking, reading for self-improvement and education, juggling well-being with appropriate fitness, cleaning and household chores, etc.
In short, everyone is extremely busy in their own lives. When a friendship is strong and genuine, you both will mutually set aside time to schedule a video chat or call (regardless of distance).
It’s rare that your closest friends will live next door to you (this sadly isn’t uni anymore), so technically, everyone is separated to some extent. Throw a global pandemic in the mix, and now almost everyone is forced to communicate through phones and computer screens.
However, distance should never be a barrier between you and your closest friends. If you’re struggling or need a shoulder to lean on, reach out. That’s what friends are for.
With Travel Comes Open-Mindedness & Cultural Awareness
Similar to some of my points above, when you travel, you become more open-minded and culturally aware (and hopefully respectful). On ships, we worked with over 75 nationalities onboard, and I’m positive that I know people from every country/region on earth (sans Antarctica and Greenland, although I know people who have been to both).
This is a lesson that carries heavy significance (now more than ever), especially with the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement that reverberated through every single country in the world.
One of the beauties of travel is connecting to various cultures and people who have different customs and ways of life. It humbles you in ways that you don’t even realise until you reflect upon your experiences with much gratitude.
When you make friends around the world, you can always reconnect and ask to meet up for a coffee when you’re in someone’s home country. In most cases, it’ll be like no time has passed, which is the true beauty of international friendships.
You Should Always Make Time for Friends
It’s common knowledge that you should always make time for your friends. “I don’t have time” is simply a cop-out excuse, and frankly, complete rubbish.
There is always time for friends. If you don’t think there is, you’re saying that your friends don’t matter enough to you (get out of that mindset right now).
My BFF (Victoria) and I are extremely terrible about sticking to our plans, but it’s literally our thing. We meet up no matter what, but we’ve definitely become the type of people who like to go with the flow rather than schedule things months in advance.
We’ve bailed on each other (mutually!) and when one of us texts that we’re extremely tired and probably won’t make it tonight, the other replies, “Oh thank goodness, I was thinking the same thing. Raincheck for next week?”
And we always reschedule and meet up when our schedules align. It’s just who we are.
My point is: Communicate, be flexible, and show your friends that you care by reaching out to them and keeping in touch. It doesn’t have to be daily or even weekly, but in unprecedented times like 2020, it means more than ever just to check in with someone that you love.
Without your friends, you aren’t the strongest version of yourself. Plain and simple.
Memories Last a Lifetime
I could spend hours going through all of my photos and reminiscing on past memories with friends. Thanks to various jobs and the power of smartphones and cloud storage, I’ve had the fortune of immortalising all my memories with friends that I’ve made in virtually every corner of the world.
Your friend groups will undoubtedly change over time, and that’s also okay. It will never lessen the meaning of that particular friendship.
I’ve always thought about certain memories in our lives as “chapters” for our personal and professional growth.
After all, it’s never about the region itself – it’s always about the people. The people you’ve cultivated and maintained friendships with over the years will truly make a difference, so cherish and respect the fond memories.
Whether you can relate to this article from studying or moving abroad, or just bouncing around the world while sporadically visiting home (i.e. me), your friends mean everything.
Always remember that you’ll always be able to make friends around the world when you travel, but nurture the friendships you have from back home as well – they’re most likely the people who have supported and encouraged you throughout your wild journeys.
It costs nothing to be kind and show gratitude, so be mindful of this on a daily basis.
This article is dedicated to Victoria, my BFF who turns 30 today.
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