A Little Facebook…Friends for Life, or Friends for Now?

Last updated on August 6, 2010

“Safe travels! You’ve got my Facebook details so we can keep in touch – you have a couch if you ever make it to Florida!”

Heart Over Angkor Wat Sunset

And just like that a new friend has come and gone. At the parting, my new friend scurries off with her backpack strapped to her back, ready for the next hostel, the next hike, sightseeing tour, the next group of backpackers waiting at the next hostel.

I’ll probably never lay eyes on her again and within a couple of months we probably won’t even talk on Facebook either. It sounds so pessimistic but it’s the truth.

Facebook has transformed communication; I have friends all over the world – people with whom I have just clicked. We meet, travel together sometimes for weeks at a time, and then our paths diverge and we often head to opposite sides of the planet.

And some of these friends stick. It clicked on both sides and I count them among my actual and true friends…more than just a potential couch when I pass through, we care.

But then there’s the others. We bond over sometimes intense events – the worst rainstorm the Australian Outback had seen in years floods the roads, we’re wet, dirty and tired but it’s all a part of the grand adventure and we take it in stride and we take it together.

Shoe Photo!
Louise and I met up in Cuba after Volunteering in Nepal Together!

Popping the Question

I’ve met those handful of chagrined backpackers; they’ve been on the road for years and they’re not handing out their Facebook profiles to just anyone. The first month of my round the world trip I was in Australia, there I am a fresh faced and newbie solo traveler meeting up with a fun trio of friends who had been on the road for 18 months. After a couple days of sightseeing and drinks on the town I was ready to commit to BFFs for life – let’s trade details and see where this goes.

And the trio said no.

I mean, they actually said ‘no!’

“No, it’s nothing personal but we just don’t really ‘friend’ people very often, you know what we mean, right.”

I was horrified! Absolutely horrified. Is there something wrong with me?! Why don’t they want to be my friend? Am I that person, the pity person you hang with but don’t actually like…the thoughts raced through my head but I shrugged it off with a tight-lipped smile and a flippant, “Oh yeah, I get ya, hah, yeah, good plan.”

And it wasn’t until later, months down the line when I got it.

These backpacking friendships are unique. I haven’t gone through six years of school with these friends, they don’t know my life story – they’re my backpacking friends – great for a day of hiking to that nearby mountain but it doesn’t have to be more than that. I don’t have to friend every single person I eat lunch with on the road.

But Facebook allows a traveler the unique opportunity to hang on, linger in a friendship that maybe could have happily remained ephemeral and instead the friendship will go through mournful bleeps that fade slowly, like the beeping of a dying heart monitor affixed to our Facebook friendship.

First we comment on each other’s status madly, hoping that our paths again will cross while we’re both in the region.

Then it peters down to the occasional “like.”

Pretty soon the friendship has come and gone; we hide each other’s updates from our news feed and start the process with the next batch of friends.

Train Outside of Melbourne
Row Couchsurfed with me in LA and I surfed with him months later in Melbourne!

To Friend or Not to Friend?

I love meeting people. And unlike that Australian backpacking trio, I would never say no because I truly love the connections. Although I may not actively communicate with all of these new friends in three months time, who knows, perhaps our paths will cross again.

Just last week, out of the blue a backpacking friend I met on a day tour in Slovenia Facebook-messaged me about my volunteering experience in Nepal. We don’t actively Facebook each other anymore, but she’s there. And she’s sweet and I know that if I ever do make it to Bath she’s the first I’ll message. And how could either of us have known that more than a year later she would be heading to Nepal to volunteer?!

I have met incredible people on the road and am so happy for the ease that Facebook gives to maintaining communication with them. But the past two years on the road has also taught me that although I’ll friend just about anyone I’ve met (and don’t plan to stop) realistically some of these people have a place in my memory and I will likely never again cross their paths. We have that tour, that monument, that hilarious market experience in our joint memories and that’s where some are likely to stay.

Then there are the other friends that just stick. You meet again in different spots in the world and thank god you swapped details. Either way, I’ll still friend just about anyone I meet and enjoy their company because you just never know where life is heading. :-)

How do you handle friendships on the road?

38 thoughts on “A Little Facebook…Friends for Life, or Friends for Now?”

  1. This travel friends thing has been bothering me for the over 2 decades I have been tracelling on and off.
    That is mainly what caused me to find this article via Google. It is the best written description I have ever read about the situation.

    My belief is mostly that it is best if most people I meet stay in their time and place. I still friend somebody now and again to continue the verbal interaction we were having for a while before letting them drift into the past when one of us seems less interested than we used to be. I usually unfriend them at this stage even when it hurts to do so because it is my conclusion at this stage that you have to know when to let go and you have to do it completely. Sorry to be dismal about it! I am aware that many people think unfriending people is cruel but for me it is a way to let go and it is not an easy choice to make.

    • It’s difficult to grapple with how FB has changed the nature of friendships, but it sounds like your method works well for creating a clean break. Keeping what was fun and beautiful about the travel friendship while it serves, but then acknowledging that some people stay in a different time and place, and nostalgia and memories are good too, we don’t have to cling to even the most casual connections. Thank you for sharing your own method of handling this, it sounds like it’s been a trial process fo you to find the manner that works best for you to process travel friendships.

  2. We've all experienced this. But even in the days before facebook, you would collect dozens of emails, and after a few years you start struggling to remember the details.

    I also always add friends, and only time tells whether the friendship blossoms or fizzles: If theres ever an update that begs for my help, or if our paths look like crossing again… I will jump at the opportunity.

    • Agreed! I am always keen to keep track of some of the friends I have met
      along the way because it may be a couple of years down the road, but
      eventually our paths will cross again!

  3. This post really struck a chord with me. Since I'm a bit of a nomad myself (esp over the past couple of years) you meet so many people throughout your travels. But do you really get to know them? Are they really your “friends”? I have a love/hate relationship with facebook (i've been saying that for awhile). While backpackign fb can be handy so you can keep abreast of who's where and if there are opportunities to meet up. Heaven forbid you exchange digits. However how much do you really know about these people and do you want to give them access to all the personal info you've included on your profile? I guess fb is a law unto itself.

    • It's really a tough balance on there. I definitely have/had a private FB
      page until just a few months ago when I began getting friend requests from a
      slew of travel bloggers I didn't even know…it's though because it was my
      personal page…now more of a social networking tool in some cases. To
      navigate that privacy issue I actually religiously use friend lists now
      since you can restrict what a group can see – works brilliantly! :-)

  4. Some people are friends in that moment, while some are friends for much longer, so I'll keep people as FB friends and see what evolves. Some travel buddies I never really talk to at all after we part and some I talk to intermittently. But there are definitely people I've met on my travels who I have been in regular touch with and several who I have seen again since our initial meeting. It does help that I live in a city (SF) that is a popular place to visit.

    • It's definitely a help that you live in such a neat city – I chuckle at the
      thought of anyone wanting to come visit where I live in Florida. Like you, I
      take the information because you just never know which ones are going to
      stick around an be great friends :-)

  5. so true, FB is a great tool to connect with fellow travelers and build new friendship, if only sometimes virtual, but I personally found it can sometimes become a bit too intrusive and I end up interact only with few friends that I would normally get in touch over the phone

    • I agree to a large extent – it's really great for connecting with travelers
      but I spend a lot of time talking and interacting with friends from home too

  6. Excellent post Shannon, We have made some amazing connections with facebook and keep in touch with many of our travel friends regularly. But like you said, there are others that have fizzled out and others that I can't even remember who they were. I don't over analyze facebook though it is a lot of fun when I am on there, I say hello to people I haven't talked to in a while and we even manage to meet up in other countries once in a while. We have made connections with past pre-facebook travel friends that we haven't talked to in a few years and it has been great to catch up for a brief chat and get the update on their lives.

    • The meeting up in other countries is one of my favorite parts of adding new
      FB friends – it's a lot of fun to run into the same travelers and so many
      are also sticking to a region for a while. And I can't argue with the
      catching up aspect either…traveling as much as we do it's also great to
      just keep up with the lives of our close friends! :-)

  7. Completely depends on the situation! I've “friended” a few people and never heard from them again–or necessarily wanted to. But then again, I hit it off with a girl while we studied French in Paris for two weeks and have visited her twice in London since summer 2007! We don't necessarily talk regularly, but if we're in the same region, we'll definitely get together–just bummed that she moved to Washington DC as soon as I got to Europe! There are a few others like that, but each friendship ranges from someone fun to hang out with to possible couch if I'm in the area to a real friend. But isn't that how our “real” friendships are too?

    • I love it when you can meet back up along the way! Though sorry to hear that
      your London friend moved state-side just as you got over there…boo! As you
      mentioned though…you just never know in “real” life either so I always
      prefer to get the details in case I want them later!

  8. Hmm… this reminds me of travel friendships pre Facebook. You connect with people because there is something, usually travel-related, that binds you together. Once you're away from that environment, you struggle to find commonalities that don't involve what you've shared. Having said that, I did make some friendships from travel. Some have fizzled out, very few have remained. Life gets in the way and I understand that people change. FB makes it more prominent when someone unfriends you. Dwindling emails are a softer approach.

    As I'm not a fan of Facebook as a way of connecting with people I'm not likely to do so. However, there's always email, and if both parties are interested, I would offer it.

    • One of the things that I am most thankful for is that FB allows me to keep
      more of the gray area friends who you know will become much better friends
      if you can just cross paths one more time…I make real attempts in my
      travel schedule to put in pit-stops in countries where I know I met an
      awesome person and don't want that friendship to peter away…it helps when
      friends live in central cities like NY and London! :-)

  9. Shannon, Like Maria most of my backpacking years were well before the days of twitter or facebook, but the theme is still the same. You meet so many people that it's not possible to keep in close contact with all of them (ie email and phone every so often). I suppose facebook gives you that medium of being able to keep some form of relative contact with many people, and yet still be able to keep close contact with others if you wish.

    • I think that's precisely it – you just never know the people who you may
      cross paths with again so I love to have that option…plus it seems like
      less of a commitment than a phone number (or address!) to just shoot them a
      message or see where a friend is traveling now!

  10. A very recognisable story, Shannon. Although I have to say that when I did the bulk of my backpacking, facebook didn't exist yet.
    But I did hook up with other backpackers on the road and most of the time we swapped email addresses (and before email existed, actual addresses…). Some people never emailed me (or I them), some did, but after a while it petered out. And then there are the few that I still am in contact with even after 10 or 15 years. Those people are close friends, even though they are on the other side of the world.

    • I think that's the biggest reason that I'm open with the FB friendships –
      because already some have turned into amazing friends that I look forward to
      knowing for the next 10 years! :-)

  11. Great post Shannon, not many people stop to consider it.

    Facebook is one of those tools I never 'got' until I travelled, now I treat it as an interactive phonebook. It's good to collect people's details, but some people do get carried away with adding everyone. Fine if you do a group tour and spend a little time bonding. But one night out drinking with a group, there is no need to add everyone in that group.

    Even then, most people in that criteria have reduced to the annual 'happy birthday' message to each other now.

    Looking at it mathematically. I guess a closish friend you'd message once every 3 months/90 days to see how they are doing. So if you have 900 friends on facebook (some of my 'friends' have this), you should be messaging/receiving 10 messages with different people every day. Which shows how unrealistic it can get. I'm pretty sure very few people have over 100 close friends by my definition. 'Acquaintances' is a much better description for it.

    • When you lay the numbers out like that it just seems ridiculous to have that
      many friends! There is an element still right now where travelers on the
      road aren't actually thinking about whether they plan to ever reconnect or
      if they're still riding off the high of that awesome volcano you just hiked
      together…because there is a difference! :-) Glad your on FB now…it's
      kinda a staple tool for travelers!

  12. I had a similar experience during our RTW trip, ending up “friends” on facebook with people whom I couldn’t remember who they were a couple months later! It was quite liberating to remove them as friends. No doubt they haven’t even noticed on their end :)


    • So true! Occasionally some one will pop into my feed and I can barely
      remember where we crossed paths! I haven't gotten to the removal phase yet
      but I feel like it is coming soon :-)

  13. I'm open to becoming friends with anyone, as I see no harm in keeping the line of communication open in case we ever do happen to cross paths or re-connect once again. As with your experience, it's wonderful when suddenly out of nowhere we receive a message from an old travel buddy! However, I do think there is something to be said for sharing travel experiences and in some cases, understanding that the friendship ends there.

    When I volunteered in Calcutta, I ended up spending a great deal of time (three weeks straight) with an Australian who was volunteering at the same place as myself. We went through some crazy stuff together as we spent our days at one of Mother Theresa's homes for the dying. However, when the day arrived for him to take off to his next destination, we simply shook hands and parted ways, understanding that there was no reason to exchange email addresses. And that was a perfect 'ending' to the friendship in this case as there was no pretending that we'd keep in touch.

    • I think that people really get caught up on the high of the experience on
      some of the day trips or a couple days out on the town and just follow that
      up with “of course we should be FB friends!” I'm guilty of it myself though,
      of seeking out a FB friend and then thinking, well…they were fun and all
      but not actually my cup of tea…so what was I thinking! It seems like the
      both of you had a mutual understanding that the volunteering was one of
      those experiences that was better left in memory and in India, and
      interesting that you both came to the same conclusion by not swapping
      details – intrigued by what those three wks must have been like for you

      And on a lighter note, through all of the pondering…LOVE having so many
      travel friends on hand in my FB friends list for chats and inspiration! :-)

  14. This happens a lot in non-traveling lives, too. You meet a friend of a friend, or someone at a group event and you click, and one of you asks to friend the other, and you're SURE you're going to see each other all the time now, so of course you friend each other, and then….you never see them again. Oh well. I guess it's kind of like how we used to trade phone numbers with new acquaintances, but then never used them. Just the times we live in.

    • That's the most frustrating part though – that you are so sure that you hit
      it off and are going to stay connected! Is it a sign of the times though
      that the thought of swapping phone numbers with a new person seems like so
      much more of a commitment than swapping FB details?!

  15. I love staying connected through FB, but I hate when traveller befriend me just because we have a traveller friend in common. My FB is my personal space, not a social media tool. But I cannot BELIEVE the trio said “no” to friendship! Geeeez! P.S. Friend me anytime. ;)

    • You are right on with this trend of just befriending everyone in the
      community like it's only for social media…I was so caught off guard at
      first when all of these people starting requesting my personal page!
      Handling it better now though (gotta love friend lists) – consider yourself
      “friended!” :-)

  16. So true! I'm on Facebook friend overload. I seem to make way more friends while traveling than I did at any other point–even if only fleeting

    • I agree Adam! I was even in on FB in the beginning when it was just for
      college students and yet on the road (and through travel blogging) I feel
      like I add at least 3 a day now…kinda overwhelming!

  17. I guess I haven't been traveling for too long, to not wanting adding new friends along the way. Even though not necessarily we exchange FB. I think having added each other FB, don't mean we have to always interact with them. There are many interaction that is “silent”, like checking out photos. For my new and old friends, I like to do that. Adding them in FB, not that I think we will meet them again in the future, but more like we treasure the little moment we have in the past. glad to be each other's part, so why not keep a little memory away with us :)

    • That's a really great way to think about it, that's it's another way to
      treasure the memory that you have with them. Sometimes though it can just
      seem like people add you without any thought to whether or not you could be
      real friends and more so just because it's habit. That being said, I do love
      going through their photos and reconnecting with people I met on the road
      from ages ago! :-)

  18. I've had great days with people that I knew I wouldn't see again and didn't ask them for their Facebook details. Sometimes it's better to just accept the day for what it was and move on. Some people have asked for mine, and like some of your friends, we never speak again. they're just a number in my friends list.

    • It's really hard nowadays to accept that it was just meant to be hanging out
      for the day in some cases…and that it just doesn't have to be any more
      than that! Do you go back through and weed out the “numbers”, or let them
      hang on?

  19. I feel exactly the same way! Although I'm honestly a bit shocked that someone flat out said No. I could never do that! I have friends that I've made that I have met up with for the day in another country, I've made a couple of really great friends who I'm making plans with to travel together next summer, and then I've also just made casual friends who you have a good time with but they're not going to be your BFF anytime soon ;) I add all of them on facebook because a.) It's good to keep up with others' travels and see what they're up to, even if it's just for the occasional 'Hey. How are you? Where are you?' and b.) I know I can always exchange travel advice with them in the future.

    • Glad you're with me Laura! It's really funny how having just that little
      door still open can lead to some fun conversations and a surprising chance
      to meet up some where else in the world – love that you are going to travel
      with some next summer! :-)


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