“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!”
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.
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.
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?