Long-time Friends and Long-term Travel

Derek Everything Else 14 Comments


In three weeks I’ll have a visitor.

A good friend of mine from NYC will be headed down here to Mexico for six days in the beginning of February. As soon as Jamey confirmed that he bought his flight, my first reaction was “Sweet!” and I went to celebrate at my favorite enchilada stand.

As I stuffed enchiladas suizas into my mouth and washed them down with a large mug of agua tamarindo, I found myself thinking how incredible it was that Jamey and I were still friends. We met while attending the same university back in 1997, but after one year, we both transferred to different schools. And considering that Jamey chose to take the more traditional life path and has lived in NYC for the past 11 years and I’ve spent those years wandering around the world without a map, it seems even more astonishing. Actually, the more I thought about it, the more I am amazed that I have any friends at all!

The Facts

Maintaining friendships, especially those with friends from the years we spent growing up and going to school, is difficult under normal circumstances, let alone when one of you is never in the country. But it’s not impossible.

I know that this is a very real concern for a lot of people who might be interested in long-term travel, moving overseas or even just moving to a new city. It’s quite difficult to part with close friends and it’s often frightening to think about having to make new ones in a foreign land.

But here’s what I’ve learned during the past ten years, and it applies to anyone thinking about embracing the concept of world travel or any form of extended re-location:

  1. You will never lose your close friends
  2. You will definitely lose some of your other friends
  3. Your life will be enhanced by the new friend’s you meet

Before I dive into each of those thoughts, let me make a distinction between a true friend and someone cool with whom I keep in touch with. I’ve met thousands of cool people over the years that might have become great friends had the circumstances been different, but they weren’t, so I appreciate the experience and conversation we shared and leave it at that. We may communicate every now and then but I’m quite certain that at some point in our lives our friendship will fade. I definitely consider them friends, just not close friends.

You Will Never Lose Your True Friends
(Even if you bite them on the forehead while wrestling)

Sometimes I don’t see my closest friends for two or three years at a time, but that doesn’t affect the strength of our friendship. My true friends are those people that I can’t imagine not having as friends. I care about what is going on in their lives at all times and they care about what is happening in mine. We may be distant in both lifestyle decisions and geographical location, or we may be similar, but it doesn’t affect the friendship.

Whether I’m in Paris, Paraguay or Pago Pago and a friend is in Malaysia or Minnesota, is irrelevant when it comes to close friends. We respect each other, we can rely on each other and we know that no decision we each make in our lives can change that. I’m not saying that it doesn’t take some effort to maintain these friendships, especially when you’re away from these friends most of the time, but if I can make it happen despite my constant wandering, consider it a good sign.

You Will Lose Some of Your Other Friends
(Including the ones you’ve been trying to lose for years)

We all face situations where we have to decide whether or not to let a certain friendship fade away. There’s nothing wrong with letting this happen, and it will, many times during the course of a life. This was one of the most intriguing realizations I’ve had during my travels, that sometimes I am better off by letting a particular friendship go. I used to think that if a friendship began to weaken or disappear altogether that it was my fault for not trying hard enough. But I’ve now learned that some people play an important role in a particular stage of our life and if one day we discover that the once strong bond between us has somehow been lost, then it may be time to part ways. And that is perfectly ok. It doesn’t mean that you don’t like the person, it’s just that your lives have led you in different directions.

Realistically, if you’re planning on taking a life-changing journey or making a life-changing decision, there’s a good chance that the bond with some of your friends may not hold up. It may even be someone you’ve been close to for a long time, but if it’s clear that one of the essential aspects of true friendship is now missing, it’s best to move on.

I’ve seen many friends come and go as a result of the decisions I’ve made in life. Sometimes I’ve understood why the friendship didn’t remain strong and sometimes I had no clue what happened. But as long as I remain true to myself, which involves following my desire to continue exploring the world, I will accept that some friends may be lost along the way.

You’re Life Will Be Enhanced By the New Friends You Meet
(And probably put in danger by a few of them)

It doesn’t take long to meet new people when traveling. In fact, traveling is all about meeting people, both locals and other travelers. Of course, every person you meet is not going to become your friend, however, some will. After all, during the course of your adventure, you’ll most likely experience many life-changing moments along the way, and the only people around to share them with are often other travelers you’ve only met an hour before. Instant bonds are often created through travel, some of which will fizzle away quickly and some of which will miraculously defy all logic and stand the test of time.

I’m actually still good friends with the very first person I met on my first day of backpacking in Bangkok back in 1999. The restaurant I wanted to eat in was full, so I sat down in an empty chair across from a strange-looking British guy wearing maroon jeans. We started talking, ended up traveling through Southeast Asia together for 2 months and have remained friends since.

Many people ask me how I can choose to spend so much time away from my closest friends. I even questioned this myself back in the beginning. While it’s a valid question, the answer is quite straightforward: Had I never decided to live such a nomadic lifestyle, I would never have met the overwhelming majority of my closest friends.

And that’s a major reason why I’m addicted to global wandering and a major reason why anyone interested in extended travel should be excited, not worried, about making friends.

You Can’t Slack Off Completely, A Little Effort is Required

As I mentioned earlier, it does take some amount of effort to maintain friendships with people you don’t spend so much time with. After all, you can’t call up your buddy and meet him at the local pub if you’re in Tajikstan and he’s in London. Here’s a short list of some of the things I’ve done over the years to ensure that most of my close friends have remained my close friends:

Emails. This one goes without saying, but I generally aim to send my close friends at least one email every two or three weeks, just to get a quick update from them and let them know what I’ve been doing. Sometimes my emails consist of a short “What’s been going on?” and sometimes they’re a bit longer, but this somewhat consistent communication greatly reduces the potential to feel ‘out of touch’ with anyone.

Invitations. Over the years, several friends have taken me up on my invitations to either travel with me or visit me in some foreign land. And I generally don’t invite people who I don’t want to spend quality time with or who I don’t think would enjoy or benefit from the experience. You’d be surprised at how many of your friends are actually willing to join you, at least for a small stage of your adventure, as the thought of visiting a good friend overseas is much more comforting than the thought of traveling alone for many people. You never know, your invitation might lead a friend to re-evaluate their life and make some major changes. I’ve had two good friends decide to quit their jobs and join the nomadic lifestyle after spending some time traveling with me. How cool is that?

Phone calls. This is not something that I do everyday, or even every month for that matter, but I do enjoy making random phone calls from random places to several of my close friends. Even if it’s for one minute, these phone calls instantly elevate my mood. If I’m eating a meal in a cafe somewhere overseas and it reminds me of a meal I once ate with a friend, I’ll give them a call and let them know. It’s such unexpected moments of communication that seem to lay down an extra layer of cement on the foundation of your friendship.

Visits. Sure, my friends visit me from time to time, but I also visit them. Sometimes I organize an entire trip with the sole purpose of visiting friends in a particular region of the world. Last year, when I wanted to launch a new business, I decided to spend the four months I needed to get the project going in Australia where I could also catch up with my close Australian friends. What better way to immerse yourself in a culture than to spend time with friends who actually live there. (You just might save a few bucks on accommodation as well!) And of course I never forget about my American amigos, whom I visit on my one or two yearly trips back to the USA. So in the end, I see my friends often, just not the same ones all the time.

The above may seem obvious, but anyone who has done some traveling knows how easy it is to lose track of time and allow months to pass without keeping in touch with some people. “I’ll tell them all about my trip when I get home,” is an easy justification to make, but from experience, some of those friends might not be so interested when you eventually do get back home. And sometimes bringing back a multi-colored triangular floor pillow as a gift doesn’t change the situation.

So, while running around the world with all of the new, fascinating, sexy people you meet, do your best to stay in touch with the people you care about back home, and invite them to join you every chance you get. Although don’t invite them everyday because they might get annoyed and block your email address.

Yes, this has happened to me. Only once.


Please share any other methods you might have for keeping in touch with good friends while traveling. Or if you’ve lost all your friends after changing the direction of your life, let us know what went wrong!

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Comments 14

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  2. Elizabeth

    Very true Earl,

    After 9 years of traveling I have learned that people come and go in our lives all the time, in cycles. At the beginning I didn’t embrace the idea of losing a friend as I used to feel as if I had failed that person. But now, I see things from a different perspective as now I am much more unattached.

    I think it is just a matter of having the right attitude =)

  3. Lisis

    This reminds me of my relationship with Ali (FairyBlogMother). We went to college together in San Diego a few moons ago. Since then, I’ve moved every year or two, to different cities, states, and out of the country. She stayed in San Diego the entire time, most of it in one house, but she visited me at every single place I lived.

    It’s amazing, really, when you think about it. Now with the internet, facebook, and that sort of thing it’s much easier… but just a few years ago it seemed like everyone I’d ever met was lost forever. Now they are popping up all over the place, and it’s like not a day has passed!

    I’m really happy for you, that your friend is coming to see you!! 🙂
    .-= Lisis´s last blog ..Faith, Patience, and Your Moment in the Sun =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Lisis! That’s quite amazing to have a friend that visits you everywhere you move. The bond must be rock solid given the drastically different lives you’ve both led since school. And you’re right about the internet, but I find that not only do I re-connect with good friends from earlier stages in my life, but I also seem to re-connect with old friends that I barely remember even existed! Which I guess is pretty cool in the end, as you never know where any of these ‘re-connections’ might lead.

  4. Nate

    Some friends, for me, have drifted and some have remained close. I am still very good friends with someone I went to high school with and that I met some 17 years ago. Actually…that’s pretty crazy when I think about it. At any rate, I think we’ve both done a good job with keeping in touch with each other and being there when needed. Friendships definitely go both ways. I have had some that have faded and I have felt guilty that I didn’t do enough to keep the friendship going. As you state, some friendships might not be meant to last forever. People change and I think it’s perfectly acceptable to realize the impermanence of all things, including friendships. At the same time, we can still appreciate the valuable friendships we had with certain people at certain times in our lives who helped shape who we are today.
    .-= Nate´s last blog ..Devastation in Haiti =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Nate – I a big fan of the word ‘impermanence’ and the concept that things arise and fade away all throughout our lives. Friendships are not immune to this either. It is amazing though to think about some friendships and how they’ve been able to stay strong over many years, 17 years for example, despite the different paths we take. It’s quite a good feeling to know that some friendships don’t seem to fade no matter what decisions we make in life. And for the ones that don’t make it, as you said, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t appreciate the value that those friendship gave us.

      Thanks for the comment Nate.

  5. Gordie

    Hi Earl,
    I haven’t seen my closest high school friends since 1994. However, thanks to Facebook we reconnected and will be able to meet up in the next couple of years back in New Zealand for a beer.

    Since I’ve been in China for the past 7 years, I’ve met so many friends, but due to them being wanderers such as yourself, they move on. Some make the effort to keep in contact while others don’t. I’ve come not to expect too much from these kinds of friends, but rather just enjoy the times I can have while with them.
    .-= Gordie´s last blog ..Personal Development Through Song: “You’re The Best”. =-.

    1. Earl

      Hi Gordie – It’s true, Facebook has done some incredible things as far as reconnecting people. A gap of 10+ years can be made up for just by accepting someone’s invitation to be their friend. And then it’s almost as if you’ve been friends all along. Although I find it someone amusing when I get emails from high school ‘friends’ that I don’t remember!

      And I’m with you as far as not expecting too much from a lot of the people I meet while wandering. I’ve never been one to hand out my email address to everyone I come across. I also prefer to just acknowledge that we shared a memorable (or not memorable) hour, day, week together and then part ways, content with that experience.

  6. Shannon OD

    You really hit on so many of the key ideas of keeping friendships going. After a year on the road, I actually had a few surprises by the end – friends I had expected would stick around, but weren’t interested in the relationship if I was in close proximity. At the same time though, it’s all only brought me closer to my true friends, the ones who I’ll share life with for years to come, no matter how often I leave the country 🙂
    .-= Shannon OD´s last blog ..A Little Advice…Travel Around the World Without Flying (One) =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Shannon – I know what you’re talking about with those surprises. Sometimes its the people that we would never expect to fade away who actually do. It’s somewhat disappointing at first but as you said, it brings you closer to your true friends and there is no greater feeling than knowing exactly who our true friends are!

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