Making Friends While Traveling Is A Crazy, Wild Ride

Making Friends While Traveling Is A Crazy, Wild Ride

By |2016-07-01T10:21:04-04:00June 9th, 2016|Interesting People, Perspectives|26 Comments

Travel Friends in Thailand
Right now I’m sitting on the balcony of an apartment that I’ve rented in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. In front of me, across the street, is a football field with some basketball courts nearby. The night time breeze is coming in from the beach, straight across that field, and it keeps me cool despite the hot and humid weather.

When I look out at this football field, it instantly reminds me of a similar field in the town of Fatehpur Sikri, India where I once played a pick up game of cricket at sunrise with some extremely welcoming locals that I ended up hanging out with for several days.

And with these basketball courts I’m looking at, I quickly remember an old friend I met in Melbourne, quite randomly, and with whom I played b-ball in the gym at the University of Melbourne a few times per week, followed by a beer at a local pub.

When I think of the beach a few blocks away, I am immediately taken back to the random group of five travelers I spent three adventurous days with in the beach town of Sihanoukville, Cambodia before going our own ways and actually never talking to each other again.

When I feel this breeze, I recall a time in Ljubljana when I sat at an outdoor cafe with several new friends – both travelers and locals – escaping the heat, drinking cold drinks and talking for hours on end as if we’d known each other for years even though we barely knew each other at all.

And then there was tonight. I spent a few hours with two good friends, both of whom I met while traveling, in different places and different times over the years. Somehow we all ended up in Playa del Carmen this week and we just got back from a most enjoyable night out on the town (it’s only 11pm but that’s a night out on the town for me these days!).

As you can tell, right now I’m on this balcony thinking about people.

Group in Slovenia

All I Can Do Is Smile

I’m thinking about the magic of making friends while traveling and about all the people I’ve met over the years, or at least as many as I can remember.

And with each memory, whether sharp or fuzzy, I’m smiling. I’m smiling because I never had to do anything special to meet these people. All it took was getting on a bus or train or plane and heading off to a new destination. Just showing up, that’s it.

It takes so little effort yet the reward is so great.

Everyone who has traveled long-term knows how this works. You meet new and interesting people every single day. It’s almost unavoidable. One minute you arrive in a destination on your own and the next minute you’re surrounded by new friends, whether it be other travelers or locals that you’ve come across.

You share intense and fun and memorable experiences together, you bond over a meal or a wander or a swim, you learn a lot about each other in a very short period of time…and then, of course, you ultimately say goodbye. Maybe you spent a week together, maybe a few days, maybe just a couple of hours.

Either way, it’s all good.

In many cases, you’ll probably stay in touch with a few of these new pals, maybe for a few months or weeks or days, but inevitably, that friendship will fade. You’ll already be on to a completely different set of new friends in a completely different destination and so will the other travelers you’ve met before.

An Enjoyable Yet Difficult Game

Travel does involve a game of hellos and goodbyes, thoroughly enjoying the time you spend with people from around the world but also having to deal with the constant farewells to those you wish you could spend more time with.

For sixteen years, I’ve played this game. I’ve met fascinating people everywhere, at the most random moments, in the most random of places, and also right where I’d hoped to stumble upon some new folk to interact with. Usually, all it took was a simple hello to get those connections started.

As I sit here on this balcony, I can’t remember most of these people I’ve met of course (that’s what happens when you’re meeting new people every day for a long time) but at the same time, several of those I’ve met along the way have indeed become real, life-long friends.

When I think about those who have become friends, when I think back to the bonds created and when I think of all the people I’d love to be friends with but it didn’t happen for one reason or another and we lost touch, again, all I can do is smile. The amount of people a traveler can meet in such a short period of time is simply mind-blowing so it’s only natural that we can’t remain friends with everyone. That’s just how life goes but it doesn’t take away from the experiences we’ve shared.

Night out in Turku, Finland

And hey, I always say that even these short connections we make when traveling, the ones that eventually fade, are still worth it, without a doubt. Whenever we have to say goodbye, that just means we are moving on to a new place, where we’ll meet even more new people and make even more rewarding connections.

Without that mentality, all the friendships that go from intense to nonexistent in a short period of time can be difficult to handle.

If you’ve traveled already, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you haven’t traveled yet, get ready for the crazy, wild ride of hellos and goodbyes, of endless connections and of sharing some of the most memorable moments of your life with people that come and go as quickly as tacos al pastor go through your system. It’s all a part of making friends while traveling.

It will mess with your head. But at the same time, it will change your life in unimaginably positive ways, too. Connecting with people is such a beautiful thing, no matter how long that connection lasts.

In fact, it’s addictive.

The good news is that travel provides us with an endless supply of people to meet, in every city, town and village, at every hotel, guesthouse and hostel, in every restaurant, cafe and food market, on every street corner, bus, beach and ferris wheel…most of whom are also interested in meeting us.

Again, all it really takes is showing up.

What’s your experience with meeting people while traveling? Are the constant hellos and goodbyes difficult?

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  1. Alanna August 31, 2016 at 7:56 pm - Reply

    It is hard to say goodbye to people after only knowing them for a short while, but the time spent doing it makes it worthwhile in my opinion!

  2. Susie August 25, 2016 at 5:18 pm - Reply

    Earl, I loved your post. Thank you. I really get what you said. I am older and have just started travelling again after raising my family and recently retiring. I go alone for a couple of months or more (traveling quite cheaply) and then my husband joins me for a couple of months. With my husband I always meet really neat people and together we make great friends. That, I enjoy a lot but when I am on my own the friendships I develop are different. I meet and become friends with young and old who I often, want to keep in my life forever. It is very hard to say goodbye sometimes. I remember crying like a baby saying goodbye to a young woman I had spent a month with on a team rehabilitating manatees. I like to think that it will not be goodbye forever to to all these amazing new friends, but at the same time, if it is, I can’t imagine never having met them and having them enrich my life, if even for a short time.It is incredibly special. I do have a home base of good friends as well, that is important to me. I find though, that because I am away so much, that home base of friends is not as strong as it was before I started travelling. That is ok though. The travel experiences and new friends made on those adventures, more than make up for the small losses. It is having it all, but spread out a little differently.

  3. Elaine August 8, 2016 at 3:12 pm - Reply

    I understand. I have met some amazing people all over the world. I have learned to live the moment and appreciate it for what it is. I still keep in touch with A LOT of those travelers and only had one “falling out” in a year. I think that is really good. The ones I want to re-connect with I will visit again and the ones that were just in “that moment” I cherish and keep in touch with occasionally. Either/or—–we are VERY LUCKY to have this life and be exposed to so many amazing people. I have faith in humanity again after traveling.

  4. Maria July 18, 2016 at 2:49 pm - Reply

    Loved to read this nostalgic post. Saying hello is easy but saying goodbye is very difficult specially to those with whom we want to spend more time and want to know more about them. New destinations and new people but the old ones are unforgettable.

  5. Timo July 15, 2016 at 2:11 am - Reply

    Hi Earl, yes, it’s true that we sometimes meet new people on our travel. Luckily now there’s Facebook, so we still can connect with these new people, although sometimes they said that they don’t have Fb too. I get it, we only just met a few seconds or days haha!
    Nice article 🙂

  6. Jan July 6, 2016 at 11:59 am - Reply

    But don’t you find it tiring and confusing to constantly move on and what comes with it lack (to an extent) meaningful relations with people. If you know you are gonna leave, you will from the very beginning have a different attitude. It’s cool to meet somebody for a day or two and then go but it’s also a bit unreal. It’s like you just get to know “one version” of that person. I’ve noticed that people who meet me while travelling or just casual acquaintances will have a totally different (but really totally) different feeling of my personality than people who I know better or those who I grew up with.

    • Derek July 7, 2016 at 8:37 am - Reply

      Hey Jan – I think the difference is that I mix it up. This is why I have a ‘base’ these days (for the past 5 years actually) so that I also have a community of people with whom I can continue building stronger friendships. So I’ll travel for a month or two and then come back to my base for a couple of months – familiar bed, familiar faces, familiar routine. This method has worked best for me as I get to experience both short term connections while traveling and long term connections while at my ‘base’.

  7. Jean Tucker July 4, 2016 at 5:26 pm - Reply

    I stumbled onto your blog today while searching for a cross word clue for “a three letter word for a stimulant”. I wound up on your blog entry for QAT from 2013 and thought I’d check out your most recent post. It was just like one of those chance meetings you have while traveling where the person you meet has the answer to the internal questions that have been bouncing around in your head for a while…pretty miraculous how that works.

    Thanks to you and all the others here for sharing these thoughts on our need for connection as humans versus the longing of a curious individual for something new. This question has been much on my mind. At 70 I am embarking on the third act of my life and after much thought and planning am hitting the road for as long as it feels good. It was affirming to see how many of us have this same question and how you solved the need for community connection after many years of travel, Earl. I like your evolution/solution.

  8. kyle June 10, 2016 at 6:00 pm - Reply

    Earl man, how tall are you? Random question, I know lol.

    • kyle June 10, 2016 at 6:03 pm - Reply

      EDIT – WAIT! I meant to ask you, how tall are you NOT including the afro? The afro probably gives you a good couple of inches when it’s grown out haha. I emailed Nomadic Matt the same question because he’s letting his viewers ask him random questions so I figured since you’re my other favorite travel blogger, I might as well ask you that question too haha.

      Please answer.

  9. Cheshirecat June 10, 2016 at 12:54 pm - Reply

    You summed it up so well. Some people we meet in our travels become like family forever, and some are friends for a short time after the trip. It’s all good to make connections in a wonderful way. I am an experienced traveler so I have a better feel for people. Newer travelers have to beware of being victims of scams and need to do their research on scams from each country before arriving.

  10. Amy Love June 10, 2016 at 2:23 am - Reply

    I know if I don’t sit down to write my reply now, I probably will not write anything. So, here are my evening musings. I have loved deeply and been loved deeply. I have been married and divorced. I have had friendships that were so profoundly wonderful, that it is hard to imagine that I was blessed to know them and to be able to connect as I did. OK, brace yourselves: After my second divorce, some of my cherished closest friends dying–yeah, there is that morbid twist to it all–my Grandparents, my Auntie, my ex-husband’s Aunt…then, the final blow was losing my Father. I became so severely depressed that I pushed away everyone I was still close with. I remember asking my cousin if I was the only person in the USA with an imperfect life with a lot of pain in it. All of my high school buddies and elementary school friends look like they are perfectly blissful. The other reality of life is that from the age of fifteen until I was 50, I was in a relationship..except for seven days. A dear friend of mine, yes, one of my friends who died…the nerve of her…said to me that I really needed not to be in a relationship at some point in my life. One of my closest friends in high school told me the same. So for me, this is a time not to be in the community…to not be living in the same place connecting with the same people…which I loved and did for 30 years. It is a time where I am living life inspired by Siddhartha…I remember reading that book and thinking that I would like to live that life someday….so, I think it is the usual thing about humyns, that when we are happily married and have cherished family and friends…we think about wanting to be like Sidhartha…and when we are living this solitary and interconnected life…we miss our close connections. So for me, and maybe for some of you, this is a time to grieve my loved ones whom I have lost, take time to really know who I am not in a relationship…and not connected closely to the same people every day of my life. I know that when I am ready, I am moving to Portland, Oregon (some of the best people on the planet), France, Guam…who knows where…but I know, that like this movie that really touched me…all of the conversations I have had whilst on the road…all of the people whom I have connected with…are now a part of me. I do travel with my cherished dog, who is almost fifteen. I pray that she lives for many more years…but I know that if she dies before I do, that I plan on moving to an Ashram…or some kind of intensely close community….which is interesting that when I lose the being I am closest with…I will want to be with others….well, that is what I think now:) Sorry for not proofreading this.

    • Terry June 10, 2016 at 4:01 am - Reply

      thanks for sharing your lovely words on here tonight

  11. Laura June 9, 2016 at 9:02 pm - Reply

    I’ve been traveling full-time for three years and I’m growing weary of always saying goodbye. The bright side is that I’ve met so many amazing people in my travels that have become close friends and having friends all over the world is a beautiful thing. But I guess due to goodbye burnout, I’ve slowed down a lot, staying longer in places to get a better understanding and develop deeper relationships. But of course that makes it all the more painful to leave!

  12. Nathan June 9, 2016 at 7:19 pm - Reply

    I was thinking about this just the other day as well! I’ve been exchanging emails with someone I met in Melbourne, and the frequency of emails back and forth is definitely decreasing. Same pattern with the guy I stayed with in Cape Town, and though we talked nearly every day while I was in India I haven’t heard a peep out of my friend Abhay since I left the subcontinent.

    But that doesn’t mean those friendships weren’t real, and it doesn’t mean they’re over. I met a British girl in Haiti, we corresponded for a while, then it faded out. But when I went to London, I met her again and she gave me a tour of the city. It was like we had never been apart.

    I’ve decided to not get bitter or frustrated over friendships that just drift apart (or even abruptly stop when there’s no more physical interaction). I too just want to appreciate what I have where I’m at rather than selfishly wishing for more. If these people were investing all their energy in me, currently living in New Zealand, they wouldn’t be able to invest in the people around them. Even I’m not so selfish as to want that!

  13. Sandrine June 9, 2016 at 6:00 pm - Reply

    Hi Earl! Interesting time to read your article…I’ve been thinking a lot about this matter myself lately as I’m trying to decide whether to start traveling again or to stay put for a little longer (and explore something that could be a very special connection). So I’d like to share some thoughts with you and get your opinion as well since I’m sure you’ve thought about it already…
    Wouldn’t you say that when traveling you get to meet people but you don’t actually get to know them? (I’m thinking about a meme you once posted as well about the whole reason why you travel).
    While it’s true that meeting people while on the road offers huge diversity – almost like a personal atlas of humankind – I’m also thinking that you don’t actually get to explore more in depth the possibilities of a human connection because of the crazy, continuous cycle of hellos and goodbyes. It’s like you keep repeating stage 1 over and over again with different people but maybe keep missing more interesting stages that require more time and dedication?
    Of course meeting lots of different people from different cultures, with different short stories to share is very exciting and fascinating but what would you say to those who argue that it’s maybe just a superficial way of ‘browsing’ through people but without actually learning much more than factual data about them?
    Sometimes I’m asking myself what I would prefer at the end of my life: having met a million people about whom I only know 3 random things or having met far less people but about whom I know a lot and with whom I’ve shared a lot.
    These are all questions I’ve been asking myself lately so I’d love to hear your perspective as well if you have a moment. Thank you and safe travels wherever you go!

    • Wandering Earl June 9, 2016 at 6:08 pm - Reply

      Hey Sandrine – Thanks for commenting and those are certainly thoughts I have as well.

      Yes, to an extent, it is true that meeting people while traveling doesn’t provide that deep connection, however, at the same time, we often share experiences with these people that nobody else will understand because they weren’t there. And to me, this creates a deeper connection that if I just spent a few hours talking to someone I meet at a cafe back home.

      And then, with the people you truly connect with, the bond lasts beyond the goodbye. It’s not going to happen with everyone but at the same time, it can’t happen with everyone. Imagine trying to have a deep connection with everyone you meet while traveling…it would be exhausting and probably not possible. So I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing that the connections are often only a level or two deep.

      With that said, at some point, most of us do crave those deeper friendships, we crave a community of friends that is long-lasting and always there. And for me, that’s why I started to have a ‘base’ several years ago. I have a base in a city, I stay there for 2 or 3 months, then I go and travel for a month or so and return to that base for another couple of months. This has helped me mix the two and gives me that long-lasting community I need as well, and as a result, deeper connections.

      So for me, it’s two separate groups…the long-term friends with whom I’ve created a deep bond and unbreakable friendship (many of which were created while traveling) and the short-term connections in which I shared some interesting experiences, meet some interesting people, and then move on.

      Having it all one way or the other would be difficult. Having the mix seems to work nicely, at least for me 🙂

      • Sandrine June 9, 2016 at 8:14 pm - Reply

        Hmm, so are you telling me it’s THAT easy to have it all? Haha…:) Well, you seem to have everything under control, but I think there’s still a couple of bugs in my system for now…Since you obviously sound like you found a way to make the best of both worlds, I’ll throw in another question for you… 🙂
        How about when you make a connection that you feel like you absolutely don’t want to lose (seems to be my case right now)? And don’t you think that after juggling for a long time between these two worlds you might end up feeling like you don’t belong to neither group in the end? People seem to be moving on eventually without you and relate to people that are always present, even if you don’t leave for too long but you leave often…or so I noticed.

  14. Trav from June 9, 2016 at 4:53 pm - Reply

    “All it takes is showing up” – well said. It’s interesting to note that this requires very little effort on our part. I don’t mean that we shouldn’t make an effort, only that there is no need to feel like it’s some great ordeal to meet people on a regular basis. I know many people who have the concept that meeting people is difficult and emotionally draining. I suppose they either stress too much over each interaction or just don’t know how to enjoy the company of others. I know many will say that this is just a personality type but my understanding of human psychology says that healthy people prefer not to be alone. My brother once advised me to never miss an opportunity to be social and I think that this suggestion has benefited me significantly. In any case, with the increase in [anti]social networking, I really hope that more people can adopt this mentality of showing up to the party as I think it would make the world a better place.

  15. Matthew Maggy June 9, 2016 at 3:18 pm - Reply

    This was a great part of traveling. I actually only traveled for 7 months, but kind of got it out of my system. For me, making new friends and groups of friends was great and I met and keep in touch with many, but one of the reasons I think traveling got “out of my system” is because I longed for something more permanent. I intended to stay gone indefinitely, but the yearning for a permanent connection brought me to settle down (ironically not where all my friends and family were) to be with the woman I left behind.

    Don’t get me wrong, I know exactly what you’re talking about here (especially working in places for a couple of months) and it was great…. for a while; but I suppose the impermanence just wasn’t for me.

    • Wandering Earl June 9, 2016 at 6:11 pm - Reply

      Hey Matthew – I definitely understand what you’re saying and I think the key thing to remember is that there are many different forms of travel. When I started to feel the same as you did at one point, I decided to stop moving around and just stay in one place for a longer period of time. I started to have a ‘base’ where I would have a community of friends, familiar places all around me. I would spend time at my base city, maybe a couple of months, and then I would go and travel somewhere else for a month, then return to my base. This helped me get into a real community, and the deeper connections that result, while still enjoying new travel experiences.

      But again, I definitely understand what you’re saying and it makes perfect sense. The good thing is that you got out there to travel, listened to what you were feeling inside and then made a decision that felt right for you. That’s the best thing you can do!

  16. Nur June 9, 2016 at 12:58 pm - Reply

    You are so right on target with this post. When we started traveling I hoped but did not expect to have great times spent with new friends made so quickly. We were invited to dinner in New Zealand after five minutes of conversation. We spent three days with three younger people (we are in our 50’s)we met on a food tour, and are getting ready to spend several days with a local woman and her partner whom we met last month.

  17. Claudia June 9, 2016 at 11:50 am - Reply

    I have met some of my best friends through my travels. There’s been Yuval, who I met on a 2 days hike in Peru and who later visited me in Sardinia, who convinced me that it was time to live my dream. We still talk – perhaps not every day, but we care for each other. There’s been Guiselaine, who I met on a crazy bus ride from Santiago de Cuba to Baracoa, and then I spent a few days with her: she visited me in Rome, we met in Mexico where we traveled together, and we talk regularly. Then there have been those I never talked to again, but as you say, the encounters were equally enjoyable and we shared a meal, a drink, a bus ride and what not. Travel is an incredible mind opener, indeed!

  18. Scott June 9, 2016 at 11:13 am - Reply

    Last month in Oslo we were looking for the graves of the artist Munch and poet/playright Ipsen and must of looked lost as this very pretty red-haired woman walking her dog walked up to us and asked if she could help. She was so sweet, and frankly not very Norwegian as Norwegians tend to take time to feel comfortable with new people. Santina showed us around the the graveyard, and then walked with us through the two streets nearby with older homes, and even dropped us off at the Food Court (no not the mall kind) but a famous restaurant area of small homemade places serving different foods where we had the best meat pies I have ever had. W e said our goodbyes exchanging email, etc….and the next morning I asked my partner if maybe we should call her to see if she wanted to hang out a bit that day (our last before heading to Bergen) but we decided that could sound weird, and decided not to, and literally 5 seconds later I got a text from her saying “what are you guys doing today?” So after she worked, we met a 4:00PM and spent the evening with her, going to an amazing sculpture park dedicated to women’s sculpture (not Vigeland as we had already done that), walked around, and then had a great dinner. We learned SO much about Oslo and Norway in general from her, and now have a lifelong friend. She will be moving to Indiana to be with her partner someday soon, so we know we’ll see them either there or here in Palm Springs. Interesting point…we were supposed to be at the opera the evening we met her, but I got my dates wrong as it turns out the opera was the night before. Had I not goofed up, we would have never met her. She truly made our trip more wonderful than it already was!

  19. Jason June 9, 2016 at 10:45 am - Reply

    Hey Derek, as one of those people whose path you’ve crossed (and recrossed and crossed again), this post made me smile. When I started travelling full time I’d meet new people and we’d share a drink or a meal our stories and inevitably, my backstory was the most boring. That bothered me at first but now, almost 4 years later, I crave those stories and am addicted to the personalities and people attached to them! It’s bittersweet making friends on the road, you meet such great people and form such strong bonds with them only to quickly leave them behind. But, to paraphrase an old cliche – It’s better to have met and moved on than never to have met at all! Safe travels my friend, see you soon.

  20. Tommy June 9, 2016 at 10:35 am - Reply


    This is spot on with my somewhat limited travels. It was kind of odd at first to say goodbye to those you have met and connected with so suddenly. Nonetheless, it was always a blessing to me to meet these people from different places with different world views. I think of some of them from time to time. I even have pictures of them and some I can’t even remember their names. Spot on my man.


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