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?