Travel Friendships

Travel Friendships – Far More Powerful Than We Think

Derek Kyrgyzstan, Perspectives 21 Comments

Travel Friendships
Her name is Tamara.

And because of her I shed a tear.

Back in 2014, I wrote about this woman who lives in the small, simple town of Tamga, near the banks of Issyk-Kul Lake, in Eastern Kyrgyzstan. I met her completely by accident and I randomly ended up staying at her guesthouse, the Askar & Tamara Guesthouse, for a couple of nights.

You can read the complete story here: My Experience in Tamga, Kyrgyzstan is Exactly Why I Love Travel

To make a long story short though, Tamara was an exceptional person. She was so willing to share the tales of her life and teach me about her culture. She was also passionate about learning how people live in other parts of the world and she loved communicating with foreigners, even though very few passed through her town.

Without a doubt, Tamara was one of the most welcoming, kind and generous human beings I’ve met during my travels and we quickly became friends. In fact, I knew right away that this would be one of those travel friendships that would not end once I left the country, even though it was almost impossible for us to communicate.

And that’s why, when she told me about her desire to have a popular guesthouse so that she could help more travelers discover her hometown and the area where she had spent most of her life, I wanted to do something.

After leaving Tamga, I decided that I would tell anyone and everyone that I could about Tamara and her guesthouse. I wanted travelers to visit the town, stay there and have the incredible experience that I knew they would have, with Tamara as their host. So, that’s what I’ve done…I’ve told travelers who were planning on going to Kyrgyzstan and even travelers who had no plans to visit this country, that they must pass through Tamga at some point.

I even had my Wandering Earl “Wander Across Kyrgyzstan tour” spend a night at her guesthouse this past June and according to the feedback from the group, it was one of the highlights of the trip (I was not on that trip myself unfortunately).

But of course, apart from my group, I really had no idea who was actually going to Tamga, or if anyone was going at all. Tamara doesn’t have email and, as I mentioned, there was no real way for us to stay in touch.

A Major, Major Surprise

Last week, I received a note from my friend (and brilliant photographer) Kym Pham, saying that she had a little message for me. She included a link. It was a link to a video. I opened it and watched…

And perhaps it’s not possible for anyone else to understand, but that video is what made a tear drop from my eye.

I’m not fully sure why, but it did.

Maybe it was from hearing about the success that Tamara has had and all the travelers that are now coming to her place, putting Tamga on the map.

Maybe it was because the video made it seem as if I was right there, in the remote mountains, chatting with an old friend.

But maybe it was the simple reminder that the interactions we have while traveling are so often more than just a fleeting moment of idle chit-chat. Those conversations and the time spent with new people we come across, however brief or lengthy, can actually change lives in a major way, including our own.

And if a person who grew up just outside of Boston and a person who grew up in the remote mountains of Kyrgyzstan can create a bond that crosses the planet, pays no attention to the differences between them and impacts each others lives in ways that each could never have imagined…

…it really is difficult to argue about the value of travel.

Do you have a story about someone you’ve met while traveling and how your interaction impacted one or both of your lives? Please do share!

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Comments 21

  1. Susan

    Hi Derek, we stayed here for a days (leaving tomorrow) and Tamara definitely remembers you! I think she’s just a very outgoing, chatty woman who’s interested in all her guests. My son speaks a little Russian too, so was able to talk to her husband during a sightseeing trip, and it turns out he was a journalist in Karakol for many years, and they met in Tamga in 1977 when Tamara was sent to teach here by the Soviet government. Tamara told me to tell you she’s planning to try and write an email to you soon!

  2. Ray

    What a beautiful story! I can relate to this, too. Of all my years of travel, I am still closest with the group that I met on my trip to Peru. We came from all walks of life – Canada, Ireland, England. and Norway ranging in age from mid-20s to early 60s.

    While this three week trip allowed us to see a lot of amazing things in Peru, what it ended up doing (and we totally didn’t expect it) was bring all 12 of us closer as a family unit. Over four years later, and we all keep in touch on a regular basis (except for a couple of people). I have since met up with a few of them back at my hometown or on the road.

    Hope you can return to Kyrgyzstan and visit your friend again, Derek! And if you do, please post another video update from her for all of us to see. 🙂

  3. Marie

    That’s what I like about travelling. You get a chance to meet new people. This such a beautiful story. What an incredible woman she is. I also agree that it is the people we meet while travelling that can really change our lives.

  4. Fernando

    What a great story, and I also liked the first post about Tamga and your stay at Tamara’s guesthouse.

    It never ceases to amaze me how people can connect with each other, no matter how different and distant their respective worlds may be.

  5. [email protected] The British Berliner

    What a fantastic story Earl! I can see why you got so misty-eyed as she sounds like a wonderful intriguing woman. And isn’t that what travel is all about.

    I hope that my travels have made an impact in the lives of others via my blog. I know that other people have certainly made an impact on me so why not. I think the biggest impact was during my GAP year. I travelled solo and I happened to meet a young couple in Bangkok. I remembered them vividly but imagine my surprise when I met the very same couple in Singapore! I was astonished and for the first time, it hit me as to the influence and power of international travel – a community.

  6. Lindsay

    When we travel, we are often given so much it feels great to give back. When I was in Bali I stayed at a beautiful house in a rice field outside Ubud owned by a guy who was just getting started on AirBnB and as a tour guide. He was incredibly hospitable and kind, and helped us organize a self-drive trip to Java which was no small feat.

    I set up a website for him at If you’re ever in Bali, stay with Katut!

  7. Pauline

    I first thought this post would contain terrible news, but I’m so glad that’s not the case! What a beautiful beautiful story, Earl. Thanks so much for sharing. I love reading stories like this!

  8. Wong Kae Chee

    I met Mrs Tamara in June. Watching the the video is so so moving. I felt transported to her new dining hall in Tamga all over again. She is truly a gem, and I hope to stay in her guest house again.

  9. Kendal

    Awwww that almost made ME cry, too! She’s lovely. 😀 It just re-motivated me to travel, and to do it in a way that focuses on people and relationships and serving others. 🙂

  10. lorna

    that was beautiful heartwarming video. i so enjoy your blog and the way to travel and see the world. some day you will go again. and may before that some traveler will take her a small vid of you from some where in the world peace

  11. The Nomadic Londoner

    When I saw the title I was preparing myself for a sad story but this was absolutely wonderful. I love how travel connects people from all backgrounds. Some of the moments I’ve shared with strangers I’ve only know for 48 hours are some of the most memorable, even more so that with close friends. Earl keeping doing your thing because it is an absolute pleasure to be a part of (from the outside looking in for now)

  12. Scott P


    I was wondering when another post would be coming from you just the other day! You must go visit her soon my friend. Ever in Colorado please look me up.

    Thank you I shed a tear.

    Cheers Scott P in Colorado

  13. Claudia

    I think in the course of my travels I have taken more than I have given, actually. But have met some fantastic people – both locals and other travelers. One in particular is my Israeli friend Yuval. I met him for the first time in April 2010 when we hiked the Colca Canyon in Peru. We had not exchanged emails or anything but I bumped into him in Cusco a week later. We kept in touch since, and he’s visited me in Sardinia years later. He is the one who pushed me to live my dream and in a way he changed my life.

  14. Shirley H

    What a fantastic post Earl! And what an amazing woman. I agree 100% that it is the people we meet while travelling that can change our lives. One special person is all it takes to make a deep, lasting impression that causes you to renew your faith in humanity. Great stuff.

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