Like most travellers, I’ve made a lot of friends on the road. My Facebook feed is filled with acquaintances from around the globe, people I’ve met in passing who maybe I’ll see again in a year, maybe I’ll never see again. And I love it. I love that should I hop a flight to Paris or Vancouver, Sydney or Havana, there will be a familiar face on the other end, even if it’s just someone to grab a coffee with while I’m in transit to the next destination. I also hate it.
I’ve travelled solo and with groups, and both have their pros and cons. For most of us, solo travel—at least initially—feels immensely more difficult. Heading off to the unfamiliar, orienting yourself, realizing that you have full reign over your itinerary—these can be hard to handle. But travelling with others, especially as a group, also has its own troubles. Like how it’s really easy to get tired of people when you spend every day and every night with them on the road and oh my god, will you people just go away? At least, that’s the issue most people cite. But there’s another downside to group travel, one that doesn’t get discussed nearly as much: the loneliness that comes with saying goodbye.
I find there are four stages to every return from a group trip:
1. One Day Back
You’re thrilled to be away from everyone. Like, you’re naked dancing around your apartment just because you can, you’re so happy (don’t forget to close the blinds—you’re not that alone). Finally, you can have lunch by yourself, you can stay up as late as you want without worrying about waking your dorm mates, you can sit in absolute solitude staring at the wall. It’s amaaaaazing.
2. Three Days Back
You realize maybe you do want to see people after all, so you book dates with friends and family, mainly so you can regale them with tales of all the adventures you had while you were away. You’re still riding the high of travel, living life through the lens of your last destination. And as you tell the stories about people who your friends and family will never meet, you get that first twinge that something’s missing.
3. Five Days Back
You suddenly miss everyone. Even that guy who everyone secretly hated because he never stopped talking and kept stealing people’s food. There were always too many French fries on your plate, anyway. And so you start stalking all of them on Facebook and Twitter, hoping that they miss you as much as you miss them, and best of all, they usually do. A lovefest ensues of tagged photos and comments about how much fun it all was.
4. Two Weeks Back and Beyond
After a while, the comments start to slow down. You stop trolling one another’s Instagram feeds. You all still adore each other, and the memories are still just as wonderful, but real life takes over and you have to move on because all that Facebook stalking was really getting in the way of your workload and you have bills to pay.
There’s an intimacy that comes from travel, something that can’t quite be replicated at home. Unfamiliar places, cultures, languages, foods—all this pushes you together. You come to rely on one another, and the excitement of travel becomes entwined with the excitement of newfound friendships. (Side note: This is why everyone on The Bachelor declares they’re in love after two dates, and why it’s not that unreasonable for them to genuinely believe so—relationships function in a vacuum when you’re in a foreign land. Also when your dates involve helicopters and all-you-can-drink champagne, but I digress.)
And then, when you touch down on home soil, there’s a bit of culture shock as you try to meld the memories of your travelling family with your real-life world.
It’s not that you’ve made artificial friendships, although I realize that’s what it sounds like. Quite the opposite, I’ve made incredible friendships while travelling, formed bonds as strong as those I have in my “real life.” I was once told by a psychic (yes, a psychic, but hey, I was in New Orleans) that a person I met while travelling was my soul mate. I must have looked as skeptical as you are right now reading this, because she went on to say that everyone has dozens of soul mates over the course of their lives. Not all of them are romantic and many of them aren’t people who will stay in your life for long. They are people that you simply have a connection with, who were meant to come into your life at some point, for some reason. Maybe to teach you something about the world or about yourself—or for you to give something to them.
(In the case of my psychic visit, she told me this soul mate was apparently a neighbour from my past life who I was always fighting with, and we had come together in this life to mend our differences. Yes, yes, I know. But I always held on to that thought because I liked the idea of the universe righting past relationships gone wrong, even centuries later.)
As crazy as that little tangent sounds, it’s a concept I hold dear. Soul mates all over the world, passing in and out of one another’s lives just when you need them.
And then of course, travelling speeds things up, makes you fall—into love, into friendship—faster and with more force than you would at home, soul mate or not. It’s also, of course, ridiculously romantic. (There’s a reason every female traveller adores Before Sunrise, and it’s not just Ethan Hawke.)
And that’s why I both love it and hate it. Those friendships on the road are like a drug. You’re together and it’s all new and it’s a total high. But when you part ways, whether it’s after the first time you met or after you reunited over coffees in Rome three years later, you crash. A piece of your heart stays behind. And to recover, you book another trip and search out new people to start it all over with again. It’s official: you’re a junkie.
I’m admittedly a sap (ahem, if you couldn’t tell by reading this post). I don’t think I’ve ever said goodbye to a single travel companion without tearing up. And there are people wandering the globe carrying little bits of my heart that have attached themselves to them. There’s that overused phrase you see on all those inspirational travel posters and memes, that it’s about the journey, not the destination. Which is true. But most of the time, the journey is nothing without the people.