After we parted ways with the Brits in Belgrade, Josh and I have been talking/thinking quite a bit about the difference between friendships made while traveling vs. those forged during “real” life, and who you are when you travel vs. who you are in “real” life. I completely agree with Josh that there is something special about the relationships you build with people while traveling, especially if you are in a stressful country (i.e. India). I’m not totally sure if it is because of the stress of travel, being open and vulnerable or what, but I there is definitely something different about the “me” that travels and the friendships made while traveling.
Am I much different when I travel than in normal life? I’m not sure. I always try to remain as much “myself” as possible, whatever the hell that means. I still wear makeup and do my hair the same. I read books and listen to the same music. I get on Facebook and check my email just as much. I call my parents and my sister and talk with friends. I haven’t tried to escape my life at home, because that was not the point of this trip. But I’ve obviously been thrust into situations that would never happen to me in a million years back home. I don’t think I’m much different, but, then again, I’m with myself 24/7, so of course I wouldn’t. I think the only thing that might be different is that in these new friendships, I am more myself all at once. You kind of have to be, right? There is no time to develop a friendship. Ya gotta be all you, in their face, for the 24+ hours you may have together.
I’ve also discovered that there is something bittersweet about the relationships you make while abroad – they develop very quickly, and can provide much needed nourishment and refuge from travel, but they then end quickly. There’s no guarantee that they will continue into the future. On this trip, Josh and I have been extremely fortunate to meet some wonderful and amazing people, who seemed to come along at just the right time, and provide exactly what we needed at said time.
Alice and Andy were the first people we met after our week in Turkey, and they provided the companionship, opportunities for adventure and conversations we were hungry for after many lonely nights in Turkey. As soon as we saw another pair of travelers on that 14 hour ferry, we felt some hope. When we found out they were well-traveled, funny & had some great games to kill time, we were sold. We then spent 2 really fun days exploring Santorini by car with them, which was the perfect antithesis to the constant restrictions we encountered in Turkey.
Austin travelled with us after we left Athens, which was when we started to be a bit jaded. Josh and I have reacted to things on this trip generally in the same way, so when plans were forced to change, cities were a little fucked up, and sleep and food were hard to come by, we often turned into silent and grumpy little twits. Austin, on the other hand, never seemed to be stressed. He was in a constant state of awe and amazement at the things we saw, and was never fazed by the inconveniences of Eastern Europe, even when we discovered that it was essentially pointless for him to have come with us to Belogradchik, as he would only spend about 10 hours there.
Travelling for 5 weeks inevitably produces some enthusiasm slumps, and Josh and I were definitely slumpy when we met Sexton. Immediately, we all connected over our love of SNL, dumb American pop songs and pop culture in general. It was also obvious that Josh really enjoyed having another gay guy around. Sure, Josh and I could joke about the exact same things alone, but he could relate to Sexton in a way that will never exist in our relationship. It was immediately apparent that Sexton gave Josh some much needed relief from his hetero-dominant trip thus far. Plus, we had a million inside jokes by the time we parted in Budapest. (If you read this Sexton – “HAY!” And “I’m not sure, but beef sounds right.”)
Then there were the 3 Brits. As Josh said in his previous post, the connection between us all was made almost instantly. Josh and I honestly were not going to go out on the town that first night in Serbia, because our options up until then were this chick from Belfast that we could not understand and Bran, who killed any minute chance at friendship when he proudly declared to like Ronald Reagan. But the Brits were charming, sarcastic, intelligent and not afraid to make fools of themselves – all of which are qualities I highly value. So we spent a day and a half with these lovely guys, impersonating each other’s accents, introducing them to SNL, and discussing everything from the American and British national anthems to the moral dilemma and social convention of eating certain animals. We also had arguably the most ridiculous and most fun night out on this trip (which says a lot, because we have had some weird ass nights).
While I’m sure each of these people view our experiences differently than I, I think we would all agree that our shared experiences traveling brings something special to it. When traveling, you often find yourself in challenging situations. It makes you vulnerable and emotional, and often reveals parts of yourself you might not let others see straight away. But when you travel with a stranger, they witness all of that. And you see them in similarly raw and exposed situations. Your friendship is often accelerated and you become close quickly. The 14 people I studied abroad with in India saw me at some of the highest highs and lowest lows I’ve ever experienced. In the months we were together, we supported each other and confided in each other as we fell apart, and stood by while we tried to rebuild. This hasn’t happened in the same the same sense on this trip as it has on others, but a similar trend is there. You see your travel mates react to things and interact with people in ways that reveal deep inner truths about their character and personality.
So, even though I may never see any of the people I’ve travelled with again, we have shared memories that are so special and unique. The first time you saw a specific city. Eating gross or amazing food in a foreign country. Seeing national monuments. Long and ardous bus or train rides. Meeting ridiculous people. You share funny, terrifying and beautiful moments that could never happen anywhere else with anyone else. As Josh and I make our final bus ride (7+ hours from Sozopol to Istanbul) and wait for our 5:30 a.m. flight to Amsterdam, I’ll be thinking of everyone we met on this trip and sending out love. Safe travels.