Hi, can we be friends?

I want to write about the relationships you form with people whilst ‘on the road’. For me, forming these connections is what makes travelling the interesting, enriching and often hilarious experience it is at its best.

My trip started after a difficult few months back in England. I departed for Asia after a traumatic break-up, having spent most of my adult life in a committed relationship and suddenly finding myself single and alone. To say I found this terrifying would be putting it mildly. However, I forced myself to board that plane and faked the confidence I didn’t have that I would meet people and it would all be fine. My well-travelled mother told me stories of a huge German guy she bumped into all over Israel, to convince me how easy it is to make friends when backpacking.

Of course, she was 100% correct. There is nothing easier than meeting great people on the road. For a start, you already have travel as a common interest. But I find that once you get past the inevitable “Where are you from?” and “Where have you travelled so far?” conversation-openers, you get to the crux of a person surprisingly quickly. Maybe it’s sharing all those dorm rooms with others, or the freedom of living out of a bag with nothing to tie you to your old life – whatever the reason, I have told people I’ve known for a few days or even just hours some of my deepest secrets (and been told theirs in return), out of a sense of mutual confidence that comes from I-don’t-know-where. And I love that about meeting people this way. Lifelong friendships are forged in a matter of days; levels of intimacy it would take months to achieve at home appear after a few Changs or glasses of goon. Something about being taken away from your homeland and put in a situation where everyone is in the same boat (sometimes literally) lifts layers of decorum and reserve. Open-mindedness is everywhere, no one judges anyone for anything because we all know how it is when you are travelling. It’s like a secret club and we are the cool kids who were allowed to join.

I will never forget the girl on my very first night in Bangkok (after two days with no sleep), who kindly invited me for dinner. I was introduced to a friendly Geordie from the hostel which reassuring reminded me of my home-city Newcastle, and ended up partying the night away in that crazy city. It was an unforgettable first night and the perfect introduction to solo travel. So many wonderful people have come into my life thanks to this trip – an intelligent Greek girl who lives opposite my cousin in London; a slightly mental London lass with a juxtaposed philosophical side; a lovely Irish boy who nursed me through an unfortunate knee injury I sustained in Thailand and has since kept me updated on all his travelling exploits; an extremely sweet English boy and fellow East-Midlander with a wicked sense of humour… just a few of the people I will undoubtedly see again in this lifetime.

Then there are the boys you meet on the road – or girls, depending on your gender and inclination. Being newly single and not quite loving it, I was definitely apprehensive about this aspect of travelling. You might think exploring single life for the first time while backpacking is a baptism of fire, but I’ve been lucky in that I’ve met a lot of nice guys along the way and pretty much only had positive experiences. One thing is for sure – it’s definitely been a lot of fun! I’ve learnt a hell of a lot about myself through my few dalliances. I’m certainly a lot more open-minded than I realised. I’m also kinder to myself than before – I don’t judge myself for anything I have done and even when things weren’t great I have learnt something from every encounter. I will remember every boy I’ve met travelling, what it meant to me at that time, and occasionally have a hilarious story to tell my friends back home! The first was especially important to me in starting my new life and being ok with things (a 6’5” Dutch guy isn’t a bad place to start).

Long-term solo travel is often seen as being a potentially lonely experience. For me, it’s been anything but. Being alone is when I’ve formed the closest bonds with people and had incredible fun. I started this trip feeling lower about myself than ever in my life before. Now, after almost six months travelling, it’s a different story. I know for now and forever that I am a likeable person and I never need to be short of a friend for the rest of my life – potential friends are all around me. As for the guy situation, I am enjoying being on my own for the foreseeable future but that’s not going to stop me having fun until I feel differently.

Makin’ friends

Sure, travel is about the countries you visit and the experiences you have. But it’s also so much about the individuals you meet along the way, see the countries with and have the experiences with.

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2 thoughts on “Hi, can we be friends?

  1. An amazing read Helen! I’m nearly in tears at my desk at work. So glad you’re in a happy place and having the best time, you’re an awesome human being – love you! x

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