Arriving in the Colombian city of Cali early in the morning after another overnight bus trip I settled in for some breakfast at my hostel and started to chat with some of the other guests. In this part of the world one of the first things you find out about someone is whether they're going 'up' or 'down'. I told the group that I was heading 'down' towards Ecuador and would probably leave in two days time. Another guest quickly added that he had the same plan, so we decided we should go together. It was perfect – and we hadn't even gotten each other's names yet.
So goes the world of travel friendships. Someone who has little more in common than being another foreigner in the same direction can turn into someone you hang out with constantly for days or even weeks on end – before saying goodbye and often never seeing them again.
This is one of the reasons I love travelling so much. While back in the 'real world' people are often happy with the group of friends they have, when people are travelling they're almost always up for meeting new people. Especially when, like me, they're travelling independently. Finding people to discover a city with, eat with and party with can make your experience in a location far more enjoyable. Similarly, finding someone to do a two day bus trip – including border crossing – with can make things a bit safer and easier, even if all you know about your new travel companion is that they're also from the same country.
Travel Buddies I met in Mexico and then again in Guatemala
Quite often the finding of travel buddies involves nothing more than talking to the person who happens to be in the dorm bed next to you, or saying hi to the girl across from you at the breakfast table. Within five minutes you've found someone to go see that beautiful church or have a drink at that funky bar. Or if you're lucky, maybe something else.
While everyone you meet has their own ideas of what they want their trip to be, much of the time your plans share a lot in common with others (you're plans are far from original!) and you'll spend some time travelling with other people or arranging to meet them at the same time in other locations along the way.
On this trip alone I've met more than a handful of people that I've been able to travel with or catch up with in more than country. One such friend I've managed to catch up with in four different countries. So far.
Best Friends (for a day or two)
Whatever happens with your travel friendship, the one thing they all have in common is that they end. You all go back to where you're from and in the majority of cases, you never see them again – sad but true.
Sometimes you'll meet someone from your own town – or at least close by – and you'll try to catch up and see if the friendship can translate to the real world. A lot of the time it cant. After you've reminisced about the adventures you got up to together, you'll start talking about your regular life and often find out you really do have nothing in common. In the real world, merely being from the same place is not enough to sustain friendship. Everyone in your home town is from here.
If you're lucky, some of these travel friends will become buddies you can catch up with occasionally and have a drink. I've been fortunate enough to make some of my best friends while overseas – and many of those live in Melbourne and have transitioned to 'real world' friends which is the best of both worlds.
Another way to keep travel friendships alive – as crazy as it sounds – is to travel some more. With social networks and the like these days it has never been easier to keep in touch with your new friends, and when planning your next trip abroad you know you have friends that love to do the same things as you and can organise to travel together.
Alternatively you can go travelling to a country from where your travel buddies were from. While travelling through Europe from 2005 to 2007 I met a lot of other travellers from the US and Canada. When I eventually got to go travel there in 2009, I was able to catch up with many of my new travel buddies in their home towns. It is never quite the same as when you're travelling. They've generally got “real” jobs and responsibilities, but it's always still fun. They're often keen to reminisce about their travelling days and forget about said responsibilities.
Despite the condensed nature of travel friendships, like any other relationship, its really what you make of it.
As for my travel buddy from the hostel Cali. after five days, many hours on a bus, a few hikes and a bunch of beers, today we parted ways.
While writing this blog I was chatting with a girl sitting across from me who is heading to the same town tomorrow. A new travel friendship is born.