One of the unexpected but wonderful byproducts of a journey that I thought might be isolating is that it’s actually brought me closer to a lot of people. I mean that quite literally. For some reason, I’ve seen more of my friends this summer than I had for the past six months. I’ve also managed to connect with people who I hadn’t seen in months or years.
A couple of weeks ago, when I found myself in Paris, a friend from high school reached out to me. She was also in Paris and wanted to get together for drinks. She’s now married and has four kids, and I hadn’t seen her in over a decade. But we spent all afternoon drinking wine and catching up. And I can’t believe we haven’t been close for the past 11 years. What I find remarkable is that this is someone who I would otherwise coexist with in the same city for the rest of our lives and probably never see again. It took Paris to bring us together.
To be fair, I barely saw my close friends back home anyway. It wasn’t until I was halfway around the world that I realized my friendships didn’t feel any different. And that’s because most modern friendships are mere correspondence. We spend all day in our group chats, but we really don’t see much of each other. Someone is always working late and someone else has family commitments and someone else is traveling. There’s hardly any time for people to sit and enjoy each other’s company. But when you travel together and you spend a few days with someone you love, you can truly reconnect.
Of course, it’s more difficult to plan a vacation with someone than it is to plan a brunch. But the wonderful thing about travel is that it can make this big world feel so small. Even when it’s unplanned, you’d be surprised how many people you’ll cross paths with on the road unintentionally. A few weeks ago, a friend of mine that lives in New York happened to be in Prague. He realized I was here, so we made plans for breakfast. We ended up spending all day together.
Ask yourself this. When was the last time you drove through a friend’s neighborhood and texted them to see if they were available for lunch? I know I didn’t. I lived less than a mile away from one of my friends for over a year, and I didn’t see her once.
But when you’re traveling, you understand the value of interacting outside of the digital world. And suddenly the vicinity that you consider close is a neighboring country and not five blocks. And maybe it’s not always feasible to meet up, but at least people make the effort. The same people who will avoid making eye contact with you if you run into them at the mall will text you to ask how long you plan to be in Warsaw because they’ll be there next week. It’s refreshing and creates a sense of community that is absent from real communities.
Travel also brings perfect strangers together. It’s why people love hostels. They can exchange stories and advice with fellow backpackers. And in those days or that night or that hour, that person becomes your best friend. You share everything, including toothpaste, and you leave with a newfound appreciation for whatever small European country they came from. And the best part is that now that you’ve added Lithuania to your bucket list, you already have a friend there when you go visit. You’re now forever connected by your wanderlust.
It’s a shame that we’re so disconnected from the people around us in our regular lives. The world could use a little more closeness.