Over the past couple of years, my life seems to have become a never-ending series of packing and unpacking, of departures and arrivals, of landings and take-offs. I often find myself going through hundreds of photographs from my most recent trip while simultaneously planning the next one. Having the chance to do all of this is definitely a blessing I could not be more grateful for, but it is also a double-edged sword – for with this ever-changing environment inevitably comes hundreds of excited hellos and, unfortunately, just as many tearful goodbyes.
In fact, I am preparing for a new set just as I am writing these lines. My backpack is almost ready to hit the road again after two weeks spent in Cluj, Romania, in a house full of nice people – some of whom I only met a couple of days ago and will have to part with before I even really got to know them. I am a rather reserved person and it usually takes me some time before I am completely at ease around new people. However, I get attached very quickly and saying goodbye so often is extremely difficult. During my travels I have met many great people, but I have also learned that while a couple of fun-filled days spent exploring the city with that fellow traveller you met at the hostel bar will probably make for some great memories, they will rarely ignite any long-lasting friendships. The reason is simple: a couple of days is just not enough time for that special bond to form.
I am currently fast approaching the final days of my gap year, and even though I have thoroughly enjoyed all the new experiences, this last year has been full of difficult goodbyes – the kind that always come a little bit too early. There was a point when I just about had it with farewells. It happened when I was travelling solo in South Korea, far away from home and everything familiar. I was about to leave the hostel where I had been working for three weeks and where I had made some very good friends, for a new place – a place that I knew would be full of people, too. I was not ready to leave my hostel friends behind, and almost felt resentment towards all the new people I “had to” meet; because what good is it meeting awesome people that could easily be your best friends, but unfortunately live on the other side of the planet and are bound to sooner or later be downgraded to little more than tiny portraits in your Facebook sidebar?
What good is it getting to know all of them if it only means more tears when the day arrives to say goodbye? I remember how on that particular day I was sitting on my bed on the verge of tears, swearing to a friend back home that upon my return from Asia I would lock myself into my room and never let this cruel life present me any new people again. Though amused by my desperate ramblings, my friend understood the struggle and she tried to calm me down: “Listen, I know the feeling, and I know how hard it is to leave someone behind when a friendship has only just begun to form. But you know, in this sea of people who come and go, there will be a few special ones who will stay forever. And they make this entire thing so very worth it!”
I quickly understood just how right she was; and not only because she belonged to that latter group of friends who stayed (incidentally, we met abroad, on a student exchange in France, even though our paths must have unknowingly crossed hundreds of times before that in the hallway of our university in Ljubljana). It only took that simple piece of advice to make me see the glass half-full rather than half-empty; our conversation made me realise how many of my friends live thousands of kilometres away from me, but I nevertheless talk to them on a regular basis and consider them a very important part of my life. Sure, having to rely on Facebook and Skype to talk to them is not ideal, but since my teleportation skills leave a lot to be desired, some of my biggest joys and fears are still sent to foreign lands in the form of letters and emoticons. When there finally happens a reunion – and, I am proud to say, they do happen fairly often – the joy is so much more intense. Because you only have a limited amount of time to spend together, not a minute is wasted; it is quality over quantity, and sometimes four hours can be worth more than three weeks. Like that reunion with one of my Korean friends, when we just went out for a drink but ended up getting home in the dark because there were so many things to discuss and so many dreams to share. Or that weekend in Berlin when a Polish friend and I both travelled to the German capital to meet up with our Canadian friend – that same friend who made me cry two years ago when she announced she would be able to come to another one of our reunions which was initially going to take place without her.
After my friend’s wise words had set in, I was once again at peace with meeting new amazing people almost every day. The thing is, unless your destination of choice is the desolate plains of Antarctica, it is almost impossible to avoid human contact. And while most of these encounters will only become a fleeting memory, some might turn into long-lasting friendships that will lead to joyous reunions all around the globe.
I guess in the end life on the road is just like any other life, except that you know from the very beginning that sooner or later the moment will come to part. There will most certainly be way too many people you are forced to leave behind as you hit the road once again for a new dose of adventure, but every now and then a sneaky little “goodbye” will turn into a “see you soon”. A couple of special people will stay in your life regardless of the distance between you, and they are the ones who make this slippery path of travelling friendships so worth walking on!
Words by: Tina Zorko
Tina is a journalist for HI Slovenia’s travel e-magazine Globetrotter, a fascinating library of personal experiences and tips from around the planet. Check out more great articles from them here.
Had to say a difficult goodbye to someone on the road? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below.