Last year I had the amazing opportunity to live in France for an academic year. While I was there, I traveled…a LOT. And while I loved being able to see all these places, my favourite part of the travel process was meeting travel friends. These people ranged from people met in a hostel, to those met on a pub crawl or in a bar. From natives to other Canadians, Europeans, Australians…and everyone in between.
The beauty of travel friends is that you automatically have something in common. Traveling people are a special breed, all of their own. They (usually) are open minded, excited to learn and to share. This is what makes it possible to meet someone while you’re cooking together in the hostel kitchen, and end up sitting down for a couple of hours to share a meal and some amazing conversation. I can’t tell you how many times I sat down and had hour-long conversations with people, and moved on and realized we hadn’t even introduced ourselves.
Sometimes, that’s as far as it gets. You finish your meal and you go your separate ways, both parties having learned something awesome. Sometimes, you get extra lucky and you have a really strong connection with someone. You talk for a couple of hours and somehow feel like you’ve known each other forever. I have a bunch of my travel friends on Facebook, and I love knowing what they’re up to. I feel like I’ll see them all again some day, probably when we happen to be in the same city by chance when one or both of us is travelling. I love knowing that the possibility is there for me to see them again, but that there’s no pressure.
One of the other great things about travel friends is that they don’t know you. There are no pre-conceptions, only open minds, genuine curiosity and a willingness to listen and to share. You can reinvent yourself every time you make a new friend. I don’t mean lying or being someone you’re not, but communication is a learning process. Especially when you’re communicating across cultures. It is inevitable that you WILL make some mistakes along the way. Maybe you need to learn to express yourself clearly, or to say things in just such a way, or maybe you’ve accidentally offended someone. The great thing about constantly meeting new people is that you have the chance to correct whatever mistakes you made before, to move forward in your learning process and come out a better communicator on the other end.
Now let me take you through a few of my personal favourite travel-friend times. These just show how easy it is to connect with people from all over the place, and to create the most wonderful memories from these opportunities.
Naples and Rome:
This was one of the first trips that Steph and I ever took. We really lucked out. Both in Rome and in Naples we had the most amazing hostel managers. In Rome, we stayed win what was essentially a bed and breakfast run by two brothers, Fabio and Domenico. They had their family there those couple of days, including their aunt who spoke not a word of English. Also in the hostel was a girl from Korea named Christina, who only shared the common language of English with us. Despite this, their aunt wanted to talk to Christina, so Steph and I took it upon ourselves to make this happen. We discovered that Fabio and Domenico were more comfortable speaking French than English so the communication path went as follows: aunt spoke Italian, got translated to French, got translated to English – and then back again. Conversation took a long time and I’m sure that there was a little misunderstanding in there somewhere, but it was amazing that we could communicate despite our differences in language, and that everyone really wanted to put in that effort.
Then, in Naples, we met a guy who’s home-town was Guelph, we had a tour guide who decided that Steph and I were the the best, and we had an absolutely wonderful hostel manager. We’re still in touch with Davide, the hostel manager. We were told, later, that Naples is really dangerous, and had many Italians tell us we were nuts for going there, but the absolutely lovely people we met there never made me feel unsafe!
Barcelona was the ultimate party. We stayed in a 24 person room that had people from all over Europe, South America, Canada and the States in it. We made particularly good friends with a girl from Texas, Avery, who we spent a couple of days with touring around since she was waiting for a friend to join up with her. We also made friends with Philip and Bridget over a pub crawl, I decided I wanted to be friends with Apostolis and Ilianna so I could practice my Greek, Brian and Pappy were good drinking buddies, our fellow Canadians Joel and Sara who we met during a drunken cab ride, Liu, the funniest guy, and to top it off, one of the hostel workers Henri, who was the most wonderful Finnish man who affectionately called us “smoochie”. Amazing time.
We also met a lovely English couple at a place called the “champagneria” in Barcelona….we walked into this place completely filled with locals and not a clue how to order our food. This couple directed us and then we bonded, talking about literally everything, over 3 bottles of champagne. Not to mention Paula, the colombian lady who decided that Steph was her best friend.
We really lucked out in Portugal too that we met so many awesome people. Firstly, at our hostel, we met Ricardo and Samuel. Ricardo is a local who had lived in the States for a year and had a nearly perfect American accent. We bonded over Fado, a Portuguese musical genre that we knew nothing about, and he happened to be studying! We never partied in Lisbon, sitting there that night just chatting with Ricardo was so much more rewarding than any amount of alcohol and dancing could have been. We also got to meet Samuel, a guy from Brazil, who we went and had dinner with, then went and did some sight-seeing with. Steph and I always traveled together, so it was really nice when we had other people added to the mix to change things up a bit. Add some new spice to the company! Finally, in Portugal we went to see some amateur Fado at a bar. We happened to sit beside some middle-aged locals, who we quickly learned didn’t speak any English. Jokingly, one of them said “tu parles français?” (do you speak French?) and, luckily, we did, so we had an amazing couple of hours chatting with them. They told us what the songs were about, we discussed modern music and there was discussion of Britney Spears…don’t particularly remember the context. We also talked about how much we all loved Paris.
We decided to take a night-train from Berlin to Amsterdam, but didn’t get beds in the train. We ended up in a compartment with a couple from Aruba who got to watch us drool all over ourselves all night while we slept. But that didn’t keep them from being just lovely to us when we finally woke up. We had some amazing conversation then! They told us about their kids, about how they met, about their families. The man was excited to get a picture with us to prove to his son that he had “slept with 4 girls in one night!” Too cute. One of the things I loved most about both this encounter and the one with the English couple in Barcelona was the chance to honestly interact with middle-aged people. In every-day “real life”, there’s always a barrier to totally open and honest communication, which stems from a need to maintain respect on both sides. But since we were all travelers who would never see each other again, we could speak totally honestly about the shit we got up to, and so could they. It eliminated that barrier between them and us, showed us that even 50 year olds have some spice and sass left yet!
Alright, I leave you with that. Some of my most amazing traveling memories, although there are SO many more! Thanks so much to all of you who were a part of them ❤ you are life-changers.