The desire to connect amongst solo travelers is strong. We’re all lost (literally and figuratively), intrepid souls on a quest to find out who we are and why we exist. And find a reason to keep existing.
When your friends and family are thousands of miles away in different time zones, support comes from those around you. Humans are social creatures. Interacting with each other is as basic a human need as food or water. Without it, we go insane.
I thought making friends would be challenging, I imagined that hostels would be somewhat cliquey and feel like the first day at a new school. Walking around awkwardly and desperately hoping that a group of people will take a chance on you and accept you into their tribe.
My anxiety clouded my judgment, I didn’t realize that 99% of people out here are exactly like me. Almost everybody is wide open to meeting others. They invite it. Every time I feel like striking up a conversation there’s somebody at the hostel who will indulge me.
It’s made me realize a lot about myself. If you want to truly make connections in a different country, you have to let people in. I’m used to keeping people out.
It’s been eye-opening to realize that I don’t have to talk to anybody. I spent 10 years in a 9-to-5 corporate world where politics are everything and relationships are dictated by your environment. You need to interact with people you hate on a daily basis because of their stature or position. Avoiding them isn’t an option unless you want your career to suffer. Well, it is an option, one that I took regularly, but not a good one.
Another problem is 8+ hours a day is too much time to spend with anybody. If you put me in a room with Jesus for 8 hours a day I would quickly tire of his shit. He’s probably a great guy but ugh, enough with the preaching, The most annoying tics, attributes, and habits of a somebody are magnified when you’re overexposed to them.
Out here I’m free from the pressure to “make nice”, free from people I can’t stand. They’re easy to avoid. I can avoid everybody if I want to. The freedom to truly be who I want and make my own decisions always felt constrained by my environment. That wasn’t the case, but it felt that way.
Now that my environment has changed, I feel truly free for the first time in my life. It’s allowed me to open up more and stop trying to act a certain way because I feel like I have to. I’m completely out of my comfort zone and I love it. I don’t have the time or energy to be anything but exactly who I am.
I finally realized, way too late, that in life I don’t have to answer to anybody, ever. I just thought I did.
Too Many People, Not Enough Time
Elephant Sanctuary Homies
If anything, it’s too tempting to keep meeting new people. I need to do some work out here if I hope to make this writing thing work. Making new friends is addictive yet distracting.
It’s an exercise in discipline. If I crave alone time, I can have it whenever I want. There’s no pressure to meet people, only temptation. I’ve had to switch up my strategy since focusing on work at the “social” hostels is impossible. There’s this buzzing energy that’s impossible to ignore. People are constantly in and out talking about fun things they’ve done or are on their way to do, I can’t resist.
The new, exciting feeling is how I felt when I first moved to Hawaii. I was more open, inclusive, and welcoming than I’ve ever been. But as I made friends and time went on my outer shell started to calcify again. At a certain point I felt like I didn’t need more friends. Once you’re not lonely anymore the incentive to make more friends goes away.
I need to be making new connections all the time. Traveling, not traveling, on vacation, when I’m peeing next to somebody in a public bathroom. Life is all about relationships and networking. Shutting yourself off from new people will keep you stuck in one place.
Once I get in a routine and my life feels stable I get lazy. I go through the motions instead of striving to be better and slowly get depressed. It’s easy to reach a certain level of income or achievement and want to take a break but that attitude is deadly. Once you stop, there’s no guarantee that you’ll start again.
I’m out of my comfort zone and I’m going to do my best to stay out of it.
The Honeymoon Phase
I look like such a creep in this photo lmao
When I meet people, we get to enjoy the honeymoon phase of friendship and experience all of the good before any of the bad.
When I travel with people I know, we start to get on each other’s nerves because traveling is stressful and we’re spending almost every waking minute together. Being friends with somebody is way different than traveling with them. I’ve had best friends that are disastrous travel partners. We have drastically different visions of how the trip should go and what we want out of it.
I can’t travel with people that need to see every square inch of a place before we leave. Too much movement, I’m exhausted the entire time. There is some value to cramming in as much activity as humanly possible, you’re more likely to experience the high points, but to me it’s not worth the physical toll. I want to relax occasionally.
I also can’t team up with people who have a meticulously detailed itinerary and are uncompromising about it. I like to wander and improvise. Their anxiety gives me anxiety and then were just this anxious gang of psychos with hair trigger tempers ready to lose our minds when any little thing goes wrong.
Normal relationships carry a lot of baggage. You’ve spent too much time together, you know how to push each other’s buttons, there’s animosity lurking, ready to surface whenever things go wrong or when you both get too intoxicated.
Not with travel friends! You don’t spend enough time together to develop those issues. Your relationship exists solely to have a good time. You can be honest because who cares? The minimal investment of time and emotion that makes it easy to connect makes it just as easy to disconnect.
This weirdly makes it easier to make deep, meaningful connections. Instead of treading carefully, gradually letting each other in, you dive in head first.
I may encounter a handful of people that hate me but that’s normal. That used to bother me, but not anymore. I don’t mesh well with some people, and others just hate me because I am who I am. You can’t please everybody.
That New New
I know this isn’t forever, but I don’t have to turn back into the old me after this ends. Being overly friendly and constantly moving is who I am. Plus everything is new. New experiences, new people, new places. New is intoxicating, and out here everything is new all the time. Its going to be hard for me to stop.
I’m not a selfish person except when it comes to being emotionally available. It’s difficult for me to open up to people, or be honest with how I’m feeling, I like having my privacy. And I don’t like feeling vulnerable. The only time I do it is when I write it for strangers on the internet. I know how weird that seems, I can’t explain it, it’s easier for me to tell everybody than confide in somebody.
Maybe this is all me justifying my inability to form meaningful relationships. I keep inviting commitment but when it knocks on the door I’m scared to answer. I’m still irrationally scared because, like everybody, I’ve been hurt in the past. But keeping that attitude is cowardly, you need to be open to being hurt otherwise you won’t be open to being loved.
Pure, Uncut Friendship
I only make friends so they can take instagram photos
Travel relationships are a lot like drugs, intense, short-term fun. Except the long-term effects are mostly positive. You get friends for life who live in places that you want to visit. Is it possible to get addicted to making friends?
Even if I am somewhat addicted, it’s what I need right now. Instead of feeling guilty because things are going too well or I’m having too much fun I’m going to follow my instincts. In the past when I’ve held back or not gone with my gut feeling, things haven’t gone well. The more I ignore other people and trust my instincts, the better my life gets.
I’m going to keep being myself for better or worse. The “balance” that I think I need will come as long as trust myself. Even though I’ve only been gone for three weeks, my path is clearer than it’s ever been before. My intuition has been proven right time and time again.
I need to unlearn a lot of what I’ve been taught because the traditional path to success is not ever going to work for me. Be open, be honest, be myself, and always be meeting new people or experiencing new things. As long as I can stick to that, even after I’m done traveling, I think I’ll be OK.