An Open Letter to a Friend I Lost While Travelling
Dear (ex-)best friend,
Things just aren’t the way they used to be. In fact, they were pretty hostile there for a while. We’ve all read stories of how people have found their besties while travelling, or had some bullshit epiphany about who their true friends are. But travel just drove a wedge between us, and almost destroyed one of the greatest friendships I’ve ever had.
We’ve been close our entire lives, sharing a beautiful and largely uncomplicated comradeship based on a mutual love of Harry Potter and disdain for sports. We’ve seen each other through all our awkward phases: the pre-teen fangirl, the side-fringe faux-emo and the trying-embarrassingly-hard-to-be-“alternative”. You were there from my first birthday to my first drink, and finally for my first independent travel experience.
And then, within six short weeks, all that was gone, and I’m left wondering how the hell I managed to fuck up so badly.
Actually, I’m wrong. I do know how. My mistake was deluding myself into thinking that travelling with my best friend and boyfriend could ever work out.
Our plan was to go on tour for a couple of weeks, then stay in London for a couple more. We had hung out together many times in Australia, and everything had been fine. Fine enough, at least, for us to agree that planning a six-week-long trip to the opposite end of the globe would be a great success. I mean, we were all adults, right? Surely we could handle ourselves.
On tour, everything seemed to be going great. You found new friends in our tour group, among them a beautiful and funny Sydneysider. Boyfriend, on the other hand, was finding it harder to socialise, so we mostly stuck together as a quartet; you, the Sydneysider, Boyfriend and myself. We had some pretty good times together: stacking on the slopes in Germany, drinking Butterbeer in an underground Polish café and laughing hysterically at our tour mates as they danced tipsily to an Austrian string trio.
Still, there were moments when I felt I wasn’t doing enough to make sure everyone was having fun. I’d assumed that our group dynamic would translate exactly to the new setting, and it was a shock to find out that I’d actually have to try harder, as the common link between you and Boyfriend, to make everyone feel included. It started to really weigh on my shoulders, at a time when I thought my biggest worry should have been about whether or not to buy a keyring of a miniature Dutch clog. To be honest (and this is painful to admit, even now), towards the end, I was feeling a little too sorry for myself to even notice what you were going through.
You must have felt fucking awful: homesick, lonely, in an unfamiliar environment, with your only safety net being a friend who (as much as I tried), was being distant and selfish as hell. I’d assumed that our dynamic would be just like it was in Australia. But of course, being 16 thousand kilometres away from home, with only each other for company, it was bound to be different, and I was naïve to think otherwise.
Then, one day, things blew up. I didn’t realise how upset you were (blame my shitty sensitivity radar, at it again), and I can’t remember now exactly how it happened, only that one minute I was eating breakfast alone, the next minute I felt my phone buzz in my pocket.
Reading that message felt like a knife to the heart.
“People said that this trip wouldn’t work and that I would be excluded. I didn’t believe them, I thought that you would never do that. Clearly, I was wrong.”
That was the part that hurt the most: the thought that you’d had so much faith in me, and I’d completely trampled it into the icy European slush, without even realising.
I wandered London’s streets for hours that day, wondering how the hell I was meant to go back into that hotel room and face you again, how to fix this goddamn mess. It was like we had spent years constructing this massive, elaborate ceramic vase, and I’d just picked it up and thrown it, shattering it into a million pieces. Now, it was up to me to fit the first piece back into place, and I was terrified to place it wrong.
Predictably, the last few days of that trip were terribe. I remember catching a train to the beach. All the way there, we were completely silent, and once we’d disembarked, you promptly turned your back and strode off. I didn’t see you again until we met hours later to board the returning train. It was the middle of winter in Brighton, and the fair on the end of the pier, so vibrant and bustling in the warmer seasons, was closed; the rides were covered, the stalls shut, all colour seemingly bleached by the steely grey sky. It looked as pathetic as I felt.
Did I ruin your first big trip? Did I neglect my responsibility to make sure everyone was having a good time? Or was the real mistake was trying to force the group dynamic to work in the first place? The entire trip, I had felt stretched too thin; like you were pulling me from one direction, Boyfriend from the other. Like a rubber band, eventually, somewhere, it had to snap.
What I didn’t realise is that friendships overseas are different to those at home. Emotions, both good and bad, are running high, and your immediate support system is narrowed down to a handful of people. People are going to have different emotional needs, like comfort in homesickness, and others are going to have to step up and fulfil them. That’s where I let you down.
There are so many stories out there of people making and consolidating amazing friendships through travel. I can only apologise, shamelessly and profusely, for ours not being one of them.
It’s been far too long. I miss you.
Cover by Jorge Flores