On Relationships as a Traveller – A Note to My Younger Self
It is September and you’re 19 years old. You’re sobbing in an airport terminal – because you’re not sure you want to leave anymore – and filling in a survey about the quality of the facilities – because you just can’t say no to people. You’ll get better at both with time, I promise.
Cry on the side girl; tears are falling onto the iPad. The survey-lady is probably asking herself why she asked you instead of any other passenger. Also, stop trying to smile at her while you’re weeping. You don’t seem nicer – you just look like a psycho.
You’re moving away from your home country, France, for the first time, as you’re about to study abroad for a whole year. Your dad and a boy you loved too much drove you to the airport and, although you spent the previous year longing for this moment, deep in your guts, you know this might be a turning point.
And you’re right, because from then on, this is going to be a true roller-coaster.
You will never go back to France for more than a few months in a row, and you will meet more people than you could ever imagine. Most of them will be quickly forgotten, some of them companions for a while, a few of them you will remember forever.
But as you’re about to embark, I know that what worries you the most is losing people. You still have high expectations about relationships in your adult life. Pop culture made you. But no, you won’t get to hang out at Central Perk with your lifelong mates. You won’t even be sure you have lifelong mates, as you’ll probably forget to answer their texts at some point. But we’ll get to that.
While covered in snot, you’re thanking the lovely Belgian man who is giving you gum on the plane. Take a seat, relax.
What defines relationships on the road and what makes them so special are their length and their depth of connection. Because if both parties know they’ll only spend a short amount of time together, they’ll either connect immediately or drift apart in a fraction of second.
And you’ll connect, trust me, because you’re not made of iron. And because the greatest individuals are out there. Best friends will come out of mere interactions, and you’ll introduce new rituals with new people.
Temporary and wobbly routines.
Like your churros con chocolate – the least Basque treat – on Plaza Nueva every Sunday after a big night out during your first year in Bilbao. Or your after-work almond latte sitting on a pink crate at Todd Mall in Alice Springs.
And during a moment, the beautiful souls surrounding you will be your whole life. You’ll share your deepest dreams, craziest nightmares and the best adventures. You’ll learn how to talk shit and to enjoy each other’s silences. You’ll hold their hair while they’re vomiting and they’ll hold your hand late at night during work trips. You’ll teach your languages to each other, complain about your respective bosses and add songs to each other’s playlists.
Until you leave. Or they leave.
At first, you’ll promise that you’ll write every week, that you’ll video call and even that you’ll visit each other. With time, you’ll realise you won’t.
New friends will replace old ones, new cities and even countries will become your playground, and eventually you’ll stop texting, too caught up in your own life to think daily about these guys you’d go for a run with along Birmingham’s canals or these you’d have one-litre mojitos with in Montpellier’s streets.
You’ll even make new playlists.
You will not forget the ones that mattered, but you’ll learn how to embrace the silences and to accept goodbyes, some harder than others.
And that’s okay.
Of course you’ll cry a few times (you’ve already started), your heart might also get a bit broken en route and you’ll ask yourself what could have been often. Especially when it comes to dating.
But eventually, you’ll meet someone who’s willing to go around the world with you and to help you improve your table tennis skills along the way. A true sign that he’ll be worth a shot.
Naturally it will be complicated. By definition relationships are. You’ll almost break up in Cairns and in Bangkok. He’ll help you fight depression in a shitty shared flat by a river and you’ll leave him behind to rebuild yourself in the middle of a desert. Sometimes, you’ll wish you could just say goodbye to him as well to make it easier, or to make out with a guy on a rooftop in Darwin. But you’ll believe it’s worth it. And you’ll make out with the guy anyways but everybody’s cool with it.
So no, your relationships while travelling will not be the same as if you were staying home. They’ll be less comfortable and more intense. They will make your heart skip a few beats; they will make you love and hurt like never before. But they’ll be a big part of why you’ll keep on travelling.
And you’re going to love it.
Who needs a bloody Central Perk anyways?
Cover by Man Wong