Why Friendships Abroad are Different than Friendships at Home

In August 2010, most of my friends left my small hometown of Santa Cruz, California to go off to college in various other parts of the country. I was taking a gap year, so I stayed in Santa Cruz for six months working at a daycare before I moved to Antigua, Guatemala to volunteer.

When everyone left, I was a wreck. I had grown up with these kids, they had made Santa Cruz what it was for me, and now they were all leaving.

At the same time, while I knew I would only be seeing them a few times a year instead of every day, I still knew I would see them again, since our families were all still living in Santa Cruz and people would be back for Thanksgiving or Christmas or summer or what have you.

As I learned in May 2011, when I was leaving Guatemala after being there for three months, the friends you make while you’re abroad are different. Because everyone has different lives and plans and schedules, there’s a good chance that the people you meet while traveling you’re never actually going to see again, and I think it’s for that reason that traveling friendships often happen so fast and people get attached so easily.

This coming Saturday, I will have been in Barcelona for three months. Three weeks ago, one of my best friends whom I met over here announced he was going home to the UK a few weeks earlier than he had initially planned. On his last night, we grabbed drinks with some other people and went to a club. Suddenly around 3 a.m. he wrapped me in a hug and said he was leaving to pack for his early flight.

I’m horrible at goodbyes, so I hugged him back and then instantly fled to the bathroom, where I broke down and cried. I’m not a break-down-and-cry type of person, so my assessment of the situation was that it was about 40 percent because he was leaving, 30 percent because alcohol makes people do weird shit sometimes, and the other 30 percent because one of my best friends leaving was a rude reminder that even though I’ve met lots of people I care about since moving to Spain, we’re all out here doing our own thing, and I’m still traveling alone.

People come and go, so possibly sooner than I realize, I’m going to be on my own again, trying to convince airport security in a foreign country to let me board a plane without a return ticket and doing my best not to end up in the wrong city on accident.

How fitting is it that this is written on the wall opposite the hammock I was in while writing this?? Talk about a coincidence.

Here’s where it comes full circle: at the time of writing, I’m laying in a hammock at Mimhostel in Oporto, Portugal–the trip I had to take so I could go from Panama to Spain. I bought a flexible ticket, so I was able to change the date, and my friend–one of the friends I had been the most sad to say goodbye to in August 2011, as chance would have it–happened to be in Barcelona last week, so we came to Oporto together.

Because of how the timing worked out, when we fly back into Barcelona tonight, most of the friends I’ve made in Spain will either be gone or will be leaving tomorrow. Therefore I’ve been a huge bitch almost the entire time we’ve been in Portugal–50 percent because my friends are leaving, and 50 percent because very soon, I’ll be alone on a different continent with no actual plan for what the hell I’m doing. And it’s way easier to be a bitch than to admit that you’re scared.

(Sorry, Chris.)

A couple of days ago, my friend from Dublin who I met in Barcelona said goodbye to one of his other friends, and he was bummed, but said that the thing about meeting other travelers when you’re traveling is that there is a chance you’ll both end up in the same city again. Even in my current cynical/fear-avoidant state, it helps a little to remember that he’s right. When I was in Dublin in June 2015, I grabbed a couple of beers with someone I met when I climbed Volcán Pacaya in Guatemala in 2011, and I never had any reason to think I would see him again. Hey, look at that, more full circle.

TL;DR: People come and go, but the world is small, and goodbye doesn’t always mean goodbye.


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