The other day I received a text message from a friend that said she was perusing photos of us together in Mexico, what good times we had, I miss you, etc., etc. We met studying abroad together one summer in Cuernavaca, central Mexico’s “City of Eternal Spring.” Instant friends the moment I heard her full-of-life laugh and saw she had no shame in flashing her disgusting toenail peeling off from some Las Estacas-related injury.
As I became all starry-eyed and nostalgic for yesteryear, looking through my own albums induced cliché shock at how much changes in five years. Or even that five years have passed so quickly. This one’s married; that one has a baby; she’s in law school; that one finally found himself; WHO KNOWS WHERE HE IS (the latter I’m assuming is what others assign to me going through their own photos). We all looked like such babies. Awkward little humans feeling grown because of voluntary displacement (albeit just south of the border in Mexico) with the whole world before them, thinking they might just have it all figured out. And if not bold enough to claim false omniscience, then too young to really even care. I was somewhere in the middle and all the way awkward.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized the greatest friends I have are the ones I’ve made while traveling, or that I’ve previously traveled with. We may not talk or see each other regularly, but the bonds with these people feel as though they’ve always been there, just waiting for that moment of connection that creates instant familiarity. The majority of college friends I still keep in touch with and occasionally see are the friends I made that summer in Cuernavaca. This could be in part due to the fact that I was graduating once we returned, thus my awareness of the end at hand only intensifying the romanticism of my newfound friendships already carrying a golden aura from foreign establishments. I don’t think so, though.
I also realized how much of my independent adulthood memory timeline is measured around travel — pre-Cuernavaca, post-Cuernavaca, pre- and post- Italy 2009, around the six-month block I spent traveling, and then further into that six months, around the five weeks spent in Morocco, and the three months I lived in Paris. “Did that happen before or after I left? Left where? There.” So maybe the leaving part fires the memory-making synapses.
Travel has such a profound effect on the traveler, even if it’s not immediately apparent or quite tangible enough to put into words.
We begin measuring moments by the experiences of our travels. As for friends made while traveling, the connection is something different in a foreign place. Even the most adventurous look for some anchor of familiarity to make a place more accessible — whether that’s making friends with fellow travelers or with locals. In any new experience that creates vulnerability people usually seek this connection, not just in traveling, but in new homes, new schools, and new jobs. We invite someone into that isolated experience with us as an entry point to our lives and explore together not only a place, but also ideas, beliefs, curiosity and validation.
Do you have any friends you’ve made while traveling you still keep in touch with? And I mean person-to-person contact. Emails. Phone calls. Time spent together. Facebook does not count.
What intangible effects has travel had on you?