Expanding Friendships Through Travel
Each year on my birthday, checking my social media accounts makes me smile. As greetings pour in from around the globe, I realize how much travel has added to the fullness of my life. The well-wishes arrive from numerous countries spanning six continents. If those penguins I hung out with in Antarctica were on Facebook, I’m sure they would send a message too!
Changing careers from an estate and trust administrator (think death and taxes) to a travel journalist brought me more than a flexible fulfilling career. It led to friendships all across the country and around the world. But you don’t need to quit your job and become a writer to reap the friendship benefits of travel. Anyone who leaves home to explore unknown destinations can expand their list of friends. Here are a few ways to make that happen.
Venture Out of Your Comfort Zone
For most of us, venturing out of our comfort zone began at an early age. Remember your first day of school? For me, that was more years ago than I care to count, but I remember the anticipation. Walking into that first-grade classroom meant I was a “big girl” now. It also meant there were a lot of kids I didn’t know—potential new friends.
As we move through our lives, we often settle into our homes, careers and circle of friends. While those friendships remain important, welcoming new people into our lives adds variety. And you’ve no doubt heard that “variety is the spice of life.”
The nature of travel requires you to leave those comfort zones. To truly absorb a culture and the essence of a destination, you have to be open to new experiences and people. By doing so, you become more open and welcoming. Whether you choose to check out a new city or expand your horizons across the world, each place offers new discoveries. And every person you meet has a story.
Also, when you travel with friends, new or old, those friendships often deepen through shared experiences.
Don’t be Afraid to Talk to Strangers
While working in my former career, I participated in a personality profile survey. One of the comments that emerged from that profile was, “strangers are just friends Terri hasn’t met yet.” Yes, this diagnosis worries my mother—even now. But it’s who I am. People fascinate me—especially those who are nothing like me.
I’m not suggesting that you talk to every person you meet. A little common sense keeps you safe. But don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation on a plane, train or even in a taxi. You never know what you’ll learn about a destination or a person.
Ask a local where to go and what to see. Sometimes those inquiries lead to friendships. More than once, a chance meeting with a local led to that person showing me around their city. Other times, those inquiries lead to great restaurants and off-the-guidebook-paths to fascinating discoveries.
Get to Know Your Tour Guide
While traveling in Peru with a group of girlfriends a few years ago, we had tour guides for our time in Lima, the Peruvian Amazon, Cusco and Machu Picchu. Our guide in the Amazon, affectionately known to us as “Señor Wilson” took us on a fishing trip…for piranha! This hilarious experience included me accidentally knocking the boat captain overboard and later, a boat motor failure leaving us stranded on board in the remote river for a couple of hours. Bonding was inevitable. Señor Wilson was as fascinated and curious about the crazy women from New York as we were about his life in the jungle. Thanks to social media, we’ve kept in touch as the years pass by.
Another guide, Alvin, introduced us to the wonders of Cusco through entertaining stories and a genuine love for his country and community. Also keeping in touch through social media, I recently connected Alvin with my friend, Jacqueline, to help her plan a Peru trip. By the way, I met Jacqueline when she was invited to join a group trip I was organizing to the Swedish Lapland. The friend who invited her, Cindy, I met on the Peru trip when my friend Kelly invited her to join us. Yes, I know you need a flow chart to follow along. But I think you get my point.
Choose Locally Owned Lodging Options
While glitzy resorts deliver memorable experiences, this environment rarely leads to a deeper connection with the destination you’re visiting. For this reason, I often choose family-owned guesthouses or a hotel with an interesting local connection. On a summer visit to the Swedish Lapland several years ago, I met Johan and Eva, the owners and operators of the Lapland Guesthouse. Their welcoming personalities and the intimate nature of their guesthouse led to an immediate friendship. In the five years since meeting this lovely family, I’ve returned three more times bringing new people along for each visit. In the interim, we keep in touch sharing our lives from across the miles.
Similarly, when I organized a trip for friends to Africa, I chose TopGuides Safaris for the experience. Owned by Victor, a native Tanzanian, this smaller safari company provided our group with a customized experience, innumerable laughs and connections to the people we met along the way that continue today. I’ve since met Victor’s wife, Elena, and look forward to visiting them again at their new luxury camp Lokisale, when the world settles down a bit.
Some Friendships Last a Lifetime
Anyone who knows me understands my love for Norway. Having visited numerous times since my initial trip nine years ago, I’ve developed friendships with several wonderful people. One prime example is my friend Lisbeth from Trondheim. Although I was introduced to her in my capacity as a journalist, Lisbeth invited me to her home and her family’s lovely cabin. We shared stories of our families and life events realizing our lives had traveled along parallel roads. I consider her my “Norwegian sister.” My friendship with Lisbeth led to introductions to other residents of Norway and a growing list of treasured friendships.
Not all travel-induced friendships last forever. Some are meant for a certain time and place—and that’s fine. But others do last and years later you’ll continue to have conversations, keep up with the happenings in their lives and, if you’re lucky, have more in-person time to reconnect.
As Edith Wharton once said, “One of the great things about travel is that you find out how many good, kind people there are.” I believe we can all benefit from more discoveries like that, don’t you?
Cover photo by Terri Marshall: Travel and Friends in Tanzania.
Expanding Friendships Through Travel
Based in New York City, Terri Marshall is an award-winning writer covering cultural travel, multi-generational travel, food, drink, road trips, cars and characters. From hanging out with penguins in Antarctica to fishing for piranhas in Peru, Terri’s always up for an adventure. Publication credits include TravelSquire, Private Clubs, TravelingMom, International Living, Google, RoamRight, and AroundWellington. Connect with Terri and see more of her work and radio appearances at www.trippingwithterri.com.