The Truth About Losing Friends And Travel

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I’m an expert at losing friends. 

Getting close to people has never been a problem for me. Those who know me well say it’s because of my relentless positivity. Those who know me even better might tell you it’s because I don’t do small talk. Whatever the answer, I’ll often find strangers confiding in me just hours into our meeting.

First impressions are kind of my jam. But as time goes by most of my friendships dissipate, leaving nothing but faint memories and noncommittal requests to get a coffee sometime.

I spent years trying to figure out why my friendships have such a short shelf life. Did people just not like me once they got to know me better? Was I too full on? Or was I too protective of my true emotions? It turns out the answer is twofold. The culprit is my lifestyle and my lack of follow through.

I’m 24, I’ve gone to six schools and lived in five different countries. I travel for a living. I literally meet hundreds of new people every year. I’ve become so used to the transient nature of those connections that I’ve stopped trying to hold on.

losing friends and travel

How it all began…

It all started about a decade ago. When I was thirteen years old my parents sat me down and told me my dad got a promotion. I’d just returned from a school trip to England and didn’t understand what they were saying at first.

“Congratulations on the promotion, dad,” I said. “But why is this such a big deal?” “The new job is in Vienna. You remember Vienna, right? It’s beautiful there.” Their voices were brimming with enthusiasm, but I could tell they were nervous. How do you tell a teenager to pack their bags and say goodbye to everything they’d ever known without sending them into hysterics?

It turns out it’s not possible. I’d been a good kid up until that moment, nice and considerate. But the prospect of moving to a new country made me lash out like a terrified wild animal. I locked myself in my room and carved the words “I hate you” into the wall with a pair of scissors. Just thinking about it makes me feel awful – my poor parents!

But I understand the fear and confusion that were coursing through my mind. Leaving behind those you know and love, the friendships you’ve built, is difficult.

Up until my move to Vienna I was your regular teenager. I had three close friends I spent every lunch break with and a dozen others I would chat to semi-regularly. Leaving that security behind was the scariest thing I could imagine.

My friends and I promised we would message each other every day. Moving abroad wasn’t commonplace in our small town and none of us really knew how to deal with the situation, but we were determined to make the best of it.

As the new school year began things started to get a little tricky. There I was, in a new country, forced to speak a language I hadn’t quite mastered while simultaneously trying to make new friends. In other words, I was a little busy.

I realised I had two options. I could either a) keep living in the past and spend all my free time maintaining old friendships or b) get on with my life. Eventually I chose the latter. Everybody does. What felt like a difficult decision was actually the inevitable outcome of my situation.

A minor in adulting

When I was 17 I moved again. I was fulfilling my short-lifelong dream of living in London, and I could not have been more excited about it! Once again I found myself in a new country whose culture I knew very little about – and this time I was completely alone.

I reacted in the only way I knew how. My friendship motto may as well have been “out with the old, in with the new”. The new came very quickly as my flatmates and I bonded over our sudden freedom and pitchers of saccharine Wetherspoons cocktails. Things were going swimmingly until it dawned on me that all of my close friends were doing three year degrees while mine would last four.

In other words, while I was spending my third year in Moscow they would graduate and be gone by the time I came back. I did make an effort to keep in touch from Russia but it wasn’t easy. Not because I wasn’t trying – I was just too overworked and depressed to do anything. By the time I got back to London I felt like I was alone once again.

Now, I must be honest. I’ve never experienced the utter isolation of being forgotten. I’ve always been fortunate to have people in my life who made an effort to remain in it, despite the frustrating lack of communication from my end. Although I can seem like the walking personification of “out of sight out of mind”, luckily for me not everyone is like that.

I’m still very close with a handful of girlfriends from the Czech Republic, some of whom I’ve known since we were six years old. I met one of my best friends in high school. My closest male friend ever was also my flatmate at university. Those people alone would be enough to make anyone’s life an absolute joy.

But because I meet so many people on my travels I’m acutely aware of all the would-be BFFs I leave in the dust. My constant moving also means that although I have great friends they’re rarely physically there. And the older I get, the more I suffer as a result.

My life post-university is a perfect example of that. Once I got my degree in June 2015 I moved to Manchester to live with my boyfriend. I spent six months there before moving to Glasgow where he found a new job. This January I relocated back to Vienna. In a week I’m going to Africa for five months and I’m not sure where I’ll go after that.

I wouldn’t say these past two years have been unhappy but there is definitely something missing. Looking back it’s clear that that something is a stable group of friends. My life is full of exhilarating new experiences but without people to share them with over a hot cuppa, it feels a little empty sometimes.

Where do we go from here?

“But you say you’re really good at making new friends, Sabina. So what’s the problem?” You make a great point. But having made and lost so many friends I’ve become a little jaded. Yes, I love meeting new people. What I don’t love is the feeling that I’m opening myself up to someone who is going to disappear in a few months. It makes me feel guarded and protective of my emotions.

Here’s one important thing I’ve learned though… People don’t have to stay in your life forever to leave a footprint on your heart. I no longer speak to some of my best friends from university but I know they’ve shaped who I am today. For that I’ll always be grateful.

In the eternally wise words of Carrie Bradshaw: “Some love stories aren’t epic novels.  Some are short stories but that doesn’t make them any less filled with love.” I know she’s talking about romantic relationships, but is friendship really that different?

I’m in a much better place now than I was a year or two years ago. Over the course of 2017 I met some incredible people whom I’ve quickly grown close to. Most of them are fellow travellers which means we don’t get to see each other very often. But on the bright side they get it and whenever we meet we just pick up right where we left off.

My mission for 2018 is to find somewhere to settle down for a while. Bristol and London are my top contenders at the moment, but we’ll see how I feel after getting back from five months in Africa. Until then I’m excited to work on my existing friendships and share my adventures with you. Like it or not, I count you among my friends too and I cannot imagine my life without you in it.

Have you enjoyed this post? Can you relate to it? Would you like me to share my best tips for maintaining your friendships while you’re on the road, or just otherwise living your life? Let me know in a comment below – I absolutely love hearing from you!

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