To travel long-term you must leave your friends behind. You must face the knowledge that life goes on without you. That time doesn’t stop with your absence, that you aren’t the centre of the universe after all.
Before leaving you console yourself with the notion that the modern world means you’re always in touch anyway. You’ll still talk to everybody you love in emails, be part of their lives on Facebook. And at first that’s exactly what you do. You’re far away, but your friends are still close in your heart. You think of them often, email them regularly.
But over time the connection slips away. You make new friends, your friends make new friends, real life takes over. The emails dry up and get harder to reply to. You’re no longer close but drifting apart.
Isn’t it strange how we cry when a friend dies, but if we slowly grow apart then we don’t care? The change is so gradual that we don’t even realise we’re losing something.
When that realisation hits us, we feel homesick. We look back on our old lives and think we’re missing out. We see our friends going on with their lives and wonder why we’re not with them. It’s easy to envy those at home. Going on with their lives, accomplishing things. You wish you were there with them, experiencing the highs and lows with the people you care about.
Before I left home I knew none of this would bother me. I’ve never been one to have a lot of friends, never been close to my family. I live my life in a state of disconnect, never getting too close to people. The upside to this is that it’s easy to travel. I don’t feel the pangs of homesickness like most do. Maybe I’m just selfish. Too involved in myself to have time for others.
For my first two years away it didn’t bother me. I was too busy enjoying my life to think about what I’d left behind. Then it came to a point where I realised I’d stopped sending emails, realised that everybody had moved on without me. It was the birth of my nephew that hit this home the most.
I mistakenly thought this too wouldn’t bother me, but it has. It was his second birthday last weekend and that’s two years I’ve missed out on. It’s strange that a person so close to me isn’t part of my life, he barely even knows I exist. It’s tough to know I never had the chance to hold him as a baby or hold him up as he learns to walk. Time moves on without me.
Now this is not to say that my time away has been devoid of friendship or love. I’ve made some amazing friends (and a girlfriend!) while away. Yet every friendship I’ve made has been bittersweet. Created with the knowledge that things are temporary. Some day soon, I will move on and this new friend will fade away, much like my friends back home. There is no permanence in travel.
As if to make up for this it seems many friendships on the road are vivid and intense. You can meet people and within ten minutes act like old friends, cutting through the small talk and awkwardness. There’s no time to build a relationship, so you start in the middle. Both pretending that you know each other well.
These friendships are brief but can be some of the most fulfilling you can have. You can meet a person for a few days and believe you know them so well that your connection will last a lifetime. You know you will be lifelong friends, yet you also know you’ll never see them again. At least with friends back home you can take comfort in the knowledge that one day you’ll see them again.
If you’re lucky, they’ll come to see you.
Old Friends on the Road
Since leaving home, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some of my friends, to catch up with them in foreign cities and explore with them. As happened earlier this year when my friend Fraser travelled across the world to visit me in New Zealand.
Before Fraser arrived, I was excited. An emotion I’m rarely prone to. I hadn’t seen him in almost two years and was looking forward to spending some time with him.
As much as I enjoy being with Jamie, I’m afraid there’s just some things women can’t do. There’s something to be said for male friendship, something I’ve lacked when travelling with Jamie. Being with a partner is great, but what about when you want to talk about boobs, football, and beards?
Ok, I’m the least manly man in the world, but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss the opportunity to talk with other men. To pretend for a few moments I’ve got masculine qualities. I knew Fraser could tick all the boxes of masculinity. I was excited and it wasn’t homoerotic in the slightest. It was just friendship. My friend!
That’s how we found ourselves waiting in Wellington airport for Fraser to arrive. His plane had landed and a stream of people were rushing through the arrival doors. I looked around, but Fraser was nowhere to be seen.
Soon the stream was a trickle, then a drip. Still no Fraser. Had he missed his flight? Had he been denied at customs? I started to worry.
After an hour of panic, Fraser finally sauntered through the arrival doors with a content smile on his face. All worries and annoyance dissipated as we greeted each other with an embrace. In the car, we had a quick catch up talk and then it was just like old times. With old friends it’s so easy to fall back into rapport. There’s little awkwardness. Good friends stay good friends forever.
Soon enough we were arguing about our opinions of Russell Brand. A useless throwaway conversation, but the type of thing I miss the most about my friends.
Travels with Fraser
When we travel, our preferred style of living comes to the forefront. We all have our own way of doing things and these become more pronounced when travelling.
I’m the type of person that when I decide to do something, I can’t rest or enjoy myself until I’ve done it. I want to get the thing over and done with so I can relax. If I’m going to go to the beach, I want to get up early and get there and get it done.
Otherwise, I’ll spend all day pacing back and forwards until I can tick the box in my mind and relax.
Now Fraser. He’s the furthest away from me that it’s possible to be. He’s like a human tortoise. He’ll half decide to do something. Then spend hours beforehand contentedly doing anything but working his way towards that goal.
Finally, he’ll start to get ready, taking his time every step of the way. Late in the day he’ll make his way towards his goal, only to get distracted by something on the way.
When you put Fraser and I together it causes a great amount of stress on my part. All I want to do is do what we’ve decided to do. All Fraser wants to do is anything but that. I admire his attitude in a way, he’s content all the time, while I spend all my time worrying making me content none of the time. Fraser is relaxed, I’m stressed.
My excitement at Fraser’s arrival was quickly replaced with anger as his living style clashed with mine. We’d agree to go for breakfast the next day and I’d be up at the stroke of dawn, showered and ready in 10 minutes. Fraser would get up at noon, take the longest shower known to man and by the time we got to the restaurant they’d only be serving dinner. All this time I would be trying my best to hold in my anger, but I lack patience, I hate waiting.
I was taken back to memories of home. Fraser and I would go to the cinema quite often. We’d always agree to meet at the cinema at 12.30, the movie starting at 12.45. The inevitable would happen and Fraser would turn up at 1pm and I’d be furious.
“I’ve had to stand around like an idiot for half an hour because you’re late! Can’t you see how disrespectful it is?”
Now I was travelling with Fraser and these problems were multiplied daily. I tried to make him see it from my viewpoint, that half my time was being spent on waiting for him. His viewpoint was that he was on holiday. Work was stressful enough for him at home and hectic, so he was enjoying himself by being lazy.
I could understand that, so I let it go. He was on holiday, but I lived in New Zealand, so I shouldn’t have set such high standards for him. That’s fine, Fraser, take all the time you need.
Then we went on a road trip.
The Road Trip
I’d forgotten about Fraser’s erratic driving. Speeding around tight bends and riding right up behind other cars. Even worse he was breaking the speed limit. “FOR FUCK SAKE FRASER! THE ROAD SIGN SAYS 70 AND YOU’RE GOING 90!” I would cry as he revved the engine harder, taking great enjoyment in my discomfort. I would spend every moment in the car staring at the speedometer, fearing death at the next turn.
Still, things were ok when we were out of the car. Right? Like the time we decided to stop in a town to go to the Icebreaker Outlet store. “We’ll just be in an out in 10 minutes, right Fraser?” “Yeah, right!” Two hours later I’m sitting by the car sulking. How can a person spend 2 hours in one shop?! Not even a large shop either, the same size as a corner store. How is it possible? Fraser somehow finds a way.
Boredom and time aren’t concepts he’s aware of. I’ve never known a person who could spend half an hour tying their shoes. Or somebody that could take so long to decide what to buy at McDonalds.
Now I know what you’re thinking. It sounds like I’m just an arse. And I am! As I’ve said I’m the polar opposite of Fraser. I use the most efficient way to tie shoes available to save time. I have the McDonalds menu memorised and always have my money out, ready to pay before I’ve even placed my order.
It’s this clash of styles that makes travel with Fraser so hard for me but also so rewarding. It’s a worthwhile challenge and our conflicting ways of living complement each other well. It’s a bit like the classic concept of yin and yang. When you put us together it should be a recipe for disaster but it works. Despite the petty annoyances of travelling with Fraser, I wouldn’t change him in the slightest. There’s something very Fraser about Fraser. You can’t help but admire his Fraserness.
We don’t clash on everything either. In other ways we are much alike, plus we have that added benefit of shared experience. The people that we grow with are people we feel the most connected to. When you go through life with a person that means a lot more than the small issue of an annoyance on the road. It’s good to have a friend who you can fall out with and argue with but you know you’ll soon make up and have fun.
On our small road trip, Fraser and I decided to hike the Tongariro Crossing, one of New Zealand’s best day hikes. If I’d have done it alone it wouldn’t have been half as memorable. There would have still been the beautiful views, but without somebody to share that with the whole thing would have been tinged with loneliness. Nobody to share jokes with or to argue.
By the end of our hike our legs were aching and we were both dehydrated and uncomfortable. But we suffered together as we’d laughed together. Created memories. Had experiences. Gone through life together.
I find many places that I travel to be quite forgettable. Most of my time travelling has disappeared into the back of my mind, but I never forget my friends, no matter how much they annoy me.
Which Fraser continued to do – especially when driving – partly to get a rise out of me. Well, until we were pulled over by a police car on a quiet rural road. A swift $60 speeding ticket and the fear of god was in Fraser and he could magically obey the speed limit. I had to hold back my smug satisfaction. The ticket was…just the ticket. He still managed to spend another 2 hours in he Icebreaker store though.
Upon leaving Wellington, Fraser travelled with us for another week or so. All three of us pushing our belongings into our tiny car. Fraser creating a little alcove for himself in the back seat. Jamie now the driver. Safe and sensible.
When Fraser left, it was bittersweet. Part of me was glad, we now had more space in the car and I would no longer have to spend half of my day waiting for Fraser. But at the same time he left an empty space behind. Literally and figurately. His empty alcove was still there in the backseat, but at the same time there was nobody there to share in laughter or argue about Russell Brand with.
I lost the annoyance, but I also lost a friend.