An Open Letter to Friends Made Abroad

It’s been said that airports see more tearful goodbyes and joyous reunions than anywhere else in the world. All over the Internet, videos of airport proposals, soldiers returning from combat tours and pictures of flowers, handmade signs and embraces can be found, showing the happiness of greeting a friend or loved one from a time away. 

Leaving, however, is a different story. Saying goodbye is never an easy thing to do, and travellers know this to be true more than anyone. We’ve all been there, leaving for the airport, luggage in hand and a sorrowful goodbye imminent. Hugs from hometown friends after another all too short visit, with a quick “See you at Christmas” that seems all too far away. Saying goodbye to friends and family that have been a part of your life for years and decades is enough to make even the most stoic among us feel that all too familiar lump in the throat as you round through Airport security and out of sight. As emotional as these moments can be, they are understandable. Leaving behind those that are closest to you to jet set off on another adventure is expected to be emotional. 

As the world has become increasingly traveller-friendly, with solo backpackers filling the many hostels scattered throughout any given city during all times of the year, and with increasingly flexible airfare, trains and car share services, travel has not only become about exploring the world, but meeting people from all over along the way. Hostels have changed dramatically from the barren youth hostels of our parent’s generation. What used to be a bed and a locker to store your valuables has been transformed into a lifestyle akin to living in a university dorm. Spacious common areas, organized events and so-called family dinners have completely revolutionized the social interactions of young people abroad. 

It is not uncommon to walk into a hostel common area and see people who met just mere hours or days before chatting, laughing and story-telling as if they have been friends for a lifetime. A funny thing happens to people when they are exposed to this environment; they become humans again. In a world where it has become increasingly difficult to meet people without the use of social media apps and the like, backpacking through hostels has become a refreshingly pleasant way to make new friends. 

I wrote in a previous article about how the joy in travelling is often found in the impact meeting people from around the world has on one’s own life. Time and time again I have found myself looking back over my shoulder after a goodbye with a new friend in a hostel, an airport or a train station, feeling like I’ve left a little part of myself behind, even after a few short days together. In constrast, these goodbyes should not yield the emotional response that the family goodbyes do, yet each time they still impact me more than I expect. 

When you travel, these little pieces get scattered along the way, mixed together with the contributions of others to leave a trail of shared experiences and adventures. Some contributions may fade faster than others, and to some your memory may have just been a footnote part of a larger chapter. For some, you will be part of their book, woven in and out of stories spanning across from beginning to end. Without all of these pieces, the story being told would never be as vibrant, full or quite as worth the read.

These memories, no matter how long or short they may be, leave a permanent ink on the page. A goodbye to a new friend, often with plans to meet up at another time in another country still can be a tough pill to swallow. When I think back to the memories from my own story, the museums, walking tours and church visits have often already begun to fade from memory short of the brief notes made in my journal. The people, however, remain as clear as the day I met them. When someone is engrained in a memory that made you feel something, that is when they have become a part of you. 

Certain parts of the world will always have their sites to see, and travellers will be drawn to them. London has Big Ben, Paris has the Louvre, Sydney has the harbour bridge and my hometown has Niagara Falls. These sites and experiences will always make up the framework of the story. They are the crib notes, the outline that starts the process. The colour, the emotion and the feeling that makes the story worth reading and worth telling lies within the part of the book that can’t be taken from a travel guide. 

Those parts of the story are written while dancing the night away in the nightlife of Portugal with a dozen people you met just that morning. It is written in the hole-in-the-wall Czech restaurant where you had the best meal of your life with two new Aussie mates you made when you offered them a beer in the hostel and it is written on a hostel rooftop in Milan where you turned up with a bottle of wine and a deck of cards and left with a lifelong friend.

We as travellers share a common goal. To write the best story possible, that will be cherished, re-read and forever remembered. Even the worst pitfalls of missed flights, broken phones and lost passports will eventually fade into memory as the moments that took hold of our hearts remain engrained on the page. The goodbyes will always be bittersweet and reunions as they come will be eagerly anticipated. As my own story continues to be written, to my friends near and far, old and new, that have helped to fill my pages with memories that can never be replicated I say thank you. 

Wherever we end up in our adventures, there will always be a spot on the couch for that quick stop in town, a cold beer in the fridge ready to be cheers’d and a new story to be written along the way. Whether I was a footnote, a page or a chapter in your story, thank you for being a part of mine. 

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