Yi Peng Festival, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Musings, Travel

On Travel and Friendship: Why Losing is the New Winning

Ever since I was 18 years old, I’ve been on the move.  I left the comfort of my home state for the promise of California sunshine and was instantly enamored with the change of scenery and the chance to be a new and improved version of myself.

When my four years in Berkeley came to an end, I got my first taste of international travel on a graduation trip to Australia–yet another opportunity to figure out who I was, and more importantly, who I wanted to become.

Once back in the US, my studies took me to unexplored territory once more, New Haven, Connecticut.  After that, I ventured to New York City.  After that, Thailand.

The moves kept happening and I kept evolving until eventually I became the person you might meet today–if I had much of a social life, that is.

But what I noticed from the very beginning when I’d moved no further than a couple of states away was that, rather quickly, certain friendships simply faded into oblivion.  Before I’d even had a chance to evolve, in fact.

In the beginning it was the most startling, principally because those disappearing from my life were people I’d known for years–people I’d shared countless experiences with and felt like I’d formed deep connections with, not just casual acquaintances I’d had coffee with once or twice.

The trend continued with each subsequent move.  Friendships that I’d once thought had a solid enough foundation to last through a period of distance simply did not last.

Now, I know that distance puts a strain on any type of relationship, no matter how close your bond.  And I was never so delusional to think that all my friends in different states, in different timezones, and eventually different countries would make keeping up our relationship a priority when there was so much else going on in their lives, in the here and now.

I was just delusional enough, however, to think that by going out of my own way (i.e., sacrificing the here and now) to make certain relationships a priority, my efforts would be reciprocated by those I was so sure I cared so deeply for.

Not so.

The evolution of personalities certainly had something to do with it.  As I grew and learned more about myself, my likes and dislikes, my expectations and definition of friendship, I began to realize that many of those previous friendships had been built on false pretenses, on former versions of ourselves, on convenient circumstances.

Shadows

Shadows of former friendships.

And I wasn’t the only one evolving, either–I eventually recognized that people were letting me go in the same way I was letting go of relationships that were no longer a good fit for the latest and greatest version of myself.

At first this was a tough realization to swallow.  I was hurt.  I wanted to be accepted, well liked, even sought after as a friend–but I also wanted to be in control.  I wanted to be the one to say whether our relationship lived or died.  I realize now how utterly selfish that sounds.

The following quote explains quite perfectly what it took me all these years to learn about relationships:

If one person doesn’t want the relationship, then it’s simply not a fit.  No sense trying to figure out why we think they don’t want it…No sense waiting around for them to realize they wanted it after all. Because it doesn’t matter why they don’t want it…If they don’t want it, then we don’t want it, because we don’t want to be with someone who is not there for it fully.

And while this excerpt from Jeff Brown’s Love It Forward is speaking primarily to romantic relationships, it absolutely holds true for friendships as well.

If a life of travel causes you to plummet to the bottom of someone’s priorities, they don’t deserve to be a priority of yours (and vice versa).

A life of travel really does cause you to lose more friends than you gain.  Travelers are often thought of as having more friends than the average person because they are constantly meeting new people, bonding over incredible shared experiences, and creating lasting memories.

All that may be true, but the number of those friendships that actually stick?  That actually stand the test of time after the adventure is over?  The number of those “friends” you’d be able to call up in an emergency, who’d drop everything just to rush to your aid?  One or two, if you’re lucky.  If you’re reallllly lucky.

SF Giants

Friends that stuck.

But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

What travel does allow you to do is understand which of your relationships are worth fighting for.  It teaches you who you can trust and rely on, even through the time and over the distance that separates you.  In some instances, it teaches you to simply lower your expectations and accept what the other person is willing and able to give.

That’s not to say there isn’t a place in your life for more casual friendships as well.  It’s important to have friends you can drink with, gossip with, enjoy your hobbies with or spend a lazy Saturday watching Netflix with.  These relationships have their place, but once you’re gone you may very well be “out of sight, out of mind” to these friends.

I’ve learned to see the value in the fleeting friendships, too.  There’s a lot to be said for the people you bond with for a week, a weekend, a night, or even a couple of hours while traveling.  Those people play an important role in your evolution, too, but it’s perfectly okay to let them go when the time comes.

Cotopaxi Volcano, Ecuador

A bunch of amazing people that I’ll probably never see again.

I consider myself incredibly lucky to have accumulated, through all the different phases of my life and my travels, a handful of people who would have my back no matter what, the moment I needed them.  More than I can count on one hand, even.

But it was only through letting so many other relationships go that I was able to fully understand what friendship means to me and just how precious these people are.

I’ve figured out how to tell the difference between a relationship worth fighting for and a relationship that’s not.

Sure, I’ve lost a lot of friends over the years.  But when it comes to travel and friendship, sometimes less is more, and in the end, sometimes losing is winning.

I want to know–what has travel taught you about friendship?

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24 Comments

  • Reply Justine December 5, 2014 at 12:08 am

    This is something I’ve thought a lot about lately. I think over the past year I’ve realized just how big an impact choosing a life of travel has had on my relationships. For a long time I was pretty good about keeping up with the friendships that meant the most for me. But after time more and more of those friends slipped away. It happened so gradually that I hardly noticed, until one day I realized just how many people have vanished from my life. I think it’s partially because traveling makes it challenging to keep in touch and partially because we eventually just grew apart. Very few of my old friends from high school or college really understand why I travel or why I choose to live the lifestyle I do. And I think with particular relationships it was inevitable that we’d ultimately have less and less in common. There are a few people that I will always regret letting slip away. And because of this I’ve learned that certain relationships are really worth putting in the extra effort to maintain, which isn’t always easy when your traipsing around the world. It’s a lesson I’ve learned the hard way, but I have no regrets. But you’re right that it’s not the quantity but the quality of friendships that really matters. The friends that I do have would always have my back no matter what. And those people are definitely worth fighting for.
    Justine recently posted…Eating My Way through Singapore – Indian StyleMy Profile

    • Reply LaMochilera December 5, 2014 at 7:02 pm

      Sometimes I wonder too if the growing apart wouldn’t have happened eventually anyway, even if you (or I) had stayed home and lived a life similar to those friends we’ve now lost. Maybe our personalities were always meant to diverge and it was only a matter of time, and distance just accelerated the process. I think believing that to be true in some instances gives me a little bit of piece of mind, like it wasn’t “my fault.”

  • Reply V December 5, 2014 at 2:05 pm

    As a former expat and repat, I have lived this first hand. It’s such a hard realization to come to when your ‘friends’ start to drop like dominos simply because your address has changed.

    I’ve had friends stop communicating with me when I moved abroad because:
    – they were jealous
    – they were ‘too busy’
    – they had kids
    – the ‘time zone change was just too much’

    Pretty much any excuse in the book. But the harsh reality was this, if they truly wanted to maintain our friendship, they would have. Someone once said to me that ‘you make time for the things that are important to you’. I believe the same is true of friendships. If it’s worth the time and effort, you’ll do what it takes. It nearly broke my heart to realize that, for some of my friends, it wasn’t worth it to them.

    That being said I made some amazing new friends during my travels and even today, I continue to make friends every so often that really lift me up. What I gain by traveling the world is grand in comparison to what I’ve lost. That I know for sure.

    V
    Life+1
    V recently posted…Show Me Your Silly Face :: #laughoutlouderMy Profile

    • Reply LaMochilera December 5, 2014 at 7:07 pm

      Exactly, it’s all about priorities. Anything in life that is a priority to you, you will make time for–relationships included. I think all travelers have that moment where they realize they weren’t worth somebody’s time, and it does suck initially, but I think I’m getting better at letting go.

      And I am with you 100% on your last statement. Traveling is something I will never give up, and if I lose some friends in the process, well they probably weren’t worth my time to begin with.

  • Reply Jennifer December 7, 2014 at 12:23 pm

    Some people are meant to be in your life forever and others just for a short time. I agree that traveling helps you sort who is in which category. Thanks for sharing!

    • Reply LaMochilera December 7, 2014 at 1:30 pm

      In the past I never fully understood that but in hindsight it seems so obvious! Oh, the peace of mind I would’ve had had I known this years ago 🙂 Glad you liked it Jen!

  • Reply Elaine J. Masters December 8, 2014 at 3:45 pm

    I feel what you’re going through and have had so many people come in with stunning brilliant connections then disappear. It’s not easy but you’ve got the answer it seems with keeping close to those you can and having the grace to move on when it doesn’t work. Tweaks the heart but travel can be like that.
    Elaine J. Masters recently posted…Travel books for your gift list & reading pleasureMy Profile

    • Reply LaMochilera December 9, 2014 at 9:22 am

      Absolutely agree, Elaine! Travel has its ups and downs for sure and it took me awhile to learn this lesson!

  • Reply Maria from Nerd Nomads December 9, 2014 at 2:48 am

    Beautifully written! I can totally relate to this too. But luckily those friends that “really” matters are the ones that stick around. The ones you meet again after a year of traveling and it feels like you have not been gone at all. I have a handful of friends like that. No matter what happens and how long we have been apart, nothing has changed when we meet again, and it feels almost like we have not been apart at all. Also new technology and social media has helped a lot when it comes to keeping friendships and staying in touch. It is so easy nowadays to keep in touch.
    Maria from Nerd Nomads recently posted…Happy 40th Birthday To Japan`s Favourite Cat – Hello Kitty!My Profile

    • Reply LaMochilera December 9, 2014 at 9:24 am

      Thank you Maria! I am so grateful for the friends that I can see again after a long time and it feels like no time has passed…I forgot to mention that kind! That is a very special connection 🙂 Technology has made long-distance friendships easier to navigate, another good point.
      LaMochilera recently posted…4 Highlights from 4 Days in Puerto Viejo, Costa RicaMy Profile

  • Reply Franca December 11, 2014 at 8:34 am

    I totally agree with you, travelling has taught me how to value friendship and has inevitably cleaned up the amount of people that I thought were my friends. I’m only still in touch with the ones that really care about me no matter where in the world I’m and viceversa.
    Franca recently posted…Farewell To Berlin – Reflection On Four Months As A ‘Local’My Profile

    • Reply LaMochilera December 11, 2014 at 4:32 pm

      Yes it’s amazing how quickly traveling reveals who your true friends are! Better to have a few really good ones than to waste a bunch of energy trying to keep up with everyone anyway, especially if they don’t reciprocate. Agree on all points 🙂
      LaMochilera recently posted…How Spirit Airlines Saved My Butt in Central America–TwiceMy Profile

  • Reply Ashley December 11, 2014 at 11:49 am

    I love this post! The thing that frightens me most about moving abroad is the thought of slipping out of certain people’s lives. Even though I already have quite a few friendships that have stood the test of time and distance, there are others I’m not so sure would last- and it scares me to think about. The constant loss and gain of friends while traveling can be a blessing and a curse, I think.
    Ashley recently posted…A Quick Guide to the Beaches of RailayMy Profile

    • Reply LaMochilera December 11, 2014 at 4:34 pm

      Good point Ashley! It can be good and bad. It’s definitely scary to imagine that you could lose touch with people so easily! I’ve found that it gets easier to accept over time but I don’t think there’s ever going to be a point where it stops hurting completely.
      LaMochilera recently posted…How Spirit Airlines Saved My Butt in Central America–TwiceMy Profile

  • Reply Laura December 12, 2014 at 3:08 pm

    Such a beautifully written post and I found is very interesting – it’s strange that my childhood friends whom I spent years with I hardly hear from but those I met on the road have become such an important part of my life I know I will see some of them again (and have already) and are always there for me even if it be via social media.

    Thanks so much for sharing
    Laura x

    • Reply LaMochilera December 12, 2014 at 7:16 pm

      I’m so glad you enjoyed this post Laura! I think the people we grow up with are often our friends purely because of circumstance. The people we meet traveling become our friends so easily because we instantly have something in common: the desire to travel and see the world. I’ve also become very close with people I’ve met traveling while many people I grew up with have faded from my life. Now that I realize why it makes sense, I’m okay with it 🙂
      LaMochilera recently posted…Friday Snapshots: A Touch of Christmas CheerMy Profile

  • Reply Rodrigo December 12, 2014 at 7:01 pm

    I loved reading this post! It made me wonder once again just to what point distance is to blame for failed relationships (be they romantic or just platonic). While it does make it harder for said relationships to survive, I believe it mostly facilitates and expedites triaging them, like you beautifully summed up.
    Humans in general are selfish, and the distance just highlights who’s worth our time and willing to reciprocate our efforts to make things work.

    I’ve slowly learned to accept the evanescent friendships you mention and to try to take/learn as much from them as possible while they last, instead of simply dismissing them to prevent future disappointment. So, this realization did help fix my asociality; conversely, I feel it might also have furthered my cynicism and lowered my expectations even more…

    All that said, keep posts like this one coming! 🙂

    • Reply LaMochilera December 12, 2014 at 7:20 pm

      Love this comment, Rodrigo! I too have tried to see the life lessons in every relationship instead of hiding from them so as not to get hurt when they inevitably end. I do still get hurt, admittedly, but at least it’s not for nothing. That’s the important part, right? To learn something from everyone, from every failure.
      LaMochilera recently posted…Friday Snapshots: A Touch of Christmas CheerMy Profile

  • Reply Mark and Kate @vagrantsoftheworld December 13, 2014 at 6:02 am

    A brilliant and thought provoking read.
    Mark and Kate @vagrantsoftheworld recently posted…REVIEW Hotel Presidente. San Jose, Costa RicaMy Profile

    • Reply LaMochilera December 13, 2014 at 9:33 am

      Thank you so much! Glad you enjoyed it 🙂

  • Reply Gary December 15, 2014 at 12:47 pm

    Just like you, I am also Washington resident. I love this beautiful state. Two years ago, I left Portland to move up here. While some of my friends fell off of the map, my closest friends and I stay in touch via Facebook and text messages. They visit me often as they love hiking around Mt Baker and the Olympics.

    I got the taste of international travel when I visited Thailand 2 years ago. I have been there 4 times, and I have an airplane ticket to go back there again this April. Plus on this next trip, I plan on checking out Hanoi. In my international adventures, I met my amazing Thai girlfriend, whom I plan to marry very soon. Together, we have both traveled all over Thailand, Cambodia, and Canada. I am planning to leave my steady computer job in the next 2 or 3 years and live in Thailand permanently. Luckily, I saved like crazy when I was younger, so an early retirement is on the horizon.

    Now my closest friends are even more excited, because they will have a place to stay when they visit me in Thailand. Luckily, my girlfriend owns a beautiful home and is a social butterfly in her community. So I am sure I will make lots of friends while I am there.
    Gary recently posted…Retire in Banff, AlbertaMy Profile

    • Reply LaMochilera December 15, 2014 at 7:34 pm

      Gary, how nice that you were close enough to still be able to see your friends every once in awhile! I do love the Pacific Northwest, it is such a beautiful place.

      Also a huge fan of Southeast Asia, you’ll like Hanoi! Thailand is of course very close to my heart having spent so much time there. You will have a beautiful life there, and I’m sure your friends will be grateful to have someone to visit in a tropical destination! Lucky you!
      LaMochilera recently posted…7 Blogs I Love That Have Nothing To Do With TravelMy Profile

  • Reply Paula Through the Looking Glass February 11, 2015 at 12:33 pm

    Totally agree Leah. When I left to go travelling for the first time the group of girls I thought were my besties turned out to be resentful of what I was doing, and now I don’t speak to them.

    It’s such a shame but I guess it helps sift through the clutter!

    P x
    Paula Through the Looking Glass recently posted…How Travelling Made me Better at Managing my MoneyMy Profile

    • Reply La Mochilera February 12, 2015 at 2:05 pm

      Yeah absolutely, Paula. It can be straining on a relationship to be so far away and especially for extended periods of time, but the people who really care about you will understand and be supportive, and willing to work to keep the friendship afloat!
      La Mochilera recently posted…¡Habla Paisa! Your Guide to Colombian ColloquialismsMy Profile

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