Every friend group has one these days; the gypsy friend who’s usually only in town a few times a year and brings you gifts from Morocco and stories from Cambodia. They’re the one always wearing exotic handmade accessories and they start every story with “This one time, when I was in (insert far-away-place here).”
Being that friend is fun, and one of the best parts about the travel lifestyle is sharing it with the people you love with tiny gifts and stories from afar. But not every part of the transient life is as good as it looks on Instagram. There are the annoying problems, like confusing public transportation systems or forgetting to pack a raincoat and then really needing a raincoat. And then there are some harder issues. Here are some struggles that other traveler types may have encountered.
It’s hard enough to keep track of everyone’s birthdays (thank god for Facebook, if we’re being honest). But when you’re a traveler, it’s even harder. You won’t be able to make all the birthday or promotion or just-because-it’s-Friday celebrations for your friends back home, most of the time you’ll be multiple flights away from the party. Even worse, you may not have cell service or an Internet connection to send them your best wishes.
You tried to remember to send it before you left the hostel, and you felt terrible when you realized later that you’d forgotten, and you really can’t wait to see them and you’ll pick out the perfect present at a street market and carry it with you for months until you see them again. But none of that counts if on their birthday, when everyone met up at the local bar, you weren’t there. And you missed the stories and the jokes and the reunion merriment, because you’re the traveler friend.
If you have FOMO when you see posts of those celebrations, this next one might be worse. Sometimes, you don’t just miss the good times. You miss when your friend gets dumped, when her father passes away from cancer, when he gets fired, when they got into a car accident and they’re okay but you couldn’t be there. You can never be there. And the truth is, your friends will update you and you’ll send your condolences or your “get well”s or your “I’m sorry”s.
And they will get them, and in the meantime they will find other best friends who can come over with a bottle of wine or a casserole and help them through it with a hug and some help with whatever they need. You can’t be the friend on speed dial, because as much as you care, you’re just not there all the time. You can’t be relied upon. You’re a little distant. It’s a really tough truth about being the traveler friend.
It’s true, the older you get, and the more you travel, the smaller your circle of friends becomes. Even if you’re really humble and try your very hardest not to rave about your travels all the time, sometimes your friends get jealous. Admit it, you have one of the best Instagram accounts of the group. You have the most epic stories, the coolest tattoos and battle scars, the most exotic tales about foreign flings and the best wardrobe full of items from all over the world.
You’re always tan and interesting and ready to talk about your next destination or the time you ran with the bulls in Spain, prayed on a mountaintop in Tibet or danced with a Brazilian at Carnivale. Sometimes, your friends will listen to your stories or scroll through your posts from their office or local coffee shop and they will get jealous. This can make it hard to maintain friendships when you’re the traveler friend.
So your friend groups back home are suffering, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make friends wherever you go, right? Right. But that comes with its own struggles. Everywhere you go, you’re now the new member of the group. You’re the new bartender, the new guy at the Wednesday yoga class, the new girl in town or the latest person to wander into the hostel.
You’re always new, and always slightly on the outside of the friend group. People will readily welcome you into their homes, give you rides along the highway, talk you up, give you a couch and make you feel less lonely. In fact, some friends that you meet on the road will become lifelong friends. But in every place you reside, you’re the new girl/guy/person, because you’re the traveler friend.
You may be one of the cooler friends in the group for your worldly opinions and your casually-intentional international style. But for other reasons, you are definitely not the cool friend. You didn’t listen to the new Adele album, you can’t name more than two Kardashians and you are very unaware of what happened on the Gilmore Girls revival. In fact, you miss important things like election coverage and the latest additions of the Global Top 50 on Spotify. You rarely have Internet, let alone television, and when everyone at the table is talking about this Twitter scandal or that new artist, the jokes go right over your head. Sometimes you’re a little out there, as part of being the traveler friend.
It happens to all of us. We’re trying to order the latest from Bill Bryson or a new day pack (it finally took its last breath in Belize) and then the address field pops up, and we have no idea what to put down. We could put our parents address, maybe my sister wouldn’t mind, or I could have it sent to my current job if I ask my manager… The logistics of life get tough when you don’t have an address. It turns into a nightmare for doctors visits and filling prescriptions, ordering anything online, or filling out any form of official paperwork. It’s a struggle that clogs up your time at home and makes things a little more difficult as the traveler friend.
It’s hard to maintain friendships when you’re a human tumbleweed, but it’s even harder to maintain any sort of romantic relationship. You come into a town knowing that you’re only passing through, and sometimes you leave the town having to remind yourself why you’re only passing through, and you had to explain to that guy that you were only passing through and then you realized that you were sniffling a little bit with your hands on the steering wheel wondering why you’re always, always just passing through. But then you remember that if you stopped at every little town you could see yourself staying in, you would never get anywhere. It’s certainly possible, but more of a challenge, to have a romantic relationship when you’re the traveler friend.
There are some very specific problems you have to deal with, but if you are that person in the first place, you know that it’s all worth it. Sure, sometimes you miss having your own shower, or being able to order pizza from that one place, and sometimes you just really miss your friends and family. But at the end of the day, you’d rather be laying your head down somewhere new, unfamiliar, and a little bit strange.