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Travel friends versus home friends – what’s the difference?

Two women waving in front of the Houses of Parliament

Despite the aid of a decrepit map I dug out from the bottom of my bag, my best friend and I found ourselves utterly lost in the middle of San Sebastian. The streets were narrow and riddled with nooks for lowly tourists to get lost in, and to make matters worse the extent of my Spanish knowledge came from episodes of Dora the Explorer I endured whilst babysitting. It certainly wasn’t enough to ask for directions. Meanwhile, the sun was creeping its way towards sea level, ripping the last shreds of daylight from our sweaty grips.

Just as we were about to abort our attempts at locating our hostel and Google a route to the nearest McDonalds, two figures emerged from the building opposite, laughing riotously. The unmistakable Irish twang in their voices sent us barrelling across the road.

I made it over first, yelling “Hey!” echoed with a “Hi!” from Belle. They watched us curiously.
“We’re looking for Surfing Etxea? It’s a hostel. Do you guys know it?” Belle said.
“Aye!” the bearded one said with a grin, pointing behind him, “this is it.”

I looked my friend in the eye and we burst out laughing. When tears began to roll down our faces, the boys who introduced themselves as Charlie and Pete joined in too, mumbling something about the “craic”. And that was it. After just five minutes of introductions, these strangers had become our friends.

Traditional friendships take time to develop. You may bond with someone over common interests and get to know each other over the course of weeks or months. Usually things are a little awkward, as you’re not yet familiar with each other’s behaviour and you may find that you censor yourself while chatting, to avoid offending the other person. Sometimes you may meet people that you enjoy the company of, but never feel completely comfortable around. There are so many variables that play into a friendship that it can feel onerous to even try. But making friends while travelling is a whole new ballgame.

Immersion in a foreign culture can be an overwhelming experience both physically and mentally. In an unfamiliar situation, the most natural thing we can do is find a companion who understands and appreciates how we are feeling; whether that’s fear, elation, or any emotion in between. This desire for camaraderie tends to override any insecurities we may have about interacting with new people.

Forget the tired gossip and family drama you’re forced to recycle with friends at home. Your fellow travellers will be keen to swap stories of adventure and mishap. Of where you can find the tastiest cheesecake in Spain and the best places to skydive. Or of hostels to avoid and the best spots to grab a drink in North London. They’ll be from foreign lands, in towns you’ve never heard of and speak languages you’ll struggle to wrap your tongue around, but most of all, they’ll be eager to learn about you. Not just the daughter or son you are at home, or the field you work in, but who you are as a person. You’re free to be your remarkable, unfiltered self and for me, that is the most liberating part of it all.

Our nights in San Sebastian were spent hanging out with almost every guest at our boutique hostel. We chugged gallons of sangria and munched on pintxos deep into each warm summer night. The carefree confidence that pulled at the corners of my mouth and sent laughter bubbling from my throat wasn’t something I had ever felt in Australia. But there in Basque country, I could barely muster concern at the fact that I was walking home in the middle of the night surrounded by drunk youths belting out football anthems, let alone that I was seventeen thousand kilometres from home. I was smiling and laughing with practical strangers, accepting drinks and dancing in crowded streets between mouthfuls of Croquetas de Papas. I had found my people.

It’s hard not to feel tethered to a stable routine and group of friends. Fear of loneliness can be crippling, particularly when you have a group of people you are used to relying on at home. But often we’re so used to staying within the confines of our comfort zone, that we don’t even notice the opportunities and people passing us by. When I reflect on my times abroad, my adventures are highlighted in my memory by the people I met along the way. And now I have friends scattered all over the globe, ready to share more laughs, beers and escapades for many years to come.

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