The 5 stages of travel friendships

Meeting new people from all walks of life is probably one of the best experiences of travelling. You get a chance to hang out with musicians, teachers, astronauts and hopeless drunkards, and for a night or two pick their brain or just have good ol’ unadulterated fun with them and cheap spirits. Unfortunately, not all travel friendships are made to last – unlike back at home where you might stay friends with someone solely because you go to the same job or classes, it’s a lot harder to keep up with travel friends. And guess what? It’s not always so bad if you fall out of touch with them (or unfriend a few on Facebook – who is this Charles guy anyway?). In my opinion, there are five stages of travel friendships. Sometimes you move up the ladder quickly to get a new international BFF; sometimes you’re doomed to be stuck on the same level or even sink a few steps lower.

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Bagan, Myanmar

Stage 1: Cotton Eye Joe Stage

Aka. “Where did you come from? Where did you go?”

Most people start from stage 1. It’s the stage when you’re just getting to know the people in the same dorm or the hostel bar, and because it’s difficult to start a conversation when the only thing you have in common is your expected difference, you’ll approach them with the classic question: “So, where are you from?” If you’re lucky, your grandpas used to play street hockey in the same park and you’ll bond over that. If not, you might continue with asking where they’ve travelled to before this place, how long are they travelling for, and where are they going next.

It’s all very basic, really, and you don’t get to know the people so well by just knowing their next destination – in fact, soon enough it will all become a happy blur of names of countries you’ve ooh’ed and aah’ed over, and you will have no way to connect them to the people you’ve met.

How to progress: Move on to other subjects quickly once you’ve covered the basics. Alternatively, try to bring up the classic where questions later on in the conversation and start of with something more specific. I like to go with What do you do back home? or What’s it like living where you’re from? You will also probably be remembered if you ask them what their favourite Tetris piece is (FYI – mine is the L shape).

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Munich, Germany

Stage 2: Never Have I Ever Stage

Aka. These people that I met an hour ago know things about me that would make my mum disown me

If you’ve spend a lot of time around hostels, you’ve definitely – whether intentionally or accidentally – stumbled upon a party hostel which just encourages people to get to know each other using the world’s most popular social lubricant. Drinking games can be a fun way of getting to know each other and will definitely show you a side of a person that you wouldn’t see during the daytime. On the other hand, they will forever be etched into your mind as “that guy who banged his friend’s mother in a bathroom”.

How to progress: Make sure drinking games are not the only thing connecting you. They are a great gateway to meeting new people to whom you can crawl the next morning holding your head. Once you’ve learnt their names and partied with them, you’ve established some kind of a connection that allows you to ask them if they’d like to go sightseeing, food touring or biking around with you.

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Kalaw, Myanmar

Stage 3: Haha, You’re on Candid Camera! 

Aka. You’re not gonna square punch me in the jaw if I tell a yo momma joke, right?

Usually stage 3 happens quite quickly as you get to know the people around you, and is best reached over the span of a few nights, not just after a chance encounter. It’s the stage at which you know each other well enough to understand what kind of humour they like and you can be more relaxed around them. This stage might include taking embarrassing photos of them when they’re asleep or passed out and bantering them about a travel crush they got a bit too close with the night before at the club. And you’ll laugh about it together because you know the other person won’t get mad at you at this point.

For a few selected, Stage 3 is present from the very start of the conversation. Consider yourself lucky if you meet someone like that. You know what I mean: conversation flows smoothly, they get your stupid jokes, there’s a bit of banter between you. These are most likely the kind of people you will end up spending a good deal of time with and really getting to know them. They get you and you get them. It’s a sudden, inexplicable bond that might break as soon as they hop on their next plane, but they are also most likely the people who you will remember years later.

How to progress: Don’t let your communication stay at banter. Once you realise you’re getting more comfortable with your new travel friend, you can start talking about your lives more profoundly than with the rest. In my opinion, sharing a similar sense of humour and being able to joke around without having to worry about offending the other person is a good pointer that you’re getting along well enough to start to get to know them a bit more personally.

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Athens, Greece

Stage 4: The Philosopher Stage

Aka. I’m pretty sure not even my best friend knows this

Late at night, everyone becomes a philosopher, wondering what life is all about – what their life is all about. I remember having discussions like this with some of my closest friends back in upper secondary school. It was like a scene in a novel: jazz was playing smoothly on the background, the arms of the clock nearing 2 a.m., everyone staring intently at whoever was speaking and maybe it was the sleep deprivation or the magic hour just before the darkest of the night, but everyone felt there was something really special happening. It was the time of the night when you could confess to secrets you’d been holding onto and tell tales that had been long buried – some hurtful, some embarrassing, some deeply existential.

Having late night conversations about life, the universe and everything is a rare occurence even among friends you spend every day with at home, and even rarer with travel friends. If you do get close enough to somebody to actually have meaningful talks with them, cherish that.

How to progress: You will eventually find out if you guys are going to stay in touch or not. Do contact them when they’ve moved on, but don’t push it. Sometimes opening up to strangers is easier than to people who know you too closely, and it might just be that your late night connection was a one-time vent to let some old steam out.

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Greifswald, Germany

Stage 5: Skyscanner Stage

Aka. Hey, roundtrip to Ontario is only 450 euros!

Only after your trip is over you will know who you made real friends with. Sure, your Facebook wall might be filled with new names in exciting places and you might like their vacation pics or wedding announcements when you see them, maybe even exchange a few tentative messages at first, but over time you might fall out of contact and realise your only remaining connection to them is, indeed, just a Facebook feed.

However, often you do pick up a new friend or two when you travel, and those are the ones you stay in touch with. It’s no use trying to stay connected to absolutely everyone you know – you probably don’t need hundreds of friends in order to live your everyday life – but those few good friends are worth the effort. So you’re checking Skyscanner to find the cheapest flights to get to them on a weekend getaway, or re-route your trip slightly to happen on their path, or you’ll make plans to travel together some place new. These are the precious, valuable friends that you will keep on thinking about and meeting even years after your trip ends.

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Moses Beach, Australia

Would you add anything to the list? Have you met any of these types?

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