Why I Travel: To Make New Friends

#5 in a series.

From Budapest

I get a lot of strange looks when I tell people I travel by myself, but the truth is, I'm rarely alone. And I've never gone on a solo vacation where I didn't make at least one new friend.

When I travel alone, I enjoy the time to focus on myself. I can be selfish in just about every decision I make. Don't feel like spending another day in a museum? I'll picnic in the park instead. Need an impromptu coffee shop visit? Sure! I'm on no one's schedule but my own.

The thing is, I am a social person at heart. When I travel by myself, I need to find people with whom I can talk, share stories and laugh. So I've learned to relish small group tours and hostels.

Three years ago I was in Paris the day the Tour de France arrived for its triumphant final stage. That morning, I woke up in my hostel, walked down to the breakfast room and asked if anyone else was heading to the Champs Élysées. Fifteen minutes later, I was in the company of a half dozen new friends from various countries as we headed out to cheer on the cyclists. It felt like we were a contingent of the United Nations, sharing a bottle of wine while we shared stories of our adventures.

Through the wonders of Facebook, I have maintained friendships forged while breakfasting on mangoes in St. Lucia, gorging on pho in Vietnam, and sipping beers in Amsterdam. We share photos, wish each other happy birthday (in fact, today is Volker's birthday in Germany...happy b-day, Volker!), and celebrate life's passages with notes of congrats on weddings and new babies.

The secondary benefit of these far-flung friendships is the collection of couches I have slowly accumulated across the globe. In a previous entry in this series I discussed that one of the reasons why I travel is to visit friends. Making new friends as I travel is a wonderful excuse to have new places to visit and couches to crash on. Ahh...what a fabulous circle.

On this ninth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, I'm reminded even more of how important it is to create friendships with people of different nationalities, faiths, politics, and beliefs. Naive as it may be, I truly believe my international friendships are positive efforts toward foreign diplomacy. Peace, one friend at a time.


Why I Travel: To Strengthen My Skills in Handling Adversity

When traveling, I've learned that there are two words that are bound to hit me at some point:

Scheisse Happens

From Around Lima, post wedding

It is inevitable that something will go wrong. Whether it's something little like forgetting my toothbrush on a business trip (done that), or something that threatens my chances of entering a foreign country like being detained at Heathrow in London (done that, too). It doesn't matter, I've learned that somewhere along the way something will test my patience, my sanity and my creative problem-solving skills. My history is a tad demoralizing:

+ I got separated from my friends, stuck on a train in Italy and ended up in Milan instead of Venice

+ I came down with some kind of intestinal issue for 3 days in Vietnam, one night of which I spent convinced I was being eaten up from the inside out

+ Through some computer glitch, I booked an non-existent flight to Cusco, Peru; then my replacement flight was delayed due to weather, and I ended up never leaving Lima to visit Machu Picchu.

+ I somehow completely forgot to arrange for a visa to visit Australia until the gentleman at the United Airlines counter asked to see mine.

+ Most recently, bipolar British Airways has been putting my emotions through the wringer as I prepare to fly BA to Europe for Elise & Matty's wedding. Since March, the BA cabin crew has gone on strike, off strike, threatened to strike again, canceled their strike under government pressure, and now has gone back on strike just in time for my departure next Tuesday evening.

Surviving and getting through each of these hassles has helped me to learn how to work through adversities of many kinds. I've learned how to roll with the proverbial punches and take on a "this too shall pass" attitude toward various stresses in my life. That's not to say that I don't get worked up a little now and then. Happy hour with my girlfriends tonight was mixed with not-so-happy concerns as soon as I got a text from a friend telling me about the on-again BA strike. But a few deep breaths, and some positive encouragement from my friends kept me from going into stress-mode. And sure enough, when I checked the status of my flights when I got home, all my flights to Europe were confirmed to fly as scheduled.


My return flights back to the States? Those are up in the air (or will they be? ba dum ching) for now. I will depart Phoenix for London, Amsterdam and Oslo next Tuesday, without the confirmation that I will be returning as scheduled. Looks like I'll continue to roll with the punches until those flights are announced on June 1. And that's ok by me. I've had plenty of practice so far.


Why I Travel: To Visit Friends

From Last Night in London

I don't need much of an excuse to travel somewhere, but my favorite is to visit friends. Taking full advantage of this excuse, the past few years have taken me to:

Boston (cousin Molly)
London (Megan & Jon)
LA (J-Dub)
St. Lucia (Meg & Jon again)
Denver (Sarah)
Brussels (Simon)
Lima (Laura & Gino)
London again (several friends)
Sydney (Meg & Jon...again)

From Brussels

Having friends scattered about this planet is convenient for someone with my sense of wanderlust. And crashing on couches is by far my favorite method of visiting a new city. I love that it mixes the freedom of solo travel with the structure of a working professional and the invaluable insights of a local. When I visit friends, I enjoy doing my own thing during the day, but relish the social company of a companion in the evening. Plus, you can't beat the price: a place to crash in exchange for salsa/Reese's peanut butter cups/Girl Scout Cookies/whatever favorite American/Southwestern treat my host requests.

From London in a Weekend

In 11 days I leave for my next friend-inspired destination: NYC to visit Sarah, Joel and hopefully a half-dozen other friends who will meet me somewhere in the Big Apple for happy hour. I can't wait to do a little adventuring mixed with catching up on each others' lives, swapping stories, and experiencing someplace new with old friends. Doesn't get much better.

From London in a Weekend