How to Travel & Keep Lasting Friendships

Written by: Christopher Tunstall

Travel Is Important, But Don’t Lose Touch With the People Who Matter

The benefits of a travelling lifestyle don’t need to be lauded on this website. But one of the inevitable trade-offs is time spent with the friends you leave behind.

Of course, here in 2016, with Skype, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat at our fingertips, it’s easy to stay “connected”. The physical joy, however, of walking and talking with a friend alongside a river in your hometown, road tripping into the dawn on a favourite highway, or even just eating pizza together on the sofa over a Seinfeld marathon, is something geographical distance can’t bridge (at least for now anyway – see Mark Zuckerberg acquiring the Oculus Rift).

Whether you’re travelling, you’ve moved far away from home, or you’re someone who feels left behind, you’ve probably despaired over the thought that the time you used to spend with certain people every day is now confined to hours, or days, per year, at best.

When you were young

Stay in touch with friends when you travel

I was struck when, in 2009, tuning the radio on the highway under Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, I first heard Baz Luhrmann’s Wear Sunscreen. It’s a spoken-word song based on Mary Schmich’s Chicago Tribune article, Advice, Like Youth, Wasted on the Young. One passage in particular jumped out at me:

“Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.”

Because youth is change, experimentation and the terror of new independence, those who watch you change, who experiment with you at the same time, and who eat ramen noodles with you cross-legged on the floor of an unfurnished apartment in a new town, end up emotionally fused to you when life inevitably starts to slow down, when meaningful bonds are harder to come by.

One of my biggest fears is having these connections slip away as career, family and geography take centre stage. Time will smear most of our relationships into obscurity. That’s life. But if you can put the work into maintaining contact with Schmich’s “precious few” and never let too much time pass between ports of call, you might move into older age with an army behind you.

No one left behind

Keep in touch with friends when travelling

To address how this is logistically possible, I try to maintain a general three month contact policy. That is, no matter where I am in the world or what I’m doing, I’ll take an evening alone every so often to review my most recently received communications.

I then make sure no more than three months has passed without some kind of reciprocation. This isn’t hard and fast, of course. Everyone is different. Some friendships are easily kept afloat with a song-share on a Facebook wall or a Snapchat picture of a tastefully-collaged penis drawn on to the side of another friend’s shoulder. Others prefer comprehensive, emotionally-charged essays.

Either way, the key is vigilance and patience. A move towards another physical reunion (whether weeks, months or years away) needs to be on the cards too. Physicality is important to every relationship – no matter how augmented with technology our lives seem to be becoming, we’re still a biological species.

Pursuing personal dreams is important too, so it’s a good idea to think about  balance. I plan every geographical step – whether moving to a new country or taking a vacation – with two very important questions in mind: one, am I seeing something new? And two, can I catch up with anyone in the process? I like to be able to answer yes to one, but I prefer to answer yes to both.

I took a recent trip back to England to attend a best mate’s wedding and decided to capitalise on the opportunity of being back in Europe at the same time. I scheduled budget flights to Dublin and Luxembourg with an old friend from home, engaged in a football-laden pub crawl through my old haunts with a buddy visiting from Toronto, and went to myriad brunch, pub and concert dates with friends from home, from college, from university and with whom I’d shared travelling experiences in the past. I also scheduled a deliberately long layover in Sydney on the way home, to spend seven or so hours eating meat and drinking beer (then sleeping for three hours on a sofa) with an old Australian friend.

If there’s anything I hope to pride myself in when I’m older, it’s the successful maintenance of relationships I had with friends when I was young.

Remember, and be remembered

Don't forget your friends when you travel

My father passed away when I was 15 years old. At my sister’s wedding in 2014, I spoke to some of his good friends for the first time. A resounding trait they told me they admired in him was his dedication to his friends. Despite a meandering work and family life, he always made time for them – for walks in the moors, drinking sessions at riverside pubs, or extended phonecalls at the foot of the stairs in our old family house. It sounds a bit clichéd, but I really hope to leave half the impression he left on his friends.

Distance, with its inevitable periods of loneliness and fear, and its separation from the people and places we love, is hard. But travel and movement are good for us. You can’t expect to change if you stay in place. And if anything can make you realise how precious your relationships are, it’s trying to go at the world alone without them.

Travel, move away, do your shit, but don’t neglect what we all really need – meaningful and lasting friendships. Pick up the phone.

Christopher Tunstall is a self-professed writer, musician and traveller. He graduated from the University of Winchester with a Bachelors Degree in Creative Writing then worked as a web copywriter for two years before beginning his world travels. He now writes for writing advice website Penleak and has short fiction, music, etc. available on his website. Tweet him @cdtunstall

Check out these top travel experiences


Big One – 26 Days Across Central and East Coast of Canada

from £800

26 days


Experience it all. Great outdoors, national parks, epic citiesm quant towns. Gaspesie, Laurentians, Algonquin, Bay of Fundy, and Cabot Trail....

Europe Tour with Gapforce

from £1,500

14 - 28 days

Austria, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, N...

Don’t travel alone, join our fun group every June and July to explore Europe with our UK leader.

Toki 14-day tour of Japan

from £1990

14 days


From Tokyo's futuristic neon lights and the rice fields of Izumo, to Kyoto's ancient temples and pristine beaches of the...

Nippon 1-Month Tour of Japan

from £4520

30 days


From Tokyo's futuristic neon lights and Kyoto's ancient temples, to trekking through the forests of the mountain mystics and enjoying...

Yamabushi 16-day tour of Japan

from £2500

16 days


Not your average tourist experience, this tour is specifically designed for the nature lovers out there. See a completely different...

Southern Trans Oceanic Quito to Rio via Buenos Aires

from £2475

69 days

Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru

Explore the Amazon Jungle, Hike the famous Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, view the stunning Iguazu Falls and spend time...

Colombian Adventure Cartagena to Lima

from £1895

39 days

Colombia, Ecuador, Peru

Experience the flavours, curiosities and contradictions of these three fascinating South American countries.

Andes and Amazon Quito to La Paz

from £1750

37 days

Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru

Experience the Amazon rainforest at first-hand in a jungle lodge, follow the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, stay overnight with...

Peaks and Plains Lima to Buenos Aires

from £1675

35 days

Argentina, Bolivia, Peru

From trekking in the mountains to dancing the tango, this trip has it all.

Tropics of South America Rio to Manaus via The Guianas

from £3175

57 days

Brazil, Guyana

Explore some of Latin America’s most vibrant and colourful cities, pristine coastline, rich and verdant landscapes and search for diverse...

Find more articles about travel mates

[contact-form-7 id="4" title="Contact form 1"]