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
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
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
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