The Effect Of Long Term Travel On Relationships

When you travel for a long period of time what happens to your relationships?

This is the question I was considering the other day as a few buddies and I were enjoying a round of rum and coke at a local bar in Medellin.

I didn’t consider the question aloud, as we were discussing some other topic, and truth be told, these buddies of mine are not long term travelers in any sense of the term. They were foreigners in Colombia, but were headed back to their homelands after a while in the city.

As I sat back in my chair, I looked at my buddy to my left.

He’s a cool guy… just out of college, affable, generally friendly, fluent in English and Spanish. We’ve had some good nights hanging out.

Yet I could not help but think to myself that a few months from now our lives will totally diverge. He is from another country and is leaving Medellin indefinitely. And my future plans are uncertain at this point.

So I had a reflective moment…

Is he the kind of friend who I’ll keep in touch with?

It was a sobering moment, because it was like the finality of it all set in.

No. Probably not.

I mean, we still have a few months left of hanging out in Medellin. But suddenly it began to feel like some glorified hostel setup… you know, the friends you make in a hostel for a weekend, where you have a great time for a few days, you add them on facebook, you go out at night… but then a few months later you realize you didn’t have too much in common and it’s unlikely you will ever see them again so you consider dropping them off your facebook.

This began to feel like that.

But, wait a minute, if I am living a life of long term travel– of moving from place to place– is this not what I am subjecting myself to?

Even if you stay in a place like I have for several months, the fact remains:

You leave.

You might come back a year, 2 years, 3 years later, but everyone knows a lot happens in 3 years…. People change. You change. Things change.

Even in your hometown things change. You go back and your old friends are not the same. The streets are not the same. Your parents aren’t the same.

And all the while you begin to think yourself that you missed the change.

And now, things are different.

I really don’t like this aspect of long term travel.

To me, it seems like you are left with a string of short-term relationships wherever you go. Unless you are privileged to have a partner who travels with you, you are leaving off the possibility of long-term relationships with people in your proximity.

Is this the way to live?


  • Ryan,

    I absolutely feel you on this point. I think one of the most difficult/undesirable aspects to long term travel is that inability to form meaningful long term relationships. You end up having the same tired old conversations about where are you from/what do you do/do you like X-city over and over without really getting to establish a long-term meaningful relationship.

    I don’t know the solution to this problem either.  Like you, I seem to be addicted to travel, but unable to find a way to integrate meaningful relationships into it. Most of my “good” friends are friends I had at home from before I’ve started travelling. Sure, I’ve met a lot of interesting people travelling, but it’s never really gotten past the point of acquaintance. I’ve been thinking recently about trying to pick a home base type city where I could work on building those relationships while still venturing to new places (and back home) 3-6 months a year.

    • It’s hard isn’t it? I would say I have a few friends from my travels I’ll keep in touch with, but the majority have only been the short term, hang-out buddies. Setting up a base sounds like a good idea, but for me there’s so much of the world to explore that I don’t know if I would choose one yet. And, even when I returned home after a few months of travel it felt like things were different.

      •  Things are not different, YOU probably are…

        • Why not both?

  • cagalindo

    “Make no mistake, moving is living.”

  • I likewise have this longing to connect with people I meet on the road. Not just a temporary connection, but a long-term one. It’s just not possible, I always remind myself. Most of these travelers are not interested in keeping any relationship, unless it’s an intimate one (i.e., true love or something like that) so why bother? 

  • I’m surprised by your quickness to dismiss people. You’re a blogger and the people you’re encountering are nomadic enough to run into and be decent company in a foreign land.

    I probably have a total bias when it comes to the people I keep as company because they either have some sort of love for the sport of business/web/content or there’s better company for both of us.

    But I guess what I’m saying is that thanks to technology it is easier to maintain those relationships, if they weren’t all that strong in the first place they’ll fade but you can still at least consider them friendly audience members.

    I’ve thought the same way and pretty much reconciled to something of the sort above, yet I’m lucky enough to still be in touch with some awesome friends I haven’t actually seen in like 7 years.

    If this came across in anyway as a jerk criticism I in no way mean it to be. Just adding some thinking out loud and revisiting my take on this very real (and fairly substantial) issue.

  • Actually this just dawned on me…

    On some expat boards I recall there being a discussion (probably among many) discussing why it’s so hard to make friends in some areas, in this case BsAs.

    It was hashed out that Argentines that come off as stuck up or hard be a friend of actually have the concern in their mind that they don’t really want to develop a friendship with someone who they think will eventually leave and be gone. It actually makes some sense too and reflects how cultures are just different.

    In a way this really reflects how cool the people of Medellin are in that regard. Maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get their take on it and make up a blog post about it.

    • Well, if I knew the person was leaving in 3 months, I probably wouldn’t put much effort into the relationship either… The larger point is about long term travel and questioning whether it is the glorious stratosphere it is made out to be. I personally feel like unless I have authentic, deep relationships (which take time face-to-face) I’m likely not living life to the full.