An around-the-world address book

December 20, 2010 in Philosophy,Travel

When I was 4 years old, my mom agreed to host a French teenager for the summer through our local Chamber of Commerce. However, 18-year-old Sebastien wasn’t as keen as the rest of the students to visit California: he had recently fallen in love with a girl from home. Long story short, his insistence on returning home early forced plenty of phone calls between my mother and his—starting and nurturing a friendship. His younger brother, Aurelien, spent the next summer with us.

Family friends in Provence

When I was 16 years old, I spent a summer in France—shuffling among Claudine, Sebastian and his high school sweetheart, Aurelien and his high school sweetheart, and various family members. Claudine and her husband met our family in Hawaii for Christmas a few years ago—an interesting experience, considering my mother was the only one who spoke both French and English fluently. And just recently, I spent a weekend with Claudine in Provence and a day with the entire family—including the four children of Sebastien and Aurelien that I’ll surely host someday in America.

The fact that our families have remained friends for the past eighteen years—before the age of Facebook, Skype and Gmail—has always influenced how I feel about making friends abroad. Sure, I meet plenty of people who I’m sure I’ll never see again. But what about those friendships that stick, the people you click with despite living halfway across the globe from each other?

I made some amazing friends in Nice. I already had a reunion with two of my best girlfriends who I met through the Alliance Francaise, meeting up for a delightful weekend in Oxford. They’re the type of friends who you never say “goodbye” to—it’s always “see you later.” I’ve made friends around the world through hostels, bike tours, quiet cafes, rowdy bars, a smile or a shrug.

Friends in Oxford

Sure, there are plenty who I’ll only keep in touch with through Facebook status updates, who I’ll eventually hide since their lives no longer affect mine. But then there are those who I still talk to regularly—or at the very least, are the very first names that pop into my head when I plan a return trip.

Now that I’ve set plans for Australia, people keep asking me if I know anyone there. Well, not quite. But one of the chefs who I worked with in France is Australian, and his sister still lives in Sydney. I’m still Facebook friends with a few Australian girls whom I met while backpacking in Europe. A couple of old high school friends are on a working holiday in Australia now. Everyone I meet knows someone living in Australia, someone who’s been there, a real-life Australian in the flesh.

Friends in Munich

In short, I have friends, friends of friends, those who I’ll surely charm into becoming friends. Having an address book that spans the globe certainly gives me plenty of initial connections, but it also gives me confidence that I’ll be able to add more names once I get there.

Do you have an around-the-world address book? Any good stories of how you met lifelong friends or what inspired you to keep in touch, despite the distance?

  • I happened upon my friend(s) Valerie(s) in the bathroom of a movie theater where we had, unbeknownst to the others, just seen the same movie, Coco Avec Chanel. I overheard them speaking French to one another, and having just returned from Paris the week before, I struck up a conversation with them. They are both native Parisians, both are named Valerie, and I have enjoyed their friendship for a year and a half now. One has moved back home to Paris (I have visited her twice since July!), and one lives 2 miles from me. I know it sounds cliché, but I am drawn to their joie de vivre. They enjoy the same things in life as I do – good wine, good friends, travel, and just BEing. Those are, unfortunately, very un-American traits. The love of those basic life pleasures is what has kept our friendship strong.

  • A rolodex that spans the globe is an extremely powerful thing – it makes traveling so much more rewarding if you know a few people from the area that know where to go, where not to go, what to see, etc. A big factor to planning my trips is where I have friends living/visiting, and it’s worked out fairly well so far.

  • tons of those stories… funny one: in Mexico I met this charming South African guy, we talked until dawn at the beach and each of us went their own way. Just about 2 years later (that is, just a few months ago) he said he moved to Geneva – just 30 min drive from where I live! We’ve met a few times now!
    My friends are distributed around the World – Sydney, HK, NY, Berlin, Paris, Madrid, London, … and these I mean are the ones I keep in touch with on a almost weekly basis!

  • Kadence

    I, too, have an around-the-world address book, but mostly thanks to my personal adventures while living and studying abroad for a year. I definitely think we have something in common, in that we seem to have little difficulty making friends and being completely unafraid of going somewhere we happen to have few or no connections. For me, it’s often about that unknown which makes it even more exciting – exploring and learning on my own, making my own place there.

  • Awesome post. I love meeting and making new friends on the road and what I love even more is meeting up with them later on in a differnt country, time and place 🙂 In Fiji last February I met a Swedish girl whom I became great friends with then that May I visited her in Sweden. In europe 2007 I went on a bus tour with 30 aussies and I have since met up with at least 8 of them again in different parts of the world! I’ll introduce you to all of my aussie friends soon enough! 🙂

  • This is one of my favorite aspects of travel — the friendships you develop along the way, especially the ones that go the distance. I’m really fortunate to have been adopted by a tight-knit group of friends in London and I visited them 4 times in 2 years. No matter what happens in the next few months as I finish up in Australia, I plan on going home the long way via London to spend some time with them 🙂

    There’s heaps of great people here — you’ll make plenty of friends!

  • Anonymous

    What a great story! If I overhear French, I always try to strike up a conversation (if only for the selfish purpose of practicing myself). That’s fabulous that you were able to keep in touch–although your common interests sound like the perfect recipe for friendship 🙂

  • Anonymous

    I’ve often done the same thing–visiting a friend who was studying abroad in Ireland, one who was working in London, another who was living in Munich. It often works out even better than a normal trip because of the free accommodation AND the insider info they have on the place!

  • Anonymous

    That’s awesome! I always hope that I’ll cross paths again with some of the great people that I’ve met–and I’ve learned that sometimes you have to create the opportunity, not just wait for it to fall into your lap. Even better when it does!

  • Anonymous

    Before I went backpacking on my own in Europe a few summers ago, my mom told me to play up the stereotype of being American. Everyone expects us to be super smiley and friendly–so smile a lot and be friendly! If it works out, it works out. If not, they’ll just think you’re American. I always try to remember that when I get a burst of shyness–and it’s worked out so far!

  • Anonymous

    Yes! I’m super stoked to meet up with some Aussies! I have a few that I kept in touch with from European adventures–shared hostels, bike tours, Contiki. And I can’t wait to meet you in person and thus have a real Canadian in my address book 🙂

  • Anonymous

    I’m already dying to get back to Nice and England to see the friends I made while over there! The only good/bad part is being friends with a lot of travelers: you can meet up with them everywhere but they’re never in the place where you left them!

  • “you have to create the opportunity, not just wait for it to fall into your lap.”

    You hit the nail on the head. Not just about traveling, but about everything in life.

  • Great post. I’ve been lucky to make a few close friends abroad. Many acquaintances who have fallen by the wayside, but a few friendships that have “stuck” – and in some cases despite language barriers (thank god for Google Translate).

  • As I’ve said before, I didn’t get the chance to make many friends while I was abroad, sadly. However I can totally see the advantages to knowing people everywhere in the world. Not only do you have easy access to local guides, but you also get to share unique memories with people that will always be special no matter the distance.

  • Anonymous

    Unfortunately, I didn’t make many French friends while I was abroad–a lot of Brits, Australians and Kiwis, which kind of feels like cheating. My goal in Australia is to become friends with more locals and fewer travelers!

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