Long-Term Travel and the Challenge of Friendship Maintenance

Being a nomad is pretty awesome, and I truly enjoy my lifestyle.  One of my favorite parts of my journey has been meeting people, getting to know them, hanging out with them, and hearing about the day-to-day things that go on in their lives.

But one of the unforeseen hazards of long-term travel, at least for me anyway, is maintaining those friendships.

international friends

a few of the friends I've made over the years

At some point, I will leave whatever place that my new friend lives in, and I will likely not come back. This is a tragic ending to a friendship that, in other circumstances, could have deepened, flourished, and become truly special for both of us.

There are traditional elements that make up most friendships. Shared experiences, spending time together, and seeing each other regularly are all involved, none of which is possible with a nomadic lifestyle.

And this is one of my serious flaws. I am great at connecting with people quickly and deeply, but maintenance? I’m horrible at sending updates via emails, nor do I call, and I don’t initiate any scheduled Skype sessions.

When I look around at the quality of the friendships in my life today, things look pretty bleak. Contact with the people I’ve met throughout the years barely goes further than the occasional comment on someone’s Facebook status.

All relationships need to be nurtured in order to develop. They need attention, time, energy, and effort. And I have been pretty incapable of fulfilling these needs once separated by distance.

It’s a phenomenon that I failed to take into account when I first started this lifestyle in 2007. If I had been aware of it or come to the realization sooner, I think I would have been doing things a lot differently and put in a lot more effort to retain the relationships with all the amazing people I’ve met.

Then again, maybe I’m being too stringent with my definition of friendship. What do you consider a friend? How has the face of friendship changed over the years, especially with the proliferation of technology?

Are the people you accept on Facebook as “friends” really people you consider true friends?

This is one of the principal reasons why I want to slow down my traveling. I want to allow myself more room to make lifelong friends, to share time with the same group of people regularly, to be relied on for emotional support, and to benefit from these close relationships on a level that I haven’t been able to enjoy much of in the past four years.

To all the friends I’ve made over the years, both at home and abroad, short-term and long-term ones, I appreciate all of you and the special part you have played in my life.

A couple of fellow bloggers have come to similar realizations and have shared their thoughts on this dilemma. Check out Wade’s Perpetual Travel and Friendship and Gareth’s Long-Term Travel vs. Life-Time Relationships.

How do you stay in touch with people you’ve met while traveling? Share your experience here.


  • Alan Horton
    October 20, 2011

    This is a thought-provoking post Jasmine.

    We’re only here once and we need to value the time we have available to the utmost.

    I really hope you succeed in obtaining a good balance between friendship and relationship maintenance.

  • Jasmine Stephenson
    October 20, 2011

    Thanks, Alan. You’re right, we do need to value the time we have on Earth. While I do that through traveling, I definitely need to put more work into my friendships.

  • Wade
    October 21, 2011

    Hello Jasmine, 

    This is a great topic to bring up, as it hits at the core of the perpetual travel lifestyle with a sledge hammer. Friends are essential in life, for everyone. But I feel that there is a base level for true friendship that I missed for a long time: for a friendship to flourish and last there must be some basic parameters that it satisfies, and one of these is a common lifestyle. I feel this is the same if you’re traveling endlessly or if you live in one place your entire life — if you don’t share somewhat of a common lifestyle with someone the chances of you becoming long term friends are slim. You’re right, all of these great people that we meet while wandering this great planet we will probably never meet again — we live a different lifestyle than them, it is the same as if they were doctors and we were construction workers in the same city: friendship probably won’t grow through time. 

    This is why I try to immediately divide the people I meet out in terms of acquaintance, temp friend, or long term friend. This may sound arrogant, but if someone does not live a similar lifestyle to myself — as in, traveling, or living abroad in countries in serial succession — we probably are not going to become long term friends. When I meet people who do live similarly to me — and I like them, of course haha — I will do whatever I can to keep in loose contact with them and to meet up again whenever we are in geographic proximity to each other. It is my impression that they do the same. I probably meet up again with various travel friends around five or six times throughout the year. This isn’t too bad, I suppose, but it takes effort on my my own and their part to make these meetings happen. 

    There is something special about a friendship where you can share a common history with someone. It gets real interesting when this common history spans countries and continents. I have a list of people that I try to meet up with whenever possible, and, yup, you’re on it. 

  • Jessica Festa
    October 21, 2011

    Jasmine, I love this post. Such an original topic!

  • Jasmine Stephenson
    October 22, 2011

    Thanks :)

  • Mark McElvain
    October 23, 2011

    Such a great post, I would have never even thought of this before, but have been feeling it since starting to travel longer term.  Already after just meeting a few folks I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.  I want badly to maintain every friendship that begins during the journey, but also know that the journey must go on…I think I also feel that staying in a place, at least for a bit could be nice here and there as opposed to the constant movement (although I’m always itching to push on).  Really great way to put this into words Jasmine…

  • Jasmine Stephenson
    October 23, 2011

    Thanks, Mark. That’s the catch-22 about being a nomad; though it’s nice to reap the benefits of a stationary lifestyle, such as maintaining friendships, the call of the open road can’t be ignored.

  • Brent Philipps
    November 19, 2011

    Being in such a
    nomadic lifestyle, it’s really hartd to be able to maintain and nourish
    relationships and friendships.  Taking
    time to really keep the connection growing is vital. I guess it’s not how
    many friends you have; but it is who your real friends are. I do agree with
    you, the people we accept on Facebook as friends are actually majority just
    mere acquaintances; only around 5% or so are real friends.

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