When I took my first international trip, I walked away with two life-changing things: an incurable travel addiction and a bestie for life. Jen and I met in Egypt in 2006 while studying abroad and we’ve been inseparable socially (although separated physically) ever since. We may live in two different places, but we have been able to maintain a bond that was born through sharing the adventure of a lifetime together— and it’s an accomplishment I’m proud of given how difficult it can be to keep up with the many comrades you are bound to make as a globe trekker.
Friendships can be complex when you’re a traveler – you have to learn how to maintain the friends you have back home if you’re constantly on-the-go, as well as the new ones you make on your journey. Take it from me—being a long-distance friend is not easy. It requires work. The good news is it can totally be done! Here are tips based on my own experiences to help you maintain the different types of long-distance friendships you’ll have as a traveler.
1. Utilize Social Media
Whether you want to keep in contact with friends back home or stay in touch with the new ones you make during your travels, this is the bare minimum you can do to stay in contact. If you meet some awesome people on your trip, 9 times out of 10, they will be travel addicts like you and it’s always motivational to follow their adventures on social media.
I’m still connected to a friend I met in an Asian hostel six years ago, and I’ve watched in awe as Lea has shared her amazing journey around the world with all her envious Facebook friends. While hanging out together in Korea, Lea explained to me how she saved $20k from a year of working and used that cash to go on an epic solo adventure. I’m still inspired by her story to this day.
2. Free Phone Calls, Messages, and Selfies—There’s an App for That!
Jen and I never text. We WhatsApp! There are tons of free apps out there to help keep you connected without the nuisance of long-distance charges. Here are some of my faves:
Google Hangouts – Great for group chats and video calls.
WhatsApp – Send real-time messages without paying for SMS.
Viber – Make calls to other Viber users anywhere in the world for free!
SnapChat – Selfies aren’t just for Instagram. Snap a silly photo of yourself or take videos of your amazing travels and send privately to a select group of friends or add them to your Snap story for all to see.
Line – Express yourself to anyone around the globe with voice and video calls, messages, and silly stickers.
3. Small Talk Makes a Big Impact
When it comes to using tech to stay connected, understand that you don’t have to write a book every day to your friends. Send a random photo or text, tag your friend in an interesting article or funny internet meme, or make a quick call just to share something amusing that happened to you.
Ernest, my long-distance best guy friend, started randomly sending me corny jokes on Google Hangouts every so often. So for his birthday, I sent him a gigantic book of jokes, insults and one-liners so he’d never run out of material. Now I get a dose of his corniness every day. His jokes usually make me roll my eyes, but it’s our thing and helps keep the friendship going.
4. Schedule Video Chats
Ok, I’m terrible at this one and probably need to follow my own advice. Every now and then, plan a video chat with your friend and stick to the time and date you agree to.
When Jen went to Singapore earlier this year, the time difference was staggering, so we had to find an optimal time to schedule Skype chats. Although it was nighttime for her, she made sure to call when it was morning for me to wish me happy birthday all the way from the other side of the world.
5. Meet Up in Different Countries
This is a fun one! Quite possibly my favorite way to maintain friendships with other travelers is by planning trips with them!
Instead of Jen and I flying back and forth to visit one another, my fiancé Karl and I plan an annual couples getaway with Jen and her husband. Last year it was the Virgin Islands; next year we are thinking of Belize. Stay tuned!
6. Go Old School – Send a Postcard
Although it’s way easier to virtually send photos of your travels to friends, there’s something special about sending a classic postcard.
I didn’t even know Ernest was on vacation this summer, until Karl and I got a surprise postcard in the mail telling us about his trip. It was super old school, and that’s what made it so thoughtful. Anyone can text a photo. It takes a little more effort to put a stamp on it.
7. Create Something Private for You Both to Manage
A few months back I went to Asia with an old friend and a new one. Jannae is my oldest pal. Although I’ve known her since 7th grade, we really only just got around to realizing we share an extreme passion for traveling. So she told me about Coribbia, a close friend of hers from DC who is also a travel addict, and together the 3 of us planned what ended up being a wild trip to New York City, Bali, and Singapore. The trip was amazing, and although we ran into several debacles throughout our journey, we found a positive way to learn from every single mistake we made. We created a shared Google doc after we returned, which we used to jot down things we want to remember for the next trip we take. Our shared document is filled with the little things we learned from our previous experience and will be quite useful when we start planning our next big Asian adventure (we’re thinking Thailand this time)!
8. Reminisce About Your Crazy Trips
If you plan to stay in contact with someone you met while traveling, find ways to reminisce about your time together. It will help keep your bond going.
Jannae, Coribbia, and I have an ongoing Facebook messenger thread where we often joke about things we had conversations about during our trip or send each other things that remind us of Bali. Jen messages me whenever she comes across an interesting article about Egypt. Kim, a girl I bonded with during a trip to St. Lucia for Carnival, sends me photos whenever she goes to a Carnival event. Those little reminders of our past experiences are what help keep our most precious memories alive.
9. Look Forward to Big Life Events
Lastly, when it comes to major life events, don’t let distance deter you from including your friends who aren’t nearby. I’ve made many friends while traveling, and the ones I’ve forged really close bonds with will all get invitations to my wedding. Some of them even flew down in secret to surprise me when Karl got down on his knee to propose. That’s love.
Good friends are hard to come by, so when you are lucky enough to get them, nurture those relationships. Out of sight doesn’t have to mean out of mind when it comes to those who are miles away from you. After all, true friendship isn’t about being physically inseparable; it’s about being separated and seeing nothing change.
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