Travelling has a huge effect on how you form relationships and interact socially. It takes you out of your comfort zone of regularly being able to drop in on friends, meet up for coffee, or chat at the water cooler with coworkers. Friendships at home are deeper, built on years of shared experiences. On the road, you’re never anywhere long enough to have that comfortable feeling of having known someone half your life. Instead, you’re thrown into a series of brief, intense friendships with the excitement of discovering things in common.

There’s a kind of thrill to making friends on the road. You walk into a hostel in an unknown town, hungry, dirty, and tired. You want food, laundry, a shower, a beer, and only one of those things can be found in your dorm room. Off you go to the common area to ask. Just the mention of food brings out animated discussion among the two or three people around the table. One suggests a good market nearby where you could procure ingredients for a home-cooked meal. Another points in the direction of the amazing restaurant they ate at yesterday. One person offers to walk you to the street stall where he had barbecued meat on a stick last night. You take him up on the suggestion, and within moments, you’re chatting like a couple on a great first date. He’s planning to go to the region you just left, so you talk animatedly about your travels through the area. You exchange Facebook contact info when you return to the hostel. Within a day or two, you or he or both move on to other places, and that one meal together was the entire scope of your face-to-face interactions. However, the friendship doesn’t end just because you may never be in the same place again. You still chat occasionally, giving advice about places you’ve visited, laughing at anecdotes of each other’s travels. It’s still a friendship, just different from what you’d call a friendship at home.

Relationships on the road are all about short bursts of intense experiences together, followed by long periods apart. Unlike the deep roots you can put down at home, you’re like a weed on the road, quickly sending out shallow rootlets in many directions, hoping they’ll establish themselves and eventually blossom. Every time you are on the move to a new place, it’s like the wind has ripped you away and you’re soaring through the air. There’s exhilaration, there’s fear, there’s joy, and there’s longing to have arrived and put your bags down and started growing roots through the soft earth again.

I absolutely love the high I get from travelling, from meeting new people, from making contacts with people all over the world. When you permanently move to a new city, you’re trying to put down deep roots, and the soil is hard like rock. It’s difficult to find a circle of friends where you can belong. Visit that same city as a traveller, and you can meet dozens of people over the course of a single week. I do miss the deeper sense of community, though. I can’t join a choir on the road, or a poetry club. You don’t get many opportunities to play sports or join a gym. It’s wonderful to go out for coffee and share new stories with new friends, but it’s also nice to sit down with family and old friends and share those well-rehearsed stories from childhood or the good old days. I’m glad Ellen’s here with me, so I get a bit of both worlds.