One of my absolute favorite things about traveling is meeting people from various parts of the world, with whom I can share my explorations, exchange stories, and learn about their culture, language and viewpoints, while contributing mine. Creating and maintaining global friendships can be one of the most rewarding aspects of travel.
The Challenges of Creating & Maintaining Global Friendships
While your intentions are good, it can be difficult to create, and especially to maintain global friendships. It can be challenging. Places and circumstances change. You change. Life can get in the way. When people are far away and you do not have the opportunity to see them often, it is hard.
Many times, I have the most amazing experience or conversation with someone, and it is just that, a wonderful moment in time. We bid our farewells and head off in separate directions. BUT… then there are those other times, when I just click with someone.
Differentiating Social Encounters
When I click with someone, it is like I’ve known them forever. Even though we may not speak the same language or share obvious commonalities. These are those special times when you just know you have made a new friend and you must stay in touch.
Creating global friendships, in my opinion, is the easier part of this equation. If you are friendly, open, and outgoing, you are bound to make some connections. When it will likely result in a friendship, it is natural, almost innate. It is something you just know and the feeling is clearly reciprocated. The harder part is maintaining these friendships, sometimes from very faraway and for long periods of time.
My First long Distance Friendship
For many years, my family spent a month each Summer in Cape Cod. When I was about seven, I met Julie on the beach. She lived in New England and I, in Philadelphia. For two seven year olds, that was a world apart. Julie and I insisted on meeting several more times during that month, and our mothers obliged.
At Summer’s end, we swore to write, and to always be friends. There were no cell phones, texting, computers or social media; Just good old fashioned hand written letters, describing our school days, and enclosing photos of new haircuts, torn out magazine articles, and scratch and sniff stickers. We couldn’t wait to receive each other’s letters, and we lived for the next Summer when we could see each other again.
As adults, we tend to have more responsibilities. Sometimes it is difficult to arrange our lives in a way that allows for close family time, let alone friends who live nearby. The thought of maintaining a friendship from halfway around the world may seem inconceivable.
Why Maintain Global Friendships?
For me, one of the absolute best parts of travel is meeting people. It is so much fun to arrive in a foreign place and have a familiar face waiting to see you. Even if you just plan part of your time to visit with your friend, it is always nice. There are many benefits to a global friendship, outside of the obvious; The absolute privilege of sharing moments, memories, and aspects of your life with, to laugh and cry with, someone you care about and that cares about you.
However, like any relationship, near or far, it takes work. Long distance friendships may be harder to maintain due to time differences and the inability to see each other in person as often as you may like. But I find all friendships take work, this is just a bit different in terms of how you go about maintaining it. For me friendships are invaluable.
In addition to a relationship, friends around the world offer insight into the culture and thinking of their country from an inside perspective. Often, it may introduce you to new possibilities and a better understanding of the destination. Throughout the Covid pandemic, it has been interesting to speak regularly with my friends in various countries and hear how things are being handled. It also made me feel connected to the world, even though traveling was difficult.
While connecting, friends will inevitably introduce you to local customs or food that you may not have tried. They may tell you about music that is popular in their country, or holiday traditions. Attending my friend’s wedding in Croatia and Slovenia was such a beautiful experience.
When you travel to their country, they will likely share special places to visit and activities that are local knowledge. There could be a festival or concert that was not globally advertised. This alone makes your stay more special and intimate. In an emergency abroad, having a local friend that understands the situation and can help you to find medical care, shelter, or speak to an embassy for you is priceless. It is also amazing to see your country through your friend’s eyes when they come to visit.
Friendship is a two way street. This is the best part. I love that I get to share my culture, language, travel experience, and traditions too. The other day a friend from France was preparing a presentation in English. He called to read it to me to see if it was grammatically correct and made sense. It was fun to be able to help. On the day that our new President was sworn in, many friends from around the world called to chat politics. In the giving, there is so much receiving. The absolute best experience was to awaken on my birthday to find calls and wishes from around the world. For me, this was the best gift ever. I cherish my global friendships and maintaining them for me is a pleasure.
Tools For Creating & Maintaining Global Friendships
These days, there are so many more tools available to make it even easier when creating and maintaining global friendships, but it still requires work on both people’s parts; That is also the fun of it; It is a beautiful way to stay connected to the world, your memories, and the destination where you met. Global friendships provide a way to remain connected to your travel life, even in times when you may not be traveling.
Phone and Video Calling
The ability to make and receive international and long distance calls for a fraction of what it used to cost is amazing. In the age of computers, it is great to hear your friend’s voice. It makes you feel closer and it is a way to share laughter, hardships, and daily life.
Of course there are great apps these days such as Whatsapp, Skype, Zoom, and Facetime, where not only can you hear someone’s voice, but you can see their face, and even their surroundings with a flip of a button. I share everything from a tour of my apartment to New Years Eve!
Ideas for Connecting through Video Calls
Video calling makes it possible to share special moments, no matter where in the world you are in relation to your friend. For me, this is one of the most powerful tools to remain close to your friends you may not see as often as you wish. The ability to still make plans with a person is truly incredible.
- Invite your friend to your birthday party
- Share a meal
- Have coffee or happy hour
- Celebrate New Years or other special events
- Arrange game nights
- Ask fashion or hair advice
- Show your home, a new plant, your pet, and other things that allow your friend to be a part of your daily life
Challenges of Video Calls
I would not really say that there are any negatives to connecting through video calling to maintain global friendships. However, there are some challenges to consider. Once you identify them, they are fairly easy to work through.
- Be mindful of time zone differences
- Carve out time or make a monthly schedule to see each other, just like making plans with nearby friends
- Have a translation application available in case of any language barriers
- Be mindful of any cultural differences
- Strive to have a clear connection
- Treat your calls like plans. Your friend may really be counting on you. Do not cancel at last minute or no show.
TIP: Be sure that when you give information to someone with whom you’d like to stay in touch, that you actually exchange information. Then if one person loses it or cannot read it, the other can reach out. Be sure what you give and receive is legible, and on something you will not lose. *Storing this type of information in an online storage system like G Suite is great because it is always retrievable online and can be shared between the two of you. I like to give someone various ways to get ahold of me so that if I change one contact, there are other ways of reaching me.
We all are guilty of getting busy and not having time to call. And sometimes calling is difficult to coordinate due to time zone differences. Luckily, we also have social media.
The photos, videos, and commentary provided on social media is a fantastic way to know your friend, how they are feeling, when something exciting happens to them, or when they suffer a loss. It is important to interact with your friend’s posts through comments, likes, emoticons, and private messages, so you are not just watching from afar, but actually interacting with your friend.
Email is another great tool as you can write and reply in your own time and can include attachments of images and articles. This method is great because you can be more intimate and it is private, so you can share personal thoughts. Just because someone is faraway does not mean that you cannot be a good, close friend. You can provide insight, support, and laughter.
Occasionally someone you meet does not have access to internet service or social media. In this case, letter writing still works too. As a matter of fact, I have a friend that I met while I was traveling in Egypt, almost 20 years ago. She lives in Australia, and I’m based in the US currently. While we do follow each other on social media regularly, and privately message occasionally, I have sent her a photo holiday card every year since we met. She told me recently that she kept all of them and they are all on her fridge! While we haven’t seen each other in forever, I feel close to her and have definitely reached out to her in times of need, and she was there.
The Rewards of Creating and Maintaining Global Friendships
I recently had a friend contact me, that I met 5 years ago in Amsterdam, because she was coming to NYC with her family. She saw I reside there sometimes and wanted a top “to do” list. We reconnected in person and I got to spend an entire day and night with her and her family. She loved the Top New York City Tourist To Do List that I compiled and actually gave me feedback. I cannot wait to see her in the Netherlands and have her host me for a day. How great it is to get an inside perspective from your friend in their home country.
Coincidentally, this same friend was on Instagram during her recent travel in Columbia. She noticed that I had just posted a photo from Cartagena, less than 5 blocks from where she was! She contacted me via Whatsapp and we spent the most amazing evening together!
Global friendships are so rewarding on many levels, and so worth the effort. I think the best part are the memories, the friendship, and the anticipation of someday meeting again.
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