That’s the thing about wandering: you can’t take anyone or anything along. It’s a very ‘come as you are’ lifestyle and it’s not forgiving. You have to accept what life throws at you, and sometimes, it gives you a new family; a new support system and a new set of arms to hold you and catch you when you need it most.
You’ll meet them about a week into setting into a new country. You won’t be sure, at first, and keep your guard up. They’re loud, obnoxious, and, quite frankly, a bit terrifying. They’ll offer you some of their cheap wine and stories of their most recent travels, laughing uncontrollably before even being able to speak.
Eventually they’ll grow on you. Boisterous chatting will be something to miss when you’re somewhere else years later. You’ll fight about who gets what bed during a week in the Italian Alps and end up sleeping together in the same room anyway. Arguments will erupt every weekend about what kind of liquor to indulge in because you’re all pinching pennies. Someone will take it upon themselves to cook something that looks like mud mixed with sticks and everyone will wash it down with a big smile and enough water to sustain a rainforest because – friendship.
Opinionated people can be found in any corner of the world, but not ones whose opinions you cherish like those girls you met way back when. Not only did you meet, you bonded. You grew and learned together. You got lost fighting over maps in foreign neighborhoods and dared each other to try strange dishes in sketchy alleyway restaurants. You pushed them and they pushed you and you’ll never be able to find the words in any language to thank them for it.
You’ll get homesick. It’s inevitable and it happens to the best of us. Distraction is best to avoid phoning home and hearing your mother say things like “Maybe it’s time to come back” or the horrible “I told you so”. So what do you do? You find a local bar to drown your sorrows and meet new people. Before you know it, you’ve collected a new posse of homesick travelers, just like you. They’ll be from towns you’ve never heard of in countries you’ve never been, but you won’t feel any closer to other human beings than in that moment.
They’ll tell you all about the places they call ‘home’ and the parts they miss the most: their favorite spot at the end of a hike to watch the sunset, their special nook in the nearby park to hide and read, their childhood friends who are in a constant state of worry as to where they have gone. The night will seem never-ending as you exchange hopes and dreams. You’ll all stumble out towards the shoreline to watch the sun rise, sharing a bag of munchies from the only shop that was still open. You’ll promise to do it all again tomorrow because you know: now that you’ve found each other, you’ve found home.
Everyone in between.
You’ll create a family you never knew you could have. It’s promised to you, actually. Along the way, you’ll adopt mothers, siblings, and that weird aunt who never fails to say something inappropriate at dinner. If you’re lucky, you’ll reunite once every year in a completely different place and won’t have skipped a beat. Social media and communication apps will become essential in keeping up with real time. Engagements and career changes should never be announced via text. Skype call or it didn’t happen.
And when you’re not traveling; when you’re stuck to a desk and wondering when and where the next trip is, you’ll think of someone you know who is on a three month trek around Southeast Asia. You’ll shoot them a message asking how they are and receive paragraphs about last week when they drank roadside water, had to be carted to a clinic by some very kind strangers, and ended up spending an amazing night out with these newfound friends. That’s when you realize you haven’t stopped traveling. You’re still out there, getting sick in Southeast Asia, exploring catacombs underneath Europe, and surfing on the North Shore of O’ahu, all at the same time. They’ve carried you with them each step of the way. They wouldn’t dare let you go. Why? Because they are paving the road and preparing the festivities for when you finally get there.
There’s a family waiting for you; on a rickety bus headed for Petra, on the ferry between Mykonos and Santorini, or on a hiking trail up Machu Picchu. They’re out there; beyond your comfort zone and away from your hometown. They’ll take care of you if you let them and enrich your life in ways unimaginable. They’ll make the entire world small enough to hold in your hand and that is a beautiful thing.