Some of my favorite humans live a very long plane ride or more away from us. It is both a side effect of having traveled so much and that people much more regularly pack up their houses and move far away in today’s world. Long-distance relationships are hard on the heart and technology can only carry us so far in filling that aching void.
There is something magical about traveling all over the world and having people you know to see in almost every place we go and being able to coordinate schedules to share a meal together, laugh about old memories and get caught up on what is new in all of our lives. There are people I have met along the way and thought, if we were in the same city, I could easily imagine us being best friends.
What is even more magical is when connections are made that would never have happened if it were not for travel. Growing up, my parents knew a couple of New Zealanders who traveled the world teaching. While I was a growing up, they spent a lot of time in both Mongolia and Montana. We would hear their stories every year or two when they returned for a visit and I was mesmerized by what they were doing. When I was 22, they had since moved on to Germany but I was drawn to go study in Montana for five months, with part of that time living in Poland. The friendships I made at that time in my life have stuck with me ever since. It was one of those periods in your life that everything felt open to change. I got engaged via long distance while I was there, and so did one of the other girls I shared a room with. She was from Hawaii, and her fiance was back over there too. Our stories over the years followed a similar trajectory – we were married within a month of each other, both had our first two boys within weeks of each other and both had a baby girl as our third child (we went on to have one more!). After nine years of not seeing each other, we met again in Hawaii with two little boys and two baby bumps to match. Our husbands – who had never met or talked prior to that first visit – got on really well and formed their own friendship. Our children quickly became firm friends too. I have lost track of how many times we have seen each other now over the years – together in both Hawaii and New Zealand, sharing meals around each other’s dining tables, kids running around outside. I often think about all the serendipity involved along the way and how travel played an integral part. Two young women, one from Hawaii, one from New Zealand, talking about their fiancés in a room together in Częstochowa.
For a while there, I envisaged an even more incredible chain of serendipity occurring. Through another friendship I formed in Montana, I met her friends, another engaged couple who offered to drive us both down from Montana to Los Angeles after the course was over. The road trip was a perfect way for me to start my journey back to New Zealand and was a whole lot of fun. I kept thinking that my fiance would get on so well with the guy that I introduced the two of them to each other via email when I got back to New Zealand. They did hit it off too, and a year later my husband (a wedding happened in the meantime!) and a friend of his went over to the U.S. for work and stayed at their house. My husband’s friend returned later on to the U.S. and met the guy’s family and formed friendships with them. The sister came over to see my husband’s friend in New Zealand, and I wondered if there might have been a relationship happening. It didn’t eventuate, but I was amazed by the almost-to-be fantastic chain of connections all thanks to my parent’s knowing a couple who taught all over the world.
Life is like that, and travel makes these moments, these connections seem all the more incredible – those chance encounters that would never have happened otherwise. It also makes the world feel a whole lot smaller when there’s a friendly face you can have a coffee with and rest your weary feet from pacing the city’s sights.
My children now have formed friendships with others they don’t see very often but jump right back into when they next see them. We don’t hold back, even though we know that it’s a fleeting moment in time of being together in the same physical space and our farewells are always ‘Until next time!’.
Through our friends in Hawaii, we have made friends with their friends. Our original friends no longer live in Hawaii, and neither do some of their friends. Through our friends, we found a small house church there which we feel so at home in. The people there are our people. We and our children feel so loved and accepted by them and while the kids there are older than ours, they have grown up each summer together with them and connected over countless hours together. Each year our kids get a little bigger but still beg to be carried on the older boys’ shoulders while walking back from the 4th of July fireworks. My heart swells as I picture this scene repeated each year, it is hard to explain these connections formed across space and time.
My work colleague and friend met for the first time after having worked together for about seven years, she traveled to New Zealand, I to New Hampshire. All those thousands of emails, phone calls, and video calls had all merged into a complete picture of what each other’s lives were like and when we met, she was exactly as I imagined her to be. We worked well together before, but having spent time in person together, it has grown even better with time.
Some dear friends of ours now live too far away. I want to be able to click my heels and appear in Canada when we could lend them a hand, or simply just to do once again together what would faithfully do each week: eat homemade pizza and watch Grey’s Anatomy and 24 together, talk about love and life, and create endless in-jokes, and holiday together. Too many tears over the years have been shed long distance, rather than in an actual hug. We dropped everything on our busy schedules to fly down the country and have a whole day together before they left to go back to Canada. It was just the four of us, no kids (my longest time away from our youngest!). This time there was on pizza or TV watching, but a day of good conversation about real things that mattered, good food, wandering aimlessly around beaches and time for reminiscing too. The time flew by. Just as we opened the dessert menus, we realized we would miss our flight home if we didn’t literally run to pay the bill, race to the car and then drive as efficiently as possible to the airport. For someone who hates being late and has never missed a flight or connection to date, being lost in that moment was a sign to me. In hindsight, that day felt like a pivotal one to me: I think I could drop everything to go be with a friend in need, no matter where in the world and it felt good.
We have found the connections formed while traveling seems to skip over some of the stages that happen back at home. Perhaps it is because Hawaii is such a transient place where many come for work for a few years (particularly for those in the military) and is that much further from mainland family support who cannot drive to be there when needed, that people are open to forming deep friendships quickly. If we are only there for a season in our lives then we better get past the small talk and get to really being there for each other. When time feels limitless back home, we can wave and say hi to people all year that cross our paths but it never gets any further along in the relationship. We are content in our circle of friends, our routine, our lives.
Perhaps it is because travelers are open to change, to disruption, to discovering that new friendships are more easily formed and meeting fellow travelers along the way is a good recipe for those magic moments to happen.
Or perhaps it is because travelers have limited time but are wanting to make the most of that time more. If you are traveling while on vacation, there’s no work to be done, appointments to keep, chores and errands to run: time stretches out far and wide.
Travel can be lonely too. Away from friends and family, the adrenaline and excitement will wear off at times. Call it homesickness, or longing to be there when something bad happens back home, having someone to talk to in person while you are traveling helps.
It is a mix of all these things and more.
I sometimes like to imagine heaven as being the place that all the people I love are together in one space — finally — and we can spend unhurried time together, introducing all the friends we have that have never met and seeing more magic happen as they get on so perfectly just as we had always imagined.