On January 4th, I met someone.
It had been a long day. I’d checked out of my hostel in Phuket Town, power walked to the bus station in 30-degree heat, and arrived in Kata Beach hot, disgruntled, and in desperate need of a shower. Being shown to a tiny dorm room with no air con didn’t help my mood, but my roommate saw to that.
Ten minutes into our first conversation, we decided to go to the beach and ended up spending the rest of the day together. One thing led to another, and six days later I found myself fighting back tears as he left for Phi Phi before flying back home to the UK. Meanwhile, I was due to fly to New Zealand the next day.
As a solo traveler, I invest much of my time making friends with people I’ll never see again. While I wouldn’t hesitate to contact them if I ever found myself in their hometowns, the majority of these relationships are inexorably reduced to Facebook likes and Instagram follows.
Unfortunately, the fleeting nature of these friendships is tacked onto the solo travel deal. You make friends with people out of necessity. Because you’re in the same place at the same time. Because you’re about to spend a week together on tour. Because you’re in the travel bubble, where alliances are built so quickly there’s no time to lay down foundations. Inevitably, they crumble as soon as you go your separate ways.
When so many of the connections you make on the road fizzle into nothing, it’s easy to become disillusioned. What’s real and what isn’t? Would he and I have connected the same way if we’d met back in our home county? Do I like him for the right reasons? Or have I been on my own for too long? And when the chance for love does come along, do you take it? Do you change your plans to pursue a different path?
A good friend of mine says that sometimes, plans are made to be changed. It’s something I’ve been practicing for years: make plans, but make them flexible. So that you can stay somewhere an extra night. Leave somewhere earlier than planned. Visit a place you’d never heard of. Make room for someone special in your life.
“Come back with me,” he said the day before he left.
I thought about my very expensive flight to Auckland, the hostels I’d booked, and the interview I had set up for the following week. I thought about the trip I wanted to take to Japan on the way home and my plans to travel around Central America in the future. It all boiled down to what I wanted more: my life of travel or the value of shared experience.
I’m painfully aware of how absurd, how reckless it sounds. We’d only known each other for six days! I’ve spent more time trying to upload a picture in Laos!
My friends are stunned I’d even consider changing my travel plans. “Would you really come all the way back from the other side of the world for someone you’ve just met?” they ask cautiously. Which sounds irresponsible when you phrase it like that.
But while I would undeniably be flying home for him, I’d also be doing it for me. After all the temporary homes, jobs, and friendships, maybe it’s time for something lasting; something real. Something to come back to after a long weekend in Prague, or that six-week trip to Central America. Because maybe it is possible to have both. Maybe solo travel and shared experience aren’t entirely incompatible after all.