Saying Goodbye on the Road

One of the worst things about travelling is having to say goodbye. Whether it’s to friends and family when you first start a trip, or to the people you meet on the road who disappear from your life as quickly as they entered, it’s always sad making that inevitable farewell.

And when you’re travelling by yourself, there are even fewer familiar faces around. Of course you’re always meeting new people when you travel – but that doesn’t mean the goodbyes get any easier.

People often get confused with what ‘travelling solo’ actually means. They seem to think it’s as if you spend your entire trip shunning any efforts from other people to befriend you – when its actually just the way you’ve started your travels. The friends I’ve made when I’ve travelled solo are some of my closest, because they’ve been privy to some of my highest and lowest moments – and they’ve stuck with me throughout.

But I’ve been incredibly lucky to meet the most amazing people over the years. Travelling solo gives you the opportunity to forge these friendships – but it’s how you treat the relationships from the start that makes all the difference.

Travelling friendships aren’t just about circumstance

Arriving at a nondescript grey building in Reading on a freezing January morning, I was worried. The teenagers I was about to meet were fresh out of school and due to leave for Ecuador alongside me in just a few weeks – but I had no clue whether we were going to get on.

There was a gap of seven years between me and them; time that I’d filled with an entire university degree and a hell of a lot of travelling, living and essentially growing up. Would it be too much? Would I have to spend the entirety of the volunteering programme keeping my distance?

Fast forward six months and I can’t imagine being in South America without them. They’ve made my time here absolutely incredible, filled with more laughter, craziness, adventure and colour than I could ever have expected, and the fact that I have to continue this journey by myself, now that they’re heading homeward to new adventures of their own, is nothing short of heartbreaking.

Once, twice, third time lucky

I’ve managed to score these kinds of ridiculously close friendships before, with other groups in other countries. Like my girls from India – who I spent seven weeks with, traipsing around in sweaty colourful heat – and the gang of boys I lived with in San Francisco; all street festivals, house parties and chilling in a garden of overgrown grass.

These sets of initial strangers became little family units that, quite apart from supporting me, also managed to cement an opinion of each country in my mind, filled with emotions and memories that are inseparable from my relationships with those people.

The problem with distance

It’s strange though. I know how strong these friendships are, and I’m pretty sure that they have the chance to stand the test of time – but the huge distances still absolutely suck.

When it’s a problematic time difference, a giant sea between you both, or the promise that there’ll be at least a few years until another face to face meeting, the thought of such important friendships relying on Facebook messages, scheduled Skype calls and a good internet connection is highly stressful.

And every time I find these incredible people around the world (who I’d never otherwise have met) I know it’s bittersweet. Because eventually we’ll have to part ways. And then I’ll be on my own again.

An unexplainable need for being solo

So why do I surround myself with such wonderful friends, only to willingly part ways with them again? Surely, if I’m so keen to be around them, it takes away somewhat from this whole solo travel deal?

Well, there’s a few reasons why I’m still doing it. A large part is for the sake of the person I’m becoming – and then there’s the people I’ve lost, too.

For a long time now I’ve known I’m not myself. Ever since I lost my mum in 2009, something changed in me, irrevocably, and its been four years of searching to find a self that fits.

Without knowing why, the way I’ve established this search is through travel; through exploring different cultures, through volunteering, and through meeting people and then leaving them again. The bittersweetness is an intrinsic part of this process, even if it hurts; a need to forge wonderful relationships and, perhaps, then have some element of control over when we say goodbye. Because having no choice in when I had to leave my mum is something that will always haunt me.

There’s also the discovery that some people don’t understand the process of saying goodbye – and what that, in turn, can entail.

Like the one man I’ve ever loved, who began our relationship by casually mentioning that I’d be leaving on a year abroad in eighteen months, so maybe it wasn’t sensible to get involved. And eight weeks into that year abroad, his confession that he couldn’t handle the distance between us anymore was enough to let me know we weren’t destined to be together.

The parting of the ways

Because distance – whether emotional or physical, long-term or short – is something I’ve built into my lifestyle. It’s a difficult thing to overcome, but the rewards that accompany it have the ability to eclipse it.

So while some people may live by shielding themselves from eventual pain from the outset, I know I can’t. The friends I make and then bid goodbye to are shaping me into the person I’m becoming, and despite the sadness at always leaving or being left, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

To those who I’ve met while travelling, thank you. You’ve changed my perceptions, my views, my attitudes – hell, you’ve changed my life! – in ways I could never have imagined. And I’ve said it many times to those I really care about; the distance means nothing when we’re close enough.

And to all those who think that a lifestyle focused around perpetual travel is a way of running away from real life, they couldn’t be more wrong. Whether with strangers, friends or striding out solo, it makes no difference.

I’m heading straight towards it.

Have you made any incredible friendships on the road? How do you keep in touch with them after you part ways? 

About Flora

Flora Baker is the founder and editor of Flora the Explorer, where she writes about her travels around the world, her volunteering exploits and her ongoing attempt to become fluent in Spanish by talking to anyone who'll listen. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus.

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40 Responses to Saying Goodbye on the Road

  1. OCDemon August 2, 2013 at 5:45 am #

    It always surprises me how often I have to explain basic principles of traveling to people, like what it means to be “solo,” and whether or not it’s safe, and whether or not you can get basic medical care and simple toiletries while in other countries. Some people literally have no idea this is the case.

    But on a heavier note, I miss all the people I’ve met abroad too. For the most part, I’ve never seen them again, but I bet if we meet up someday, it’ll be just like old times. I like thinking about that. Even if it’s only going to be once a decade for a few days, it can make it all okay. Almost.

    • Flora August 4, 2013 at 3:18 am #

      For some reason it’s a common myth that you can only buy the ‘right’ things in your home country – nothing appropriate is stocked anywhere else! And I’m sure when you meet up with travelling friends, things will be exactly as they were. It’s the joy of long distance 🙂

  2. Pete R. August 2, 2013 at 9:37 am #

    I’ve recently been traveling solo as well. 3 countries and have met a lot of great people, learned a lot from them but unfortunately, there’s no way to extend those friendships beyond that.

    Maybe I’ve been doing this for less time, but I was wondering what’s the best way to find travel buddies and how to continue your friendships with them afterward.

    Thanks Flora. 🙂

    • Flora August 4, 2013 at 3:20 am #

      Thanks to the joys of social media you can certainly extend those friendships further – whether you choose to travel more with them at the time you meet, or you make arrangements to travel together at a later date. And ultimately it gives a perfect excuse to visit their home countries too!

  3. Michael Hodson August 2, 2013 at 9:43 am #

    Goodbye is so difficult, even more do for me if it is back to back to back. Hanging with people for a month or so, really liking them, then moving in a different direction and realizing you are just going to do that again. And again.

    It can wear one it. It has me before.

    Great, thoughtful post, Flora.

    • Flora August 4, 2013 at 3:26 am #

      There are times when it’s more wearing than others, certainly. I guess you have to look forward to the new sets of good people you’re about to meet? Glad you enjoyed it though, Michael.

  4. Caroline Eubanks August 2, 2013 at 1:36 pm #

    You’re right, saying goodbye sucks. But it just means that you’ll have to travel again to see your friends! I saw a friend from Oz when I was in Germany, friends from Croatia in Canada and am going to another Oz friend’s wedding in Thailand next year. Life has a way of circling back. I’m glad to say that I’ve met you on my travels and I hope to see each other again soon.

    • Flora August 4, 2013 at 3:28 am #

      My thoughts exactly! Life works in ever present circles, I find – so I’m sure we’ll see each other again soon 🙂

  5. Béatrice August 3, 2013 at 1:16 am #

    Thank you for the post Flora. I am Canadian and I have just moved to New York City after living 5 years in Singapore. Tonight I was feeling a bit sad and “displaced.” I’ve traveled a lot on my own and my most recent was Ecuador! I meet people all the time, like you, forge friendships and I’ve had a few wonderful romances abroad as well. The people I meet, albeit for a short time, are meaningful relationships that shape my life and my identity in special ways. This post comforted me. I love to read your blog about travel and I also appreciate the personal reflections that make me feel connected. Thank you for your thoughts.
    Béatrice

    • Flora August 4, 2013 at 3:34 am #

      I’m so glad I could make you feel a bit better about the move, Beatrice! Regardless of how short a friendship may be, it still has the power to make a long lasting and meaningful effect. The best of luck with your new adventure out in NYC 🙂

  6. Daynne@TravelnLass August 3, 2013 at 3:10 am #

    Most timely post Flora, given that I’ve been tucked into my personal “Shangri-la” here in Dalat, Vietnam for nearly a year now, and…

    The gypsy-juice in my veins now compels me to – not only dash off for 5 weeks to explore Nepal and Borneo soon – but give up my sweet “Garden of Eden” apartment here and finally leave Vietnam behind – likely for good. I’d only planned on staying in Vietnam for 6 months – a year at most. But this extraordinary country – and most especially the wonderful Vietnamese people – have kept me blissfully here for nearly two years!

    Nonetheless AIS, I’m a wanderlust at heart and it’s time to move on, travel a bit and resettle… dunno, but someplace new.

    But it’s T.O.U.G.H. – saying goodbye to so many friends I’ve made here – and btw, we’re not talking only other expats/foreigners – many of the local Vietnamese have become dear friends as well.

    Truly tough. But yes, the globe is a much smaller place nowadays, and the sweet technology of Skype and keeping up on our everyday lives via Facebook – I honestly never feel completely “solo” anymore. And I now can count on my many friends all over the world.

    • Flora August 4, 2013 at 3:46 am #

      I know what you mean, Daynne – there’s being ‘solo’ and actually feeling alone. Thanks to blogging, as well, I never feel like I’m the only person aware of my travels. Being able to share what I’m doing and seeing with so many people, on this site and on facebook/twitter, is a wonderful privilege 🙂

      I’m sure it will be difficult to say goodbye to your life in Vietnam, and all the people that have been part of it. But I’m sure they’ll be more than happy to welcome you back for visits, and you have the ability to host them in your next choice of semi-permanent home, too! It’s a win-win :p

  7. Hayley August 3, 2013 at 4:56 am #

    This is beautifully written, Flora, and as mentioned above by others, I think all travellers can relate to this article in one way or another. I lost my grandma last year, who was a very special person in my life. But she was always thinking and believing in the positives during the darkest times, and without her I wouldn’t have made the move to Canada from Australia this year. Thanks x

    • Flora August 4, 2013 at 3:47 am #

      It’s wonderful how the people we loved and lost can then become our inspiration to make great steps in our lives 🙂 Thank you for sharing, Hayley, and I hope Canada is proving to be all you wanted it to be!

  8. Emily Buchanan August 6, 2013 at 8:58 am #

    I love you Flora- another beautifully written, candid article that I thoroughly enjoyed. I hope our paths cross again some day. xxxx

    • Flora August 18, 2013 at 5:01 am #

      Thanks so much my darling 🙂 I hope for the same thing!

      • P.J.Andros March 12, 2014 at 11:01 pm #

        What’s the big deal about the transitory nature, the inevitable ebb and flow of others coming and going through your life? Life itself and everything in it is transitory and impermanent. Every twelve year-old knows all bout it.

        You sound so utterly self-obsessed. Extremely solipsistic. And just a little frantic. And, while I don’t want to sound mean, immature. Have you tried yoga and meditation?

        Blessings

        • Flora March 20, 2014 at 1:20 am #

          Apologies for sounding self-obsessed and immature, PJ. Although I will point out that there is bound to be a certain level of writing present here about myself and my feelings, seeing as this is my personal site which you’ve chosen to visit and read. But cheers for the yoga suggestions – I’m sure that’ll make me a lot less solipsistic and frantic, as well as coming to terms with the natural transitions in life!

  9. Beverley | Pack Your Passport August 6, 2013 at 6:56 pm #

    Saying goodbye sucks! BUT one thing I love about meeting people when I’m travelling (even though I hate having to say goodbye to them) is the fact that I now have friends all over the world. If they’re in London they can see me and if I’m ever in the cities they currently live in I can see them as well 🙂

    • Flora August 18, 2013 at 5:03 am #

      It’s one of the absolute best parts of travel 🙂 For example, right now I’m staying at my Colombian friends flat in Bogotá after meeting him on the beach in Ecuador. A perfect way to really get to know a city from a local perspective – not to mention hanging out with all his friends here, too!

  10. Adam - Tropical Nomad August 19, 2013 at 11:17 am #

    Hey Flora,
    Its a big part of travelling when you meet cool new people and then go your separate ways.. I’m on Koh Tao at the minute and we had a great crew for a few weeks but now everyday their are people leaving and you have to say goodbye again..

    • Flora September 3, 2013 at 12:56 pm #

      Very true, Adam – and it’s something I seriously love about travel! But from time to time the realisation that yet another goodbye is on the way gets a bit disheartening. Luckily there’s normally a fresh group of awesome people to say hello to right afterwards 🙂

  11. Sally August 19, 2013 at 12:30 pm #

    The last line of this article was spectacular.

    I agree with the above comments; life circles back, it’s hard but it’s worth it. You just can’t dwell too long on the goodbyes, especially considering that goodbyes come regardless of whether you’re the one initiating them. You could stay in one place your whole life, and you’d still be stuck with plenty of goodbyes as people always come and go. It’s the time you had that matters and concentrating on that always keeps a smile on my face, I’ve found.

    • Flora September 3, 2013 at 12:58 pm #

      Thanks so much, Sally! And what a fresh way of looking at it: that you’ll always be faced with goodbyes, but it’s what the situation has been to precipitate said goodbye that ultimately matters most. Lovely stuff 🙂

  12. Mikeachim August 19, 2013 at 12:50 pm #

    Beautiful post.

    (Curious – I’ve just written about the importance of endings elsewhere.)

    Goodbyes can be awful, but the alternatives can be worse, I think. Some things are precious because they’re finite, and if they outstay their welcome, something special disappears. Obviously when it comes to friends this is not something to get all cold-bloodedly philosophical about…but some of my most treasured friendships are the kind where we catch up properly every few weeks or with a month or so’s gap, and it feels like we never lost contact – which in a way we didn’t. if we’d have hung out 24/7 in that time, it’d have been way too much, and we *would* have lost contact. I love having close friends I feel like I can catch up with at the right speed.

    I lost my dad in ’93, when I was 22 (don’t do the math please), and at first it made me solitary in the bad way – but after a while, I found the other side of “solo” that some people don’t understand: the empowering ability to think and act independently, to feel self-reliant and to be able to go off by yourself and dig deep into your thoughts. And to be able to have the choice between being social & gregarious AND being thoughtful, watchful and alone (alone, not lonely), and being able to flip between the two as needed…I think that’s healthy.

    Shame I hate parties. And music. And young people. And…FUN.

    Well, one out of two ain’t bad.

    • Flora September 6, 2013 at 12:39 pm #

      “Some things are precious because they’re finite”… A lovely and truthful way of putting it, Mike. I’m finding that ‘other side of solo’ currently in Rio; spending a lot of time with myself and not feel lonely at the same time. Definitely empowering – particularly when I realise it’s a choice to be like this, not a passive decision that’s been thrust upon me by the loss of a friendship group.

      Pity you hate fun, though. Must’ve been a nightmare to run around Scotland with a group of young people 🙂

  13. Emma @ GottaKeepMovin September 3, 2013 at 1:19 pm #

    Beautiful post, Flora. I totally agree with what you said at the end about people thinking that travel is running away from ‘real life’. If staying back home is the only way to live a real life, I just don’t get it!

    I also have so many friends that I have only actually been in the company of a handful of times, and many of them live on the other side of the planet, but they’ll always be close, no matter what.

    • Flora September 6, 2013 at 12:41 pm #

      Exactly Emma! Staying at home is about as unreal as it gets, in my travel-fuelled opinion — but then there’s different attitudes for everyone, I guess. And luckily I manage to keep surrounding myself with people who share my same outlook on life, so I guess not seeing them as much as I’d like is a a willing exchange 🙂

  14. Explorista December 4, 2013 at 12:20 pm #

    This speaks to my heart. Wonderfully written and very very true. Distance means nothing if you’re close enough, even if it hurts like hell 😉

    • Flora December 19, 2013 at 4:22 pm #

      I’m so glad it struck a chord with you!

  15. Me December 17, 2014 at 1:34 pm #

    I lost my Mum suddenly in 22009 also. Travelling seems to help fill some kind of void, although I havent been able to travel as extensively as you. I have done it in bursts of a few months; Peru, Vietnam, Uganda, Hungary, Australia etc. It never gets easier, that horrendous missing of a person you need but cant have, but exploring certainly helps.

    • Flora January 6, 2015 at 3:17 pm #

      Travel has undoubtedly been one of the greatest healers in dealing with my mum's death. Glad it's been of some help for you too, Sarah - and I'm so sorry for your loss.

  16. Bex February 13, 2015 at 7:39 am #

    Thank you for managing to put into words a lot of the things I feel about other people, places and experiences shaping who we are. I like who I am so much more now that I have gone out and explored… And so much of it solo!! The wonderful memories and experiences are so worth meeting someone and sayIng goodbye than never going!

    I’m heading to india in less than 2 months, doing a similar group trip to yours, it’s been lovely to get a bit of a preview of what’s in store for me!!

    • Flora February 13, 2015 at 1:40 pm #

      Have an incredible time in India Bex – it’s a beautiful country!

  17. Jakob Gibbons August 31, 2015 at 4:22 pm #

    I’ve just come back from my most recent home abroad (Mexico City) and struggled, not for the first time nor the last, with everything you talk about here. It’s always comforting to read the thoughts and feelings of other frequent travelers and to know you’re not the only one. Safe travels, and don’t forget to enjoy the hellos even while grieving the goodbyes!

    • Flora December 16, 2015 at 11:35 am #

      Glad this article resonated with you, Jakob! And I totally agree – even with the sadness of goodbyes, the happiness of new hellos with people you already know you’re going to adore is a fantastic experience 🙂

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