Travel Reflection: A different type of lonely

There’s an old song we used to sing in Girl Scouts that’s been on my mind a lot lately. It goes:

Make new friends, but keep the old.

One is silver and the other’s gold.

It’s been popping into my head as I round the four month mark of this trip, four months away from home and four months of hostel hopping through Europe and Morocco.

It’s been an incredible time, during which I’ve seen incredible places, met incredible people, loved, lost, gotten drunk, and had all sorts of exciting adventures.

But during this time, the biggest thing that has started to weigh on me is loneliness. And not the loneliness of not having people around. A deeper, stranger loneliness that’s taken me a while to fully articulate.

Travelers love to ruminate on the poetic pain of our goodbyes—on the deep, cyclical loneliness of impermanence, of connecting with new people and watching them move on a week later. It’s one of the more profound struggles that becomes background noise for long term travelers and digital nomads. It’s a line of thinking that has been illuminated time and time again by roving writers.

But for the length at which we talk about how lonely we are in our goodbyes, rarely do we mention how isolated we feel in our hellos.

I don’t mean to say that I don’t love meeting new people. It’s so exciting at first, such a priceless part of travel and a huge draw of this lifestyle. But in order to get to know new people, you first have to let yourself be unknown.

Especially in contrast to being around the people who know me best, this process sometimes makes me feel even more alone. It grows tiring. The walls go back up, the inside jokes disappear, we start our friendships from scratch again and again. I have to explain my quirks, my idiosyncrasies all over again, and choose which parts of my history to share.

It reminds me that it takes work to build real, meaningful relationships. It reminds me that making new friends is, while incredible meaningful, also hard at times.

This makes the anonymity of new encounters feel more pronounced, makes me pine for the people who understand me in shorthand, the times when knowing and being known by other people was easy. It makes me miss the people who already know me on such a level that nothing needs explanation.

It makes me crave being understood.

As travel bloggers, we like to sell the glamor of transience–the opportunity to meet people from all corners of the globe, to party with new people every night and adventure with new friends.

We like to push the value of the new, the unexplored, over the familiarity of what and who we know.

But this deeper sort of loneliness reminds me that this isn’t necessarily true, that newer isn’t necessarily better, especially when it comes to deep, meaningful friendships.

It remind me that whether it’s people or places, it’s okay to appreciate the familiar. It’s okay to be happy for the work you’ve already done to connect deeply with your home or the people there and miss them, even while being excited for the new people and experiences you’re about to know.

After all, one may be silver, but the other is gold.

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