From Bamako to Barcelona: An Ode to Travel Friends

Earlier this fall, I had the tremendous fortune of being able to reconnect with a friend I made while travelling. I met Ari over 4 years ago when we were both working in Bamako, Mali’s bustling, crowded, polluted, yet undeniably exciting capital city. While there, we shared laughs, enjoyed lukewarm glasses of Castel lager, haggled in markets and overcame some of Bamako’s challenges together. Eventually, as is the case with all travel friendships, we parted ways. I returned to Canada and she returned to Barcelona. We sent each other the odd message over the years and I always looked back on those days we spent in that crazy city together with incredible fondness.

Buzzing Bamako

She was always someone that I hoped to see again so I made a point of reaching out to her when I knew I would be in Barcelona in September. To my delight, she agreed to meet up with me and my partner and give us an insider’s scoop of Barcelona. Once reunited, we caught up on our last few years and shared favorite memories over some wine and delicious Catalan cuisine. After two great visits, it was regrettably time to say goodbye to Ari once again. As anyone who has ever had to do this knows, the goodbyes never get easier.

Reunited!

My reunion and subsequent parting with Ari made me pause for reflection.  Over my years filed with adventures I’ve learned that the friends a person meets when travelling will occupy a special place in their hearts forever.

Travel friends are only ever with us for a short time. Whether they are a best friend during our semesters abroad, a hostel-mate during a gap year, or a fellow international worker trying to learn a new role in a strange place, travel friends help make the experience more meaningful. This may be because friendships formed while abroad deepen quicker than those formed at home. I think this is because you are both unmoored, trying to navigate a new landscape and culture which can be challenging, and those challenges are more easily tackled with someone else. Travel friends help us to laugh through the hard times and to get more joy out of the good. You will also cry, sweat, dream up new destinations to explore and argue about prices with scheming taxi drivers together. You might not realize it in the moment, but the time you spend together may become some your favorite memories and most formative experiences.

Christmas abroad is easier with your travel friends

There is tremendous joy in making travel friends, but as I relived recently with Ari, there is also the unavoidable sadness in saying goodbye. Eventually the time comes to return to real life or to keep travelling on but in different directions. Nevertheless, if you’re lucky enough to find yourself in your travel friend’s hometown or your paths cross on a different journey, these are those rare people that you can pick up with like no time has passed at all.

When I look back at some of my travel experiences, I don’t remember all the details of places I visited. I can’t recall every piece in a museum exhibition or all the flavours of meals I loved, but I can vividly remember the faces of the people that I shared smiles, laughs, adventures, and powerful moments with. While reflecting on these moments with these special people, my heart fills with both warmth and melancholy. For travel friends are like shooting stars in the night sky, they aren’t permanent fixtures in our lives, but they shine so brightly when they move through our orbit and leave only vivid memories. Indeed if you are lucky to have some travel friends, you are luckier than most.

I’ll just have to go back to Barcelona if I want to see my friend again.
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