“Interesting!” T sipped his cappuccino thoughtfully as I told him my travel plans for the remainder of the year. For the next few hours, we’d sit nestled in cosy little armchairs inside a Gangnam coffee shop, accompanied by the ever so slightly too loud K-Pop backing music discussing everything, from our lives in Seoul, to politics and the state of affairs in the western world. As the evening drew to a close, and my impending 4am wake up call for my flight to Milan grew nearer, we said our goodbyes and I watched on as he went the opposite direction to me in the Seoul alleyway, passing through a sea of street food vendors, and Korean businessmen and disappearing into the night.
T was the American guy I had been dating on and off since moving to Seoul a year beforehand. In any ordinary circumstance, maybe the situation could have developed into something else, but my expiration date on my time in the city stamped in the forefront of my mind since arrival meant having to be realistic. Two months later, and it’s a strange reflection to look back upon – After a year in Korea, and spending so much time there as a visitor prior to my move, I’d established roots – I had a routine, a circle of friends, favourite places, and now that life is thousands of miles away from where I am now, and it almost feels like it never existed but rather, I am looking back at memories of someone else’s life.
My goodbyes in Korea were difficult because I had been based there a while, however so too are the goodbyes that constantly have to be said on the road. After two cosy months in Italy spending time with Italian friends, I am now in Romania, on a long solo trip around Eastern Europe. Every week, I will meet intersting new people. We will click, share food, drinks and good conversation and then as quickly as they arrived in our lives, they are departing again.
Facebook identities are exchanged, and adds are made with the kindness of “if you ever find yourself in my city…” and there they go. We may find ourselves in the company of many of our travel friends again, but the fact of the matter is that some of these will be eternal goodbyes – we simply cannot keep in touch with every stranger or fellow traveler that we share a coffee with on the road.
I’ve been traveling solo for six years now, and practice doesn’t make perfect in this instance. I was talking to an Italian girl in Naples who said to me “oh, you must be used to saying goodbye now” which is true in a sense, but it definitely doesn’t get any easier. In a way, I guess it does make you a little detached. It’s harder to get close to people when you know that your friendship, at least in a physical sense, has an expiration date.
I suppose we should at least be grateful for the fact that we had the opportunity to meet these interesting people – from a mix of different backgrounds and cultures, who we would simply never have had the opportunity to meet had we played it safe and never left our home country. I haven’t met up with everyone I met on my travels a second time, but I certainly remember them, and look back on shared memories fondly. Because of them, my travel experiences have been richer and more enjoyable. I have made some of my best friends through travel and although they are now dotted, quite literally, all over the world, they give me an excuse to visit these beautiful places so that I can catch up with them again, and our connection will be as it was before we went our separate ways.
What do you think? Do you struggle with goodbyes when you travel? How do you deal with them?