"If you can survive 11 days in cramped quarters with a friend and come out laughing, your friendship is the real deal."
— Oprah Winfrey
I recently posted a question on the Women of Road Scholar Facebook page that read: “Was wondering if any of you continued to be in touch with members of your Road Scholar trips after you returned. Do you plan to take other trips with them?” Reponses came piling in:
“I experienced six weeks with a wonderful group of people at Living and Learning in Florence this past Fall. We just had a Reunion in the Desert with eight of us and have just signed up to do the new Living and Learning trip in Sicily next year.”
— Suzanne Hein C., Plymouth, Wis.
“I took my first Road Scholar trip last September, hiking in Italy, Switzerland, and France, and I have now booked a trip to the Azores in September with one couple and one single woman that I met on that hiking trip.”
— Barbara S., Belmar, N.J.
And many more. But this is no surprise––traveling with a group of strangers is a good way to find people like oneself. We are people who love to travel, and that’s a major thing to have in common.
On my first few Road Scholar trips, I met folks who were traveling with each other because they were mates or relatives or friends. Then I began to discover that a lot of people originally met on Road Scholar trips. Some now travel with a buddy who was also solo and some with an entire cadre.
“There was a particular snowshoeing program that felt like winter camp in which a core group participated year after year, so we formed some close bonds. Once the program was discontinued, we designated ourselves as the “Rogue Scholars” and arranged our own snowshoe trips for a couple of years. About eight of us still keep in touch via phone, email, social media, and Zoom.”
— Andrea M., Brooklyn, N.Y.
What Makes People Bond?
I’ve read blogs and articles about traveling solo with a group, but what happens after the group disperses? What makes some people game for further shared travels?
I met one trio in Cuba, and they told me that they had bonded immediately on a previous trip. They then met up in New York City to see Hamilton. In the fall they’re headed off to Africa. I asked them about what made them click.
1) Sense of Humor
According to one member of the group, it was “snarkiness,” or a similar sense of humor, that brought them together.
From my experience, travelers need a sense of humor to overcome obstacles or just to face unexpected differences in lifestyle, language, food, and bathroom facilities in other countries.
And of course, misunderstandings (and worse) are often funny in retrospect, especially when one is home and cozy. After I returned from Cuba, it took me more than a week to realize that I had been introducing my baby cousin as mi sobrina (which means my niece) instead of mi prima, which means my cousin. It could have been worse, though (mi padre? mihija?).
2) Shared Interests
What travelers have in common may range from hiking, boating, bird watching, and painting to archeology, nature exploration, and travel with grandchildren. And it doesn’t hurt to have similar bucket lists.
Of course, one’s interests may have nothing to do with travel. You may share similar personal histories, locations, or past experiences.
3) Discovering Differences
On the other hand, having nothing in common sometimes provides the spark. You and your travel buddy may have completely different lifestyles or goals. That can make friendship come alive as well.
On my first Road Scholar trip to Mt. Rushmore, I made fast friends with someone who lived on a farm in the northwest (I am a city person from the east who loves feeling concrete under my feet).But we loved talking to each other, and perhaps our friendship was successful because we had so much to teach each other about our different lives.
The intensity of travel and a compressed time frame sometimes accelerate a friendship. We can see how someone reacts to challenges and how patient they are.
Friendship, like love, can be mysterious. Four years ago, I sat next to a stranger on a flight to London. We immediately connected over our shared stories of travel. I contacted her last fall when someone backed out of a trip to India for which I was registered, and she immediately signed on. We had a blast and the trip made us even closer. That is serendipity.
Finding a Friend
The prospect of sitting alone at a dinner table also added extra worry to an introvert like me. When I first signed up for a Road Scholar program, I was fearful that I’d have no one to talk to (remember camp?) I wasn’t sure how to make the first move, even though I’ve had more than five decades of travel life to practice it.
Being Patient and Open
Perhaps we should not put pressure on ourselves to connect immediately. Relationships often grow and develop as travelers share experiences. Staying open to conversation and being a good listener, engaging in activities, and being friendly and nonjudgmental often enables one to meet the members of a group and connect. Besides, I’ve found that my first perceptions of people have sometimes been wrong. If I hadn’t slowed down and observed, I might have missed getting to know some lovely people.
Time to Jump In
Making the first move and taking action–to plan a trip, to make a friend, to change your path–is something that can be learned, and the benefits can be experienced immediately. When I look back on travel, one of my greatest satisfactions is the discovery of kindred souls.
When you share a trip with a stranger you can be a different person. You don’t know their history nor they yours; you have a fresh start in how you relate to others.
Couples Finding Travel Mates
“My husband and I took a trip to Vancouver Island last August where we met a couple that we really got along with. We’ve kept in touch and have decided to take another Road Scholar trip in September. Looking forward to seeing them again.”
Amy W., Oakridge, Ore.
While most of the replies to my post were about solo women bonding with other women, a number of them were about couples finding other couples with whom to travel. Couples may seem to be a community of two and not open to friendship, but that is often not the case. Most people are looking to connect with new friends.
Social Media: More Choices and Opportunities
We all know people who have either sworn off social media or who have never tried it. I do not resent social media, because I know that you don’t have to accept friendship requests. You can go online as much as you like to share information, discover old friends, or make new ones. Itis your choice to participate or not and your choice to decide your comfort level.
There are discussion boards on the Road Scholar site, as well as Facebook pages for Women of Road Scholar and Friends of Road Scholar, along with separate listings for specific trips with Road Scholar. I’ve found these sites useful and/or entertaining.
Going Where You Want and How You Want
I would always tell my daughter that if she wanted to travel, she did not need to wait for friends to go exactly where or how she did. And that was a major reason I traveled on my own through my 30s and 40s.
Now that I’m older, I am discovering that there ARE other –– and maybe better –– ways to go where you want and with whom you want.
All it takes is for one travel mate to text or message: “Hey, let’s all go to Costa Rica!” and there will likely be those who are eager to jump aboard, perhaps changing your (and their) lives forever.