We’re less inclined to go travelling with friends when we’re older, says writer Jenny Novitzky; but it’s wrong to overlook such a life-affirming rite…
It was Christmas Day and unlike previous years of dry turkey and forced conversation, I had gone away with two friends to Morocco. We were sat in the Atlas Mountains, full of vegetable tagine and laughing raucously over the budget version of Fairy Tale of New York that was playing on repeat. “YOU GIRLS LOOK AMAZING!” came a cry from the other side of the dining room.
We looked up and saw a white-haired lady in a turquoise gown waving, her husband visibly cringing at her over-familiarity. Was it our matching orange dresses? Our unbridled joy in each other’s company? Or the twelve glasses of Freixenet she’d just sunk? In all likelihood, it was a potent mixture of all three. “We love your dress!” we heckled right back at her.
Truth be told, it seemed to me that this woman was looking back at a past version of herself, hanging out with pals and having a right old chuckle in the way that only a gang of mates can.
Now that’s not to poo-poo romantic relationships. It’s my sincere hope that, if you have a partner, you have the most fun hanging out with that person out of everyone in the whole world. But there’s a peculiar kind of joy that comes from travelling with friends. Some of the pressure and conflict is removed and you can revel in your shared interests.
In Morocco, for example, we three girls banded as one to stride confidently past the heckles of “Hey, Spice Girls!” that followed us around the souks – although possibly the girl power stride was what caused them in the first place.
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We shared baths in our beautifully tiled bathroom without anyone’s balls overheating (to my knowledge). And we debated the merits of every single one of the 1,656 raffia bags we saw, without anyone rolling their eyes or tugging us to leave.
But most of all, we experienced Morocco together, a trio of minds to absorb every moment and reflect it back at each other, heightening and sharing every moment.
Of course, I’ve been away with friends before, but as each of us moves through the stages of life, these holidays with friends (matecations? ho-lidays?) become less and less regular as people choose instead to go away with their partner. I get it, everyone wants to have sex on holiday. But so many people turn friendships aside as they prioritise relationships and family every single time.
We find it hard to find the time to meet up, never mind go on holiday with our friends. ‘Friend’ always seems too weak a word for the people we choose to form our strongest lifelong connections with.
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Because it’s friends who are there at all times, through heartbreaks and career celebrations, bereavements and do-these-shoes-make-me-look-like-a-stripper WhatsApps.
Eat, Pray, Love, the famous travel books tell us. Go on a journey of self-discovery, of pleasure, of romance. But where does friendship sit in all of this? Perhaps it’s telling that Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love, ultimately decided to spend the rest of her life with her best friend rather than the man she met on a beach in Bali.
In a monogamous relationship our chosen life partner – even the best, most wonderful one – will always just be one person. One person can’t possibly give anyone every single thing they need out of human interaction, just as one food couldn’t sustain you, even if it was your very favourite (Marmite on toast, since you’re asking). Whether you’re single or in a relationship, holidays with friends are the best.
But you can’t force people to go away with you (believe me, I’ve tried). If you don’t have a ready-made squad to travel with, you can be proactive and form your own, with companies like Flash Pack. They’ll set you up with a group of like-minded people at a similar stage in life so that you can experience travel together.
Nothing forges a bond of friendship quicker than being thrown in the deep end of a brand new culture, thrown into new foods and sights and smells, or literally thrown into the sea as you go deep-sea diving with someone you met 47 minutes ago.
It’s crucial to open yourself up to new friendships while you travel. The people we meet on the road can become lifelong friends, connected through shared, heightened experiences. And if they aren’t friends for life, that doesn’t make them less valuable.
Sometimes I look back at old photos from my travels, of the people I met and loved so fiercely for just a few weeks, or months, or even hours.
The people you meet while travelling touch you deeply and permanently, becoming part of the experience of a destination you’ll carry with you forever, even if you never see that person again.
Whether single or in a relationship, whether travelling with an existing tribe or conjuring up a new one, whether you’re making a travelling friend for life or just floating in the wind with someone for an hour or two, here’s to the joy of travelling with friends.
Images: Flash Pack, Shutterstock, Jenny Novitsky
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