“We may never meet again, so shed your skin and let’s get started” – Split Enz.
Whackpacking the world like some kind of lost lunatic (new moniker for himself) brings with it an emotional rollercoaster of friendships and I’ve come to learn – it has its ups and downs. In equal measures. Snakes and ladders. I joined Facebook in 2007 and started this travel blog the same year. You’ve heard that story so many times I know. In that time I have always wanted to write about one subject close to my heart but never did. It seemed like I was forcing myself to write it each time and the content was never what I wanted. It still might not be, but here it is today. My 24 hour friends. Mates for a day. For one day only.
I have lots of friends. According to Facebook I have 1,800 friends and then there’s a few other friends I have that don’t use Facebook. That’s a lot of friends, and if I think about it, a 120 country journey around the world over a decade in length, changing jobs, changing beds all the time – of course you will meet thousands of people and make new friends. That’s sounds amazing mate, well done. No. But there is a sadness here.
“It ain’t all champagne and skittles, Rodders” – Derek ‘Del Boy’ Trotter.
I was out last week in a bar in Starogard Gdański talking to two local Polish girls, Ada and Patricja and we got talking about friendships and my lifestyle. These two girls knew each other inside out – their highs and lows. And while I have some top friends – Millwall Neil, Lock in Lee, Austin, I realised I didn’t quite have the “go to anytime” friend that others have, and definitely not in the same town. Sure we have Skype, Facebook, What’s App etc. but to cry on someone’s shoulder? I don’t have this type of person. As I’m a nomad. You’ll see me, then I’m gone. It reminds me of the saying “jack of all trades, master of none” saying somehow. What this means is my best friend of the week happens to be the person I spent most time with that week. Here it was my friends in Starogard Gdański, and my friend Kasia who I met in Gdańsk a brace of weeks ago.
My 24 hour friends are brilliant company and we rarely argue and we learn at least one thing from them. This is generally what happens:
- Northern Irish backpacker checks into a hostel. 10 bed dorm please mate.
2. Gets into the dorm room and meets 9 other people. Handshakes, introductions. Country and name. How long are you here for? Where have you been? Where to next? Wow that’s so cool. You should go here. Yeah mate you should also go here. And stay in this hostel as the owner was epic. And go to this bar on a Thursday as it gives free shots to whackpackers.
3. Some of these 9 people you will connect with more than others. Invite them for a drink, have dinner with them and backpack the city with them.
4. Add them on Facebook and say “if you’re ever in my town, let me know. Let’s keep touch.”
5. Say goodbye. Sometimes I cry.
Of course, there are occasions that break this code – sometimes you spend longer than 24 hours with them. Like in India recently where I met a Polish girl in a hostel, and we ended up backpacking together for a week – Ilona, she took the photos of my beard trim in Hampi and we backpacked all the way to Chennai together.
Or in Antarctica when I met Rodrigo and we met up twice again later in Sao Paulo in Brazil and backpacked Jakarta together.
Or Martin who I met in Indonesia and later met up with again in Hong Kong, then in Dublin and in Belfast!
Sometimes, you wait years and then are suddenly in the same city as this 24 hour friend. So sometimes it can be longer than a “24 hour friend” but that’s the general rule. Meet, have a great time and then leave. Over in the blink of a young girls eye, glory days.
“Nah nana na na na na na na na nah, beautiful stranger!” – Madonna.
I recently met Taiwanese Mika in Gdansk, quite a beautiful, clever, ambitious girl. We hung out, we went to the beach together, she made a cycling video of us. We went out for food and drink, and then she was gone.
Yes, I always say meet as many people as you can on your travels, be friendly and add them as friends on Facebook and you can meet again. I want to do that with all of you.
“If I never see you again, you’ve changed my life completely” – Marti Pellow.
If you go back to point 3 that I mentioned above, there is a danger with a 24 hour friend. What if you meet them again, then again. Sometimes they are of the opposite sex and also single, and like minded. It’s a real danger. What if they kiss you? What if they have sex with you? What if you fall in love with them? I must admit, I don’t find many girls attractive any more and when I search the world looking at and talking to girls, there are very few of them that interest me. “That don’t impress me much”. But when one interests me, I want to keep touch. I would say I have only flirted with about 5 of my 24 hour female friends in the last 10 years. I have certainly only ever added 2 of their numbers to my phone. And I won’t forget those girls – those 24 hour friends. But actually they weren’t for 24 hours. And none of them should be. Try and make them lifelong friends.
I don’t count Panny Yu as a 24 hour friend as we met on the boat to Antarctica and had already spent quite a few days together before we backpacked through Montevideo and we ended up in a 5 year relationship. Bizarrely, Panny is still the only ever girlfriend I met while travelling. The others before her, I either met in work or in bars.
I’ll be writing more about this type of thing, the issues I have faced with long term travel, mental health and depression in times to come. As quite honestly, this lifestyle is not all its cracked up to be. I often buy gifts for friends and receive nothing back.
“Your very first kiss was your first kiss goodbye” – Jon Bon Jovi.
Look, I’m not being a twat here or looking for a response, or even crying for people to love me and like me. What I believe I am doing is pointing out the issues of this long term nomadic lifestyle. The journey goes on and I only want to be a good man – to be a better man and to find my peace and peace for the world. I need to be really honest to myself and to you.
When the sun goes down over this town tonight, I am just a backpacking Northern Irish travel writer. But I’m a good one.
“You’re no angel and I’m no devil” – If nobody else made that up, I just did (copyright Jonny Blair 2016).