Searching For My People

Friendship is a fickle beast. One day you’re laughing hysterically, trying to catch your breath and the next thing you know, your friend asks you “how’s work?” and the only thing you can think to say is “good.” Other times you grow up together, attending mutual engagements but keeping your distance, and then a weird circumstance comes out of nowhere, pushing you two together (sometimes with a little alcohol) and it’s like new, vibrant people emerge from your previously static selves. And then sometimes, you meet someone, and it’s like putting on a warm, fuzzy pair of socks. It just fits. (And then your toes are warm, too!)

Over the years, I’ve often found that “my people” are almost always a bunch of dudes. I’ve always been the “cool girl”, the one who rolls with the guys and doesn’t make anyone wait for her to finish straightening her hair before we go out. It helps that my hair is naturally straight of course, but my gang of guys doesn’t usually last. Guys fall in love with me, I fall in love with a guy, we move to different places and it’s not so easy to just hang out (God forbid people put forth effort to meet up!) or any other myriad of circumstances often pull apart my group of friends within a year or so. I keep in touch with the occasional guy friend, but it’s not uncommon that the one-on-one contact throws off the friendship and it doesn’t feel the same. I can count the number of good guy friends I have to this day on one hand, but I can’t say the same for the number of male friend groups I’ve been a part of and fallen away from, eventually. I found the people I was most comfortable with just as quickly as I lost them, time and again.

My original (and forever) crew of dudes: my brothers.
My original (and forever) crew of dudes: my brothers.

In college, I really wanted to break that cycle. So I did what any sane, down to earth “cool girl” would do.

I joined a sorority.

Yep, one of those Greek organizations that stars in all of the USA college movies, the ones that get hammered in three story houses with balconies. I wore the letters. I did the chants. I even did the Halloween frat parties, although I dressed up as a “tree” on at least two occasions by wearing a green shirt, so clearly I wasn’t that into it. And, maybe to your surprise, I even had blonde hair. I was looking for my people.

You probably didn't see that coming.
You probably didn’t see that coming.
Alternative Caption: Pics or it didn’t happen!

And as is inevitable in a group of 60+ girls, I did find a few. We had a warm fuzzy socks kind of connection, we laughed, we lived together and spent a lot of evenings on the front porch with glasses of wine, talking about what we wanted from life one day. They were there for me when my heart broke and when I, more often, broke hearts and felt terribly guilty for it. They were there when I accepted my job in South Korea, I was there when they made plans to move across the country or into a different apartment for their final year of school. And on graduation day, I would have sworn we were inseparable. But the thing about fuzzy slipper socks is that they slip off just as easily as they slip on, and when they come off, your feet feel really really cold.

Two years later, the periphery best friends, the people I wish I could have spent more time with (but didn’t, because I was with my main ladies at the time) are the people that ended up sticking around. I thought I’d found my people in the sorority and I was right, but I just wasn’t right about who those people were. But just because I’d found friendships I could depend on and hold onto, doesn’t mean I actually had someone to hang out with on a Friday night. I was in South Korea. And in South Korea, I was looking for more of my people.

But they never came.

This is what causes me to hesitate when someone asks if I loved living in South Korea. This is why when you ask, “How was it?” I say “It was great!” or “It was an awesome experience,” instead of gushing on about how much I loved living there and can’t wait to go back. Because what I had hoped for, people I clicked with, never came. Old teachers left, new people arrived and yet I felt, to put it simply, friendless. I had friends and people to hang out with, don’t get me wrong, but it didn’t feel quite as natural or deep as friendships I’d had before. I met some Korean girls that I got along with, but it was nothing like my friendships in the States and definitely nothing like my gangs of guys. After a while I began to forget what that instantaneous feeling was. I knew my friendships weren’t up to par with a “war council,” but for the life of me I couldn’t imagine what that would be like, anyways. It had been too long. When I left Korea, I knew that as wonderful as my memories with friends were, I’d come out empty in my search for my people.

I offered him a place as my bestie, but it just didn't work out.
I offered him a place as my bestie, but it just didn’t work out.

A month at home, and spending time with those who used to be in the periphery but had now come center stage, confirmed that feeling. I then made it a priority to find some damn friends. So I put in the effort to meet other travel bloggers, starting with two lovely ladies in Pittsburgh. We were only able to meet once, but I’m fond of them, and more than anything else, it confirmed that I need to get out there and start meeting more of the people I converse with on Twitter. Nobody knock Internet friends, because they’re some of the best people I know.

A month in Spain. Couchsurfing, traveling and generally just meeting a shit-ton of people has been better for me than I would have ever imagined. It all started with Linda, whom I met on a tourist bus in Barcelona. We shared headphone jacks (her side was broken) and I was intrigued by her story, since you don’t see a ton of over-40 travelers who are interested in doing the same kind of things I am. We both do photography, we both wanted potatoes without the sauce, and she’s the kind of dreamer who’ll ask me to film her advertisement video pitch at a random ATM machine in the middle of a mall. As the trip went on, I met more and more people with whom I got along easily. I got to meet Olivia from Halfway Somewhere while in Madrid and we talked a ton about travel (surprise!), a subject many of my friends aren’t able to broach. Old friendships sprung back to life as strongly as they ever were, new people made me erupt with laughter within minutes of meeting them. Not all of my new friendships are people I’ll make the effort to stay in touch with forever, but some of them are. Somewhere along the way, while in Spain, I’d met more of my people. And now I can remember exactly what it feels like.

Getting along with people right away + food = a beautiful thing.
Getting along with people right away + food = a beautiful thing.

I’ve now spent a week in Dublin, Ireland and made my way West to the Aran Islands, where I’ll be working in a hostel for two weeks. When I first arrived yesterday, I was led up to a room where I met my roommates, two Spanish girls from Barcelona. Immediately we hit it off and the more that my true self comes out (read: WEIRD), the better we get along. Later, I met a guy from South Korea and we lamented over how much we missed Korean food, mostly bulgogi and pat bingsu. A coworker from France has offered up her time to teach me French pronunciation while I’m here. There were even several guests from Germany staying as guests that first night and we got to talk both in English and in German about tons of topics under the sun. We imbibed and danced and laughed, all of us together, and today I was able to share mate with two Argentines and other friends, an activity I adored while in Argentina. I’ve been here for 24 hours and I haven’t just found some of my people, I might have found an entire youth hostel of them.

While no one can say what friendships will last or not, I’m resting easily knowing that the people I’ve met here so far are fantastic and I’ve never fit in better. But when my two weeks inevitably comes to an end on these gorgeous islands (well, gorgeous when it’s not raining, but that’s Ireland for you!) I’ll be walking away with not just incredible friendships and hopefully some badass French pronunciation skills, but maybe someone I can say belongs on my war council. And at least for now, I’ve found my people.

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Opposite Travel Styles, Claudia, and Berlin

Not everyone has the same travel style. In fact, even people in love may not necessarily travel well together. When I told Claudia that I’d be in Berlin and we worked out that she’d join me for about a week in Berlin, this wasn’t on my mind. I didn’t think about it. I was just excited to see Claudia after five years and a week with her sounded wonderful, no matter what the circumstances.

And it was. We met at the hostel and exchanged hugs right away. We shared a lot of delicious cocktails outside, took some long walks and generally had a great time in Berlin together. But it wasn’t all cake and champagne, because as we found out within 24 hours, we are complete opposites when it comes to planning. It had me worrying at first. We were supposed to have an amazing week as old friends. How were we going to do this?

Back in the day.
Back in the day.

I’m the kind of traveler that may or may not purchase the Lonely Planet guide ahead of time. I don’t have a list of things I’d like to see ahead of time. My research is kept to a bare minimum and involves mentally adding to a list things people ask if I’ve seen. I’ll sometimes put one thing on my to-see list and spend the better part of the remaining day just wandering the area and finding things to do on my way. I’ll go out of my way to find a highly recommended restaurant. The method to my madness is simply to feel the pulse of a city for a moment. If I feel hungry, I’ll eat, if I’m tired, I’ll go sleep, no matter how much of my mental to-see list was completed. Sometimes this works out really well and I see everything I should, other times I completely miss a huge, iconic part of the city. (Although regardless, I always have a nice time.)

Claudia plans. She had her guidebook, she had read and highlighted things she’d like to visit. She will not stop for the evening until everything is completed and she’ll hurry through one place to make sure that she gets to the next before it closes. She thinks about travel times and knows which bus to take before she gets to the bus stop. She’s prepared and ready for each day before it begins, treating it as a series of things to be conquered. And she does it well, very well. Better yet, I can tell she enjoys it. In the time that we were in Berlin, she managed to fit in a crazy amount of sightseeing. I was impressed.

But we are completely, 200%, 180 degrees different when it comes to planning our time while traveling. Both styles are fine, nice ways to vacation in a new city, but are they compatible?

Our first couple days were a trial. She’d ask me what I want to do and I’d give a noncommittal shrug and say “whatever you want!” This probably drove her crazy, since it was her second time in Berlin and she wanted to make sure I was having a nice vacation; I wouldn’t be back in Berlin anytime soon. Then it would be dinner time, I would get hungry and point out an obscure restaurant some friend on Tumblr told me about with not very exact directions. We’d be on our way to the S-Bahn stop and she would want to sit and figure out our public transportation before boarding the street car, I’d prefer to jump on, head downtown and figure out the exact route while on our way. Claudia loves pizza, I like meaty burritos. Claudia is a vegetarian.

Talk about opposites.

Claudia, planning things.
Claudia, planning things.

But slowly, as the afternoons passed, we somehow figured out how to accommodate each other. She started making her plans and telling me about them, I decided whether I would join or not, or for how long. I let her figure out all of the public transportation ahead of time. She came along when there was something delicious nearby, and I tried to find places in the area from other places she might be more interested in. I quickly learned that Claudia probably wasn’t going to eat the same thing that I wanted, but I should just eat it anyways and then sit through her meal, later. By the end, we were splitting up entirely, but agreed to meet for dinner or drinks at a certain time. When we went to Potsdam, she elected to do a group bus tour and I did an audio guided solo bike tour, instead. We met up afterwards and talked about the things each of us saw (or missed), each of us having enjoyed the tour and also happy to be able to discuss it afterwards.

By giving and taking, doing some things together and plenty of things separate, being clear about what each of us undoubtedly wanted to see or do (or in my case, eat!), we smoothed over the rough patches that inevitably come while traveling with your complete travel planning opposite. The benefit for me of seeing Berlin with Claudia was that she forced me to be a bit more organized than I might have been otherwise, which meant that I saw more of the city. I may have never made it to Potsdam if it weren’t for Claudia, but Potsdam was one of my favorite areas of Berlin. She pushed me to be more efficient, even if I did want to knock her over while she made us run for the subway. I really hate running to catch any kind of train.

IMG_2847
This would have been the perfect moment to knock her over, but instead I just took some pictures.

And I’m sure that she wanted to toss me into oncoming traffic more than a few times as I said, “Eh, it won’t take 30 minutes, probably just 25. We don’t have to leave right now,” or “It doesn’t really matter to me, you can decide,” and “Yeah, I don’t know what my plans are for the morning yet,” ten minutes before bed.

But somehow we did it and still had a great time. We shared cocktails galore, lots of bakery stops in the morning, museum after museum after museum and the joys (terrors) of staying in a party hostel with an actual club outside the window. My last evening in Berlin I spent alone, she’d already flown out, and it was a little quiet and strange. I had a glass of wine outside and endured an hour of a sudden, huge thunderstorm underneath the restaurant umbrella. As the rain came down hard and the wind whipped drops all over my table, I thought to myself that it was a moment I would have liked to have shared. With Claudia.

The final cocktail before she flew home.
The final cocktail before she flew home. Sad day.

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