A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.
One of our favourite travel and friendship quotes by author Tim Cahill couldn’t be more apt. We all know about the amazing benefits of Couchsurfing, Home Swaps, Apartment Rentals, Meet the Locals, and other great ventures the world over that aim to make real connections happen when you travel. We’ve hosted couchsurfers several times, but always held back when it came to surfing other people’s couches or trying out any of these “organised” methods of meeting locals. Making friends while travelling can seem both difficult and unnecessary when you’re travelling as a couple like we usually do.
But we’ve been lucky, wherever we’ve travelled, we’ve somehow managed to make some amazing friends, whether it was the couchsurfers who ended up becoming close friends who we met in Thailand and later visited in Australia, or the food blogger who took us on a walking tour of Barcelona, Chefs, PR people, Hotel owners and managers and so many more. And we vouch for it when we say friendship can get you the sort of travel experiences money can never buy. Here’s the why and how on Friendship being the new travel currency from our most recent experiences.
1. Dialogue helps you understand both sides of the story
This one’s easy. While travelling in a bubble, you’re having a one way conversation, being told about the places you visit. But when you make friends, it becomes a dialogue. Two nights in a row at the Barossa Valley, we had the good fortune of attending dinner parties with local winemakers, producers and home owners. We reacted rather wistfully to their respect and passion for local produce, while they reacted just as wistfully to the exotic vibrancy of our Indian customs and culture. It’s always a humbling lesson in appreciating what you have and where you come from when you make comparisons.
2. Throw caution to the wind and go with the flow
We’re pretty obsessive compulsive when it comes to planning our travel. We treat each trip like its the last one to that particular destination so that we can get the most out of our time there. Which usually means that most of our time is pretty mapped out. We got to Melbourne with Yarra River cruises and Queen Vic Market Foodie Tours all booked up assuming our friends would be busy at work during the week. Turned out Brett not only got us a refund by talking to the Foodie Tour guys, but took us around Queen Vic Market getting us to sample his picks while we shopped for ingredients for a dinner he was planning to cook us. Oh and he also figured getting us to taste fried dim sims was a way of getting even for the spicy Paani Puri we made him try when he was with us in Mumbai. In the Barossa, our other host Shane offered us a lift to Adelaide in his own helicopter, something I was pretty frightened to try, but when you’ve got so many people goading you on, and you know it’s going to be a once in a lifetime experience, you just hand over the rental car keys to Simone and let her return it for you instead.
3. Experience the best of the best, customised for you
How many times have you gotten excited when friends visit, saying, “Oh my God, we have to take them to that place for dinner, and Oh she would love that quaint little shop and I can’t wait to show him that place”. That’s because when you know someone, you can scan through the experiences and places and pick out exactly the ones that you think they’d appreciate. Makes a lot more sense than taking a GuideBook author’s one-size-fits-all opinion. In Melbourne, Brett got tickets to an Australia football game for Charles and himself. And I know the boys had an absolute blast. In the Barossa, our kind hosts and new friends – Simone and Grant drove us to their pick of wineries that would have the kind of Shiraz we’d appreciate.
4. Feel like a VIP with special access
I remember subscribing to all sorts of local websites (the kind that give you updates about festivals, events, new restaurants and boutiques) before we visited Paris. But as we started travelling to newer places more frequently, I quickly realised it’s not really possible to get into that level of research anymore. That’s where the locals can really change the game for you. In Melbourne, Brett walked us down a lonely street with a discreet signless door at the end, one that opened into a speakeasy with the most magical cocktails we’ve ever seen. In the Barossa, Simone booked us seats at an End-Of-Harvest dinner hosted by the Schild Estate for all the winemakers where we made more friends than we could have ever hoped to.
5. Discover yourself
Talking about likes and dislikes is natural when you’re sitting with friends in a new place, figuring out where to go and what to do. Enjoying new experiences together, helps each person learn a little bit more about themselves. In the Mornington Peninsula, Brett didn’t quite know where to start, because we didn’t quite know what kind of wines we’d like. A couple of tastings in, and each of us knew exactly who would think what about each wine we tasted. Kimmi and I went shopping to St. Kilda after the Queen Vic Market and by the end of it, could gravitate towards the precise racks we knew either of us would like. I also realised I’d outgrown the hippy headshops that I’d so fervently shopped at the last time I visited Australia some 10 years ago.
6. Chip in and live like a local
We’ve always said renting an apartment for a longer stay (especially in Europe) is a great way to live like a local when you travel. But imagine actually living with locals. In Melbourne, we stayed with friends who started off as couch surfers when they stayed with us in India, but eventually became great friends. Late night bread runs to the deli, picking up the mail, using local transport, talking to the concierge, popping down to a bar where they’re on a first name basis, the more you get involved, the more you get to experience. We did the same in Sydney with family, and absolutely enjoyed spending a day shopping for oranges and making juice at home to meeting my aunt for coffee (and bumping into her colleagues) when she was at work in her office building.
There’s a whole host of practical reasons as well, accommodation, getting Metro and other discount cards, not getting fleeced, understanding local customs, getting taken more seriously etc. But we don’t need to talk about those, the benefits are evident. Just don’t be one of those travellers who only takes. Give back the same experiences whether to the same person or someone else, and watch this currency of friendship make travelling around the world a much more meaningful experience. We’ve done this by helping our friends Brett and Kimmi of TKOS fix up their bikes and website, meet self sustaining NGOs and get an interview in the local paper when they stayed with us in Mumbai, we’ve helped a newbie food blogger from Barcelona with a lot of blogging tips, extended open invites to all the friends we’ve made on our travels to come stay with us in Mumbai and more.
Do you have any such experiences to share? Tell us in the comments!