I’m currently reading an incredible collection of travel essays called, "An Innocent Abroad," and I was struck by one of the pieces entitled, “The Paris Tattoo,” by Ann Patchett.
Patchett spent a summer in Europe in 1983 with her acquaintance-turned-best-friend Marti; she notes the two of them had “scarcely known one another” before beginning their trek, but “by the end of the first week, [they] had become a single unit.”
“We shared our toothpaste, our guidebooks, our croissants,” Patchett admits.
Same, Rach. Except, I ate your entire croissant since you’re allergic to bread. Rachel and I have been best friends since freshman year of college, and we have always shared a love for travel and exploration.
We both have this constant itch to see the world, to travel farther, to travel more boldly, to test our comfort zones and to push ourselves to get away from the securities of our hometowns.
We went abroad to Rome together our fall semester of junior year. It was a four-month-long trip that officially cinched our need to explore the world.
We recently fulfilled our post-abroad promise to go back to Europe to visit three places we wanted to see while we were in Italy: Zurich, Vienna and Prague. It was a phenomenal trip I’ll never forget.
I’ve recently seen many articles (especially geared toward women) about the value of traveling alone.
I’m sure what these fearless solo globetrotters say is true: There’s no better feeling than being on your own and reveling in your independence.
When traveling by yourself, you’re free to create and execute your own schedule, pick and choose outings on a whim and not have to cater to someone else’s desires. Traveling alone is something I definitely want to try and would advocate others to try, as well.
But, traveling with that best pal, especially when going out of the country and away from everything you know, is also an extremely valuable experience.
There are innumerable reasons as to why, but I'll narrow it down to six:
Sharing big moments
One of the most unforgettable excursions of our Euro trip was seeing the John Lennon Wall in Prague.
Rach and I were constantly talking as we walked and explored the cities, but when we finally found this wall, we were speechless for a long time.
I was so happy to be witnessing it — the colors, the history, the inspirational messages of lyrics and poetry left by locals and tourists for years and years — with my best friend.
Sometimes, there are moments on a trip when you need to be quiet and take it all in. I think the silence that comes with awe is somehow more powerful when you share it with another person who’s just as lost for words as you are.
Breaking the rules is way more fun
When your waiter at a restaurant inside the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna tells you he can sneak you into the castle gardens (even though they’re closed for the night), you just don’t say no.
Following this guy in the pouring rain with Rach as he unlocked a gate leading to the palace maze was one of the most exhilarating moments I think we’ll both ever experience.
Being spontaneous and seizing opportunities is so much better with a partner in crime. Plus, if you get caught, you get caught together, which is always a plus.
As I now look over what I wrote above about following an Austrian stranger to a hidden walkway at night, I’m slowly realizing how creepy it sounds. (He was totally normal; don’t worry, Mom.)
I'm definitely glad I had a friend with me, which leads me to my next point:
It's safer, obviously
I wouldn’t wish navigating the dark streets of a foreign city alone on anyone, especially after a night out. (Especially after going to the infamous five-story Prague club, Karlovy lázně, but that’s neither here nor there.)
Getting “lost” while abroad isn’t the worst thing in the world; in fact, it’s exhilarating since you’ll most certainly stumble upon interesting landmarks you may not have otherwise.
However, being yes-this-is-an-adventure lost and being it’s-dark-and-I’m-alone-and-terrified lost are two very different experiences while in an unfamiliar country; the latter is likely to lead to a sketchy situation.
After a long day of sightseeing and maybe a long night of hitting a couple pubs, it’s best to have a friend to walk home with.
Having your back
Basically, two voices are louder than one.
“Hold the bus!” Rachel screamed as we sprinted through the Prague streets in an attempt to catch the bus to take us to Terezin, a concentration camp outside Prague.
If she hadn't been able to wave the bus down as I was busy trying to salvage my blueberry muffin I dropped in the commotion (it couldn't be saved), then we would have missed what was to be the most emotional, eye-opening excursion of our trip.
Friends look out for you. Whether it’s flagging down a bus, helping you deal with jet lag or comforting you in crippling moments of homesickness if you've been away a long time, it’s nice knowing you have a support system with you.
Curing the back-home blues
Returning home after being away in a completely different country and culture is nice in many ways.
You’re not walking with a giant map in front of your face 24/7, and you are done with trying to navigate a new language daily.
Being able to use your own form of currency again and not having occasional panic attacks about exchange rates is also pure bliss.
It’s essential, however, to have your friend to reminisce with about your recent trip.
It's only a matter of time before that international nostalgia kicks in again, and there’s nothing better than reliving trip memories and satisfying that wanderlust with constant future trip-planning via Gchat.
They’re the people who can always successfully convince you to buy that plane ticket.
Sometimes, peer pressure isn’t such a bad thing.