The Lonely Traveler- Why Meeting Hundreds of People Can Leave You Feeling Totally Alone.
Travel has become one of the defining pastimes of the millennial world. If you take a moment to look around your Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or any other social network, within moments you’ll see someone traveling. Whether it be for work, for play, with friends, family or alone. It doesn’t matter if they’re exploring their own town, their own country or branching out to far-off lands. Seeing new places, experiencing new cultures and my personal favorite - trying new food! Travel in any shape or form is a way to learn and grow, and social media has given everyone the platform to share what they see and do in the world, with the world.
I am incredibly privileged to travel almost constantly for my work. As a First Officer on an international cruise line, I am well paid, engaged in my work and have clear career prospects as I work up to being a Captain. Cruise ships sail worldwide, and you visit many different countries. But one of the best things about a cruise ship job is getting to meet your colleagues! Hundreds of other crew members from across the globe come together to give our guests an amazing experience, and in doing so, have an incredible experience themselves! In short, it’s a job many only dream of having.
But what those social media posts don’t show you is the incredible loneliness that travel can bring.
Yes, I hear you asking - when you meet hundreds of people that you get to live, work and play with, how can you be lonely? I believe that my experience on a ship relates to that which many experience when they travel.
…On A Ship
Everything on a ship has enormous time pressure. Guests expect their food or drink immediately. The ship needs to arrive and depart promptly. Shows, movies and band sets need to start on time, every time!
Of course, this time pressure follows on to the life of the crew. Many work 70-80 hours every week. No days off, for up to 9 months at a time. This doesn’t leave much time to be social, so that gets condensed into the short time available! Friendships or relationships get a kick start from the almost manic pace crew keep up on board. You can make new best friends in a single afternoon, and spend the next few weeks or months sharing the experiences as your work hard, play hard and travel the world.
However you don’t live on a ship forever. Either you or your new best friend will come to the end of their contract and head home again. You’ll hug, you’ll swap contact details and promise to keep in touch. But especially when you’ll both continue working on ships, who knows when you might see them next. Suddenly, your new best friend has flown thousands of miles back home, will be enjoying their parent’s cooking, catching up with friends and relatives and sleeping in their own bed. And you’ll be alone.
If things work out well, you may get to sail with the same people regularly. You get to know them better than just their favorite drink or that they too hate the crew food. Each time you’re reunited, you share stories of what has happened at home and what you’ve done on your vacation. You can slowly build something more than flash-in-the-pan friendships, but you’re still surrounded by this insane cruise ship life. Something real can come of it, but it takes time to develop.
When you do finish your time on a ship, often you’ll return home. YOU get to be the one to enjoy all the simple pleasures that the familiar surroundings bring, and nothing can describe the feeling. And you want to share this feeling with your friends! Those that you have grown up with, gone to school with, worked with or studied with. It’s only when you try to reach out to them that you see that they might not be as able or as eager to share your experiences.
When you grow up with your friends, you share so much with them. Your favourite teachers, your least favourite subjects, how your parents get on your nerves or why you always get homework on the weekend. These friends are there for you and together you learn to navigate through life.
Everyone can agree that you don’t keep in touch the way you’d like to after high school. You might head off to different universities with hundreds of miles between you, meet new friends, take on the study workload, and no doubt work when you can to pay the bills! Even if you don’t study, life will take a new turn as you start to navigate the adult world. Everyone will follow their own path and it’s natural to grow apart from friends.
As unique as everyone’s journey is after school, travel adds an entirely new dimension. Not only are you put into new living, working or learning environments, but on top of that you’ll be exposed to entirely different ways of life too. I’m sure you’ve met people before that have never left their hometown (and there’s nothing wrong with that!), but sometimes you’ll notice that these people don’t share the same understanding or empathy that those who have travelled may possess. I firmly believe that travel in any form leads to personal growth - and I also believe that this specific growth can’t happen without travel.
I find that after several years of working on ships, when I return home there are fewer friends that I remain close to. During my time away, we chat regularly about our lives - their work, friends and events and my work, friends and travel. I remember starting out, everything was amazing and I had so much to talk about! Then I settled into the routine of my work and regularly visiting the same ports, and there seemed to be less that I thought worth sharing. Even if I catch up with them every time I’m home, so much time has passed where we haven’t had any shared experiences that we’ve grown further and further apart.
What have I learned?
1. ‘Forever Friends’ is a real thing - some friends you might lose as you follow different paths in life, but there will always be those friends that stay close, no matter the distance. I’ve been blessed with friends that I know I can trust, that I know will be there even after weeks of no contact and even friends from primary school that I got in touch with again, and it’s like nothing has changed - over 15 years later!
2. Share your experiences - my line of work is pretty unique, especially in New Zealand where I’m from. Many of my friends simply had no idea what my work was, what my life was like on the ship and the challenges that I faced. Because they didn’t know, they couldn’t relate at all and it was tough to try and explain what was going on in my life.
Thankfully I was posted to a ship sailing around New Zealand, so I was able to show my friends and family around the ship and show them what my part in it was. Suddenly, they could understand what I loved and what I struggled with, and could share in my highs and lows. Sharing even a weekend road trip with your friends can help with that bonding and understanding, and this will continue even when you’re not travelling together.
3. It’s OK to lose friends - if you find that friends no longer share your interests, take part in your life or just aren’t healthy and happy to be around anymore, IT’S OK! You don’t need to feel obligated to try and make things work out. Yes, some people are well worth investing time and effort in and those people you should be focussing on. But that’s your choice, and it’s your choice if you don’t want to!
Travel adds such depth to our lives, but I’ve also seen it take away from my life too. There have been friends I’ve lost that were once so close to me, but I’ve also come to know which friends will always be there. And I’ve gained many new friends that I would have never met without my time on ships - Ms Millennial herself being one of them! When you factor in time zones, expensive and unreliable satellite communications and a busy work schedule, there have been many times where I feel that there is nobody I can reach out to.
I’m just thankful that when everything does line up, I have friends that I know will be there. So while travel has taken things from me, it’s also made me see the true blessings I’ve been given in life.
Ms Millennial readers, what blessings or curses has travel given to you?