The Downside of Travel: Saying Goodbye to Great Strangers

One of the best things about travel is meeting new people. It is also one of the hardest.

I’ve spent the last three days in Albuquerque, New Mexico on a press trip, a PR-driven tour of a city meant to provide writers with fodder for future stories. These trips are so valuable for freelance writers because it allows us to actually keep some of the money we earn writing, instead of paying it all out in tax-deductable travel expenses. (Deductions, after all, are not accepted at the grocery store or gas station.) This particular trip was supposed to revolve around the 40th annual International Balloon Festival, except that no one told Mother Nature, and so it revolved around incredibly good food and long days spent with a handful of strangers. I was ironically sad to leave those strangers at 6 am this morning.

The last few months – and really the last few years since I’ve started traveling frequently – have brought many bittersweet mornings. I’m always eager to be reunited with my family or move on to the next stop on our road trip, but disappointed to say goodbye to people that I’m unlikely to cross paths with in the future, people with whom I have laughed and sang and teased, despite having just met each other.

Of course, not everyone I’ve met on the road has been difficult to say goodbye to. The majority of the people any of us meet, even if we share smiles or pleasant conversation, easily pass in and out of our lives. We may wish each other well or bring them up in future stories to friends as “this guy we met in a brewery in Pittsburgh,” but the mark they’ve left on us is barely visible. This is the natural way of things.

But once in a while, a connection is made with a stranger and the natural way of things kind of sucks.

I feel silly admitting this. I’m certain I become connected to and invested in people more quickly and frequently than most grown ups. When most people are making nice, I’m falling in love with your story and your smile and the way you talk about your children I’ve never met. I’m so accustomed to losing myself in the moment that I forget to keep the logical boundaries that exist between strangers, casual acquaintances and networking contacts. I like you, is all, and I’m disappointed to know that we won’t really be friends.

There’s a saying that some people come into our lives for a moment, others for a season, and a precious few for a lifetime. I’m grateful for the lifers and also for the right to let the seasonal relationships go.

I just wish there was a way to hang on to the stand-out moments once we’ve left town.

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