The Anti-Tourist

I like to beat new paths for myself.

How Travel Exchanges change you

By 11:13:00 ,

They're strange things, travel exchanges.

You turn up in a foreign city to meet equally foreign faces. You took a plane on your own, or with people you just met. According to the schedule of events, these people are going to be your team for the next few days. What the program fails to mention is that when the trip is over, these people are going to have a permanent place in your heart.  

Over the next few days, the initial shyness starts to wear off, and you start getting to know each other. You learn all about their country and they learn all about yours, but more importantly, you get to know the individual. Somehow, being thrown in together for such a short but intense period of time speeds up the process of friendship. You learn more things about these people in one week than you probably know about some of your friends back home. These trips are more about the midnight conversations and laughs than the morning meetings and activities. It feels like for that short period, you've managed to escape your daily routine and stepped into a new reality, in a whole new space and with new friends. It's liberating. Becoming the best of friends is inevitable when you're sharing this experience.

 All too soon, after the adventure you are expected to go home.

You knew it was coming; you just didn't expect that it would hit you so hard. After all, you just met these people last week, so why are you feeling like you're leaving a piece of yourself behind? You finally arrive home, carrying with you unforgettable memories. The worst part of a travel exchange is always the last few hours; everyone rushing around, packing their bags, writing down email addresses to keep in touch. One last hug and they're gone. Watching everyone fly back to their own place, knowing that there's a big chance you'll never meet again is heartbreaking. 

Back home, you feel different. You still half expect your travel mates to pop in from the door, telling you it's time for the next activity or tour. You eat and think about the food you ate there, you go to sleep and think about how just the night before you were chatting away with your room mate until 4 in the morning. Unfairly, you compare your family and friends to the roommates and friends you made. It just isn't the same anymore.  

As the weeks fly by, you'll slowly get back in your routine. The memories of that week or two won't stay as strong, and despite all the promises, you simply won't manage to keep in touch with everyone. Some people choose to leave that chapter behind them and regard it as a pleasant memory, nothing more. I find it impossible to do. The freedom you feel there is something that can't be replicated, but now you know it exists. And that changes you in more ways than one. 

To all the beautiful people I met in this way over the years, thank you. May our paths cross once again on this tiny planet of ours, and if not, you'll always have a place in my heart. 

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