Grace Lower | Dec 12, 2016
I’ve never really understood people who treat travel like a competition. You know the type—those friends who are all too eager to list the major cities they’ve visited or insist that you haven’t lived until you’ve tried the gelato in Italy (which, admittedly, is really delicious).
While there’s certainly something to be said about travel for the sake of travel, I’d argue that the most valuable journeys are centered on shared experiences. Whether you’re adventuring solo or staying with a group, making connections with other people brings deeper meaning to your stay.
I came to this realization fairly early in my travel career. As a freshman in college, I went on what was then called the “Honors London Experience.” The program featured a semester-long seminar on the history of England followed by a 10-day trip to London. It was an incredible way to kick off my undergraduate studies, but I remember feeling odd about the trip itself.
For context, I was traveling with a group of 150 students—there were so many of us that I found it difficult to connect with my companions. Between the things to do and the people to meet, I was conflicted on free days. Would I find a group to tag along with? Should I invite someone to join me on an excursion? Should I explore London solo? No matter what I chose, I often felt like I had to pick between establishing friendships and discovering London on my own terms.
Now that I’ve gotten a bit more travel experience under my belt, I’ve found that the people you’re with can make or break a trip. In instances like the Honors London Experience, sometimes it’s luck of the draw. While I’m grateful to have spent time in London, my trip would have been much different had I traveled with a smaller group of people.
I’ve already done some writing on family travel, but if you’re ever looking for a travel group, your relatives can be a great place to start. My family members were my first travel companions, and to this day, they’re some of my favorites. Traveling with family can teach you to appreciate your loved ones in a new way. Whether you’re trying to navigate a new transportation system or commenting on a bizarre art installation, you’ll have the chance to see the people closest to you in a different light. You’ll learn and grow with them, discover new experiences together, and make lasting memories.
Now that I’m older, family trips are few and far between. Thankfully, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to travel with my friends. Trips with friends tend to be a bit more adventurous than family vacations (my parents aren’t too keen on bungee jumping, flying on budget airlines, or hanging out in youth hostels like my friends are). But there’s a great deal of value that comes with traveling with a close group of friends. As a group, you have to make decisions that accommodate everyone’s preferences, interests, and budgets. You solve problems that arise and endure cancelled flights, bizarre foods, and awkward language barriers. What’s more, when you see a breathtaking landscape or an extraordinary work of art, you have people to experience it with.
While friends and loved ones can make excellent copilots, travel can also be a great way to make new connections. Traveling with acquaintances or strangers—like what I did on the Honors London Experience—can be a bit of a risk, but it can also create a great foundation for new relationships. One of my dearest friends was just an acquaintance before we signed up for the same study abroad program in Spain. Six months of culture shock, new experiences, and exhausting adventures brought us together, though, and we remain close to this day.
Of course, all of this isn’t to say that you can’t or shouldn’t travel alone. I haven’t done much solo travel, but the little that I’ve done has been incredibly rewarding. While it can be lonely at times, if you bring an open mind, your solo trips are an opportunity to connect with the people around you. Whether you’re striking up a conversation at a bar, participating in a local celebration, or mingling with the folks on your walking tour, you’ll realize that you can find a sense of belonging no matter where the road takes you. While there’s plenty of value in seeing a new place, the people that you’ll meet give you a reason to come back again.
No matter how you choose to travel—solo, with acquaintances, with family, or with friends—the relationships that you build on your trips can be more valuable than even the coolest souvenirs. When it comes to travel, it’s not always what you did or where you went, but who you were with that can make a journey unforgettable.
Grace Lower has a love for all things writing and travel. When she's not exploring new places, Grace enjoys teaching English as a Second Language, making terrible puns, and running incredibly long distances at incredibly slow speeds.