I land in Narita Airport, Japan, pull two thousand Yen out of the ATM, and get on the train for Tokyo. From memory I walk down familiar streets until I get to the New Zealand Embassy in northern Shibuya, where my friend Elliot lives. I haven't seen him in almost two years, and have only emailed a few times since then, but it's as if I never left. We joke around, walk to dinner, and make plans for the weekend.
The next day I pop my Japanese SIM card into my phone and call my friend Toby to let him know that I'm around. He tells me about a party he's throwing in Yoyogi park, so a couple other friends and I join him.
Nothing about these individual scenes is particularly noteworthy. That's the point. In various places around the world I have enough good friends that I can have a pretty normal life there while visiting.
I was reading a book called Distracted, which, ironically, was so boring that I was constantly distracted from it until I finally stopped reading because I enjoyed it so little. One of the points she made was that we have shallow friendships all over the place, rather than a few deep friendships within our local communities. And, further, she said, we're all nomads, traveling everywhere rather than setting down roots in one place. These are bad things, according to her.
I obviously don't feel the same way she does about being a nomad, but I also disagree with her that infrequent friendships are necessarily shallow.
I was talking with my friend Derek once, who I think I've actually only hung out with in person three times, each time in a different location. He made a comment about how it's assumed that the quality of a friendship is assessed by how much time the two people spend together, but how he believed that wasn't actually the case. I hadn't thought about it before, but I realized that he was right. He and I had a lot of common interests and ideas, which created a quick friendship and respect. Other people I've spent tons of time with, but our values and interests are so different that we never become very close. There are clearly other, more important ,factors at work.
The same is true with these long distance friendships. The fact that I'm not able to spend most of my days with these friends doesn't mean that they aren't great friendships. In fact, I'd say it's the opposite: they're such good friends that they don't require constant attention to maintain. The depth of conversations I have with those friends is the same as with local friends.
So the author of Distracted can complain about how friendship is changing, but the rest of us can embrace it. Traveling is a blast, but it's even better to be able to travel and have the luxury of being surrounded by good friends as you do it. That's half the fun of traveling for me-making new friends everywhere I go, so that next time I go, an exotic country feels like home.
Can't wait to see my Japan friends in 10 days or so!
I'm testing out the new Smartwool FiveFingers to see how they do for smell. One week into the test, full report coming soon enough.
I swear the RV upgrades post is coming soon. My dad's in SF right now helping me out with my last upgrade before I'm ready. Direct quote: "You seem to really thrive on these monkeyed situations, but I can't stand them. If I had a gun right now I'd probably shoot myself in the head."
So...do the smartwool fivefingers smell? :)
I have the sprint's...they are great but avoid taking them off in other people' homes!
I think it depends a lot on what type of person you are - some people are introverts and it's hard for them to feel comfortable around someone right away.
It's like the stuff you talked about in the No filter post, some people just can't drop their filters before spending a bit more time with a person.
BTW, I've been making new friends in Japan by connecting with other hackers and by visiting hackerspaces. Have you been to the Tokyo Hackerspace?
It's at Shirokanedai, near Meguro.
4nchor5 la6 is near there, too. We visited them today :)
I consider you my friend, even though we only met once, at the Hacker Dojo. I feel that I know you, though, as I read your blog regularly.
I'm in Japan too. Currently in Ikebukuro, I'll be heading to Osaka on Sunday. I have a Japanese SIM as well ;)
Love the direct quote. Sounds like your next book could be "Shit Tynan's Dad Says".
I just spent the last year traveling the country in my 21' RV. Looking forward to the RV post.
Nice post, I am travelling a lot with Couchsurfing and you meet amazing friends, people who, in the span of a few days you feel intimately familiar with and trust completely; as opposed to some people back home you just hang with out of habit, but who you wouldn´t be glad to help out if they were in some kind of trouble.
Travelling makes the befriending process a lot more intense, I think it sometimes leads to a better quality of friendship because you both are of a same mindset (sharing, travelling, explorers) and the circumstances can be trying sometimes. If you re still friends after a difficult problem, you know its for real.
I'd not thought about this before but you're right. My job is in SF and my wife works in the UK - we're lucky enough to work on short contracts and so spend about half the year in each location and have sets of friends in both. As you say the sign of a good friend is not how much time you spend with them but how quickly you can get back in the friendship groove.
I think some of this has to do with the rise of social media sites meaning that friendships are less likely to wane over time.
Good post Tynan - this site is so much better since it's become a .com ;)
i agree that it is fun having friends all over the place... but at the same time, i feel like people in general end up hanging out with the people they live with (or near) the most... so i would think it would be best to live near or with your friends.
Having cool, fun, awesome neighbors and a community definitely makes me enjoy a location much more.
What about a family? Raising kids? Granted, if you do not want either than it is irrelevant. But if you do...
This subject is on my mind a lot and I totally agree. In an increasingly smaller world, maintaining distance friendships in spurts and increasing serendipity along the way is an attractive alternative.
A common argument is that it's selfish to abandon friendship for mobility. In my case, I forego a lot of 'luxuries' in life specifically so I can spend more time and money traveling to visit friends. This is a convincing way to show someone they are special to you. Mobility is about being able to see who you want, not just be where you want.
A month ago four travelers including myself met up for a reunion in Sweden. We met and traveled together in Thailand 10 years ago. Since then meetings were sporadic or non-existent. The effort involved, plus the good times, made us better friends.
I would like to have some plot of land somewhere where land is cheap close to where I'd really like to live, build an airstrip, have a self sustaining earthship type structure and fly everywhere with a two seater ultralight that could land in fields. Kind of like that vagabonding writer. He travels everywhere but still has some sort of home base in a ranch in middle america, If I want to fly far, I'll just fly to the nearest large airport, land there and then catch my flight to where ever. Maybe have an RV when I want to live in a more urban area. It seems like with the RV though you just live in two places: San Francisco, and your home town of Austin.
When you travel with someone for a year or two, you pick up their habits. One of Todd's habits that I most admire, and am thankful to have picked, up is the practice of treating strangers like friends. When he goes to a restaurant and the waiter asks him how he is, he tells him what's going on in his life and returns the question in such a way that it obligates a genuine response. When we leave a restaurant, everyone we know gets a hug.
I get nostalgic, mostly for times I wasn't alive for. Like the middle ages. And, more relevantly, like the days before computers and cell phones, when neighbors actually recognized each other, and maybe even talked to each other. Shopkeepers were called shopkeepers, and they knew their customers by name. Their conversations extended beyond a scripted sales pitch for a rip-off extended warranty. I miss these times because I've seen them in movies and read about them in books, not because I've really experienced them.
Simple habits can be profound. One such habit that is more important than ever is to treat strangers like friends. Facebook, cell phones, and other "social" technologies have done to friendship what laminate flooring did for hardwood floors. It made things easier and more accessible, but did so at the cost of substance. In fact, this is happening in pretty much every area of life, something I've realized more fully now that I'm trying to find meat with substance; it's almost impossible. So I try to treat everyone as though they're a real person, just in case they actually are. Unfortunately I can't answer all my email anymore, but when I do I try to write to the person as if they're my friend, rather than use stock replies (which I could do, since a lot of the things people write about are similar). Once in a while I even fill someone in on secret future plans or send them a draft of something. When interacting with random people in everyday life, I make an effort to actually listen to them and to talk about things that they may not have talked about with every person they've interacted with that day.
Being an introvert, it's important for me to 'recharge my batteries' after being around groups of people. Such experiences just drain all my energy. This is the same with most introverts, if not all of them. They don't like crowds, they don't like parties, and they don't like being the centre of attention. I definitely fit into that category.
But disliking large groups of people is not the same as disliking people. Introverts can really enjoy having people in their life - just not a lot of them at the same time.
I've recently culled a whole bunch of people from my Facebook account. These were people that didn't interact with me in my life, or in Facebook. Some of them had been friends in the past, but time and distance between us have made us strangers. So I dumped them from Facebook. They'll probably never even know.
I looked at the remainder, and of the 82 people in the list, about 80% of them have been real face to face friends on my life. The remaining 20% have become friends via online interaction.
What are friends, exactly?