Travelling is tricky at the best of times, and when things don’t go right, they’ll go horribly wrong. One of my trips went awry a few years back and gave me a case of heartache that lasted for years, but I’ve learnt from it – and the lessons were hard-won.
Anna* and I had been friends since High School. Not best friends, but close, and closer still through university when we both studied Archaeology. We graduated the same year, and Anna discovered that one of her professors was running a dig in Greece that summer. She asked if I would go with her if she volunteered. Travelling to Greece, and on an archaeological dig to boot?! I agreed to go almost before she finished asking me.
Travelling with a good friend isn’t as easy as it seems. The boundaries and manners that we enforce when we are with aquaintences often aren’t maintained when we’re around friends, and therein lay the problem for Anna and I; I was too wrapped up in my own little world to notice a problem, and Anna refused to talk to me about it.
I’d backpacked before and knew what to expect when the plane touched down in ancient, smoggy Athens, but Anna didn’t. She wanted to plan out our trip before we arrived and ended up booking our hostels and hotels for our entire stay before we even left Canada. I’d had a visitor from Australia and used her as an excuse to avoid planning – if we planned too much, there wouldn’t be any adventure… right?
Our rift widened once we arrived in the Peloponesse and began working on the late Roman dig. I threw myself into the experience and stayed up past midnight with the ten other archaeologists who were digging with us, and revelled in the tiny mountain town with three restaraunts and a population of 100. Anna worked quietly and took long walks in the vineyards, ruins and rocky outcrops that surrounded the village. She struck up a friendship with another archaeologist, Shauna*, and invited her to come along with us while we travelled, since Shauna was planning on travelling on her own. I agreed – the more the merrier!
What a mistake! Three is a crowd, and I was the odd man out. I’d been ostracized by the time out ferry arrived at Crete, and neither Anna nor Shauna would talk to me if they could help it. They’d whisper when I was out of the room and stop the moment I came back. They drew up elaborate itineraries to plan out every day we spent in Europe and were dismissive of my (late) interest in choosing sites to see.
Shauna had to go back to Athens for a weekend to do a little more archaeology work and while she was gone I tentatively confronted Anna about her behaviour, but she told me straight out that it was “too late” and that she “just didn’t care anymore” when I asked what I could do to make things right. Later, Anna and Shauna were passing notes behind my back at a dingy hostel in the shadow the Acropolis in Athens. When they escaped to shower, I snooped through Anna’s things to read what they’d written. Apparently I was ‘desperate to be liked’ and they wished I was gone.
I didn’t go. I was bitter and hurt, and I instead hung around for the remaining week and a half and acted obscenely cheerful because it annoyed them, and because my presence forced them into silence. In exchange they ate copious amounts of Nutella (which I am allergic to) and glared. My memories of the Acropolis, the track at Olympus, Delphi’s high peaks, and the towering spires and monasteries in Meteora are now tainted by how miserable I felt – how miserable I made myself feel. I wish I’d had the courage and maturity to give up on that particular situation much sooner and take off on my own.
When we flew home I made one last attempt to bridge the gap between us, but Anna holds a grudge like a precious thing. It’s something I admired about her before I was on the receiving end of one.
There are things that I would have done differently: been more open to Anna’s desire to plan, been clearer about my own expectations for the trip, and left the group rather than sticking it out like the stubborn goat I am. But as crushed as I was, I took away a handful of valuable lessons. Talk about problems with your travel partner, since they might not know that they’ve done something wrong. It’s okay to bail when the going gets tough. Don’t make yourself miserable to prove a point.
And sometimes friendships fade, and it’s okay to let them.
* Names have been changed.