By Sue Williams
“A journey is best measured in friends rather than miles,” US travel writer Tim Cahill once said. And for many people that’s absolutely true, writes Sue Williams.
While we all love the spectacular scenery, incredible sights and amazing experiences of travel, one of the most enjoyable aspects of any trip is the people you meet along the way – and with whom you can often end up lifelong friends.
So I talked to seven groups of people who ended up wonderful memories from some of their most amazing trips – and with forever friends with whom to share them.
THE HOLIDAY ROMANCE
When Clifford Samuel arrived back after a two-week trip around India, his daughter picked him up at the airport. They chatted on the drive home about what a wonderful time he’d had until Clifford finally summoned the courage to tell her he’d met someone.
“I know,” she said. “I can tell.”
Clifford had encountered fellow traveller Linda Wilson at the first evening’s get-together of the Bunnik Tours’ jaunt and, by breakfast the next morning had worked out the person she was with wasn’t her partner. From that moment on, the pair spent more and more time together. By the end of the two-week trip in January 2008, they were a couple; in December the same year they were married.
“The last thing I was looking for when I went away was a partner!” says Clifford, now 67, a retired teacher. “But there was such a strong connection there from the first.”
Linda, 65, also a retired teacher, says travel can naturally bond people. “It can be very intense when you’re on a trip as you’re seeing that person every single day,” she says. “Then the shared experiences accelerate the relationship. And, of course, you have the common interest of loving travel.”
When the pair parted for their respective homes – Clifford’s in Adelaide and Linda’s in Melbourne – the main issue for them both was the kilometres between them rather than the thought that it might just have been a fleeting romance.
“If you have the right feeling about a person and feel you can trust them, and don’t overthink everything, then you have nothing to lose,” says Linda. “And we both liked the idea of marriage and making that commitment to each other.”
It made it easier too that Linda’s three children were very close in age to Clifford’s three and they each embraced the new partners as well as each other. “They could see how happy we were,” Linda says.
The couple now live in Melbourne, with frequent other Bunnik trips overseas, to India again, Vietnam, Malaysia, Europe and Russia, with another booked for Spain in September on this, their 10th anniversary year. “You never know what’s going to happen with travel!” says Clifford.
THE REGULAR REUNIONISTAS
So many Australian retirees spend a big slice of their time travelling, and making new friendships often becomes a major part of the adventure. Rod Foran loves that aspect of travel so much, he now organises reunions from a couple of his favourite APT trips twice a year.
“The friendships you make really add to a trip,” he says. “We talk about family and friends and where we’ve been and future travel plans.
“It’s also a lovely way to relive some of your greatest memories and each trip then becomes a barrel of laughs.”
Rod, 63, a retired project and finance worker with various government departments, is always at the heart of those laughs anyway. On a tour of Japan earlier this year, when they asked for a volunteer to try sumo wrestling, he was the first to put up his hand.
“We had a demonstration and then I volunteered to have a go. I put on the big blow-up sumo suit and started fighting with the real wrestlers. I really enjoyed it. A lot of us like to get involved.”
But some of his greatest mates have come from a 21-day APT European river cruise he and his wife Jenny, 61, took part in, departing Budapest over 14 days in 2014. Then there was their 24-day APT Canada and Alaska trip the following year.
“Since then, we have two reunions a year for each,” says Rod. “So we’ve had eight or nine so far from the first, and six or seven from the second. Both have, on average, about 20 people coming along each time.
“We’re also Facebook friends as well, so we love catching up. I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up friends for the rest of our lives!”
It was on an arduous 18-day trek to Everest Base Camp that Kylie Turner made three of the best friends of her life.
Knocked about by altitude sickness, exhausted by the rigours of a nine-hour day crossing the Everest High Pass, coping with sub-zero temperatures and climbing up the 5,375-metre Gokyo Peak, brought the four women closer than they could ever have imagined.
“It was a wonderful trip with fabulous views of Everest, great interaction with the Nepalese people, incredible Himalayan scenery to be trekking through but I still think one of the nicest things was making such good friends,” says Kylie, 41, of the 2014 World Expeditions trip.
“While a trek like that is so tough, physically and mentally, having a group of friends to give you a hug when you get to the top of a mountain … we ended up becoming very close.”
Kylie, reservations supervisor in the Melbourne office of World Expeditions, agreed to run the trek and did some training for it with another woman who’d signed up, Madeline Kelly, 35. Then two other women, Mel Vella and Emma Payne, both 44 – who’d met each other on a World Expeditions trip to Nepal 13 years before – applied, and Kylie suggested they all get together for dinner in advance.
The four Melburnians started training together with a weekend trek along the Great Ocean Road and another around the Werribee Gorge. Then, when they flew to Kathmandu to join the 11 others on the Everest Circuit trek, they shared tents and often walked together.
“We ended up with a really lovely friendship,” says Mel, who works at Victoria University in student placements. “We see each other regularly now, in touch every other week, and we’ve shared some significant life milestones together, like Madeline’s wedding. It was such an unexpected outcome!”
THE ROCKY ROLLERS
It was while sitting on the Rocky Mountaineer train, sliding past Western Canada’s stunning rockies, its glacial lakes and picturesque fjords, that the magic happened.
The Scenic tour group of 40 were seated all together a single carriage and, as everyone exclaimed over the spectacular sights outside, inside, lifelong bonds were steadily being forged.
“I don’t know why it happened, but we all got so much closer during that journey,” says Debbie Barr, 61, a retired librarian from Victor Harbor, South Australia. “It was just one of those weird and wonderful things.
“I guess we were all like-minded people, all about the same age, all loving travel, and all Australians. We all just clicked and became really good friends.”
Just how close those friendships from the 2010 Western Canada and Alaska trip became are shown by the numbers now travelling interstate each year for the group’s annual get-togethers in different parts of the country. At one reunion, 12 even decided to book another Scenic trip together, this time along Canada’s east coast in 2016.
And now, for their next gathering this October in Canberra, the friends are busy working out which trip to all plan for their 10-year anniversary in 2020.
NRL time-keeper and former supply chain manager Steve Brown, 65, and his wife Cheryl, 64, are two of those regulars. “It was funny as we all came from different backgrounds, had different interests, yet we all love travel and loved each other’s company,” he says.
“It was a very special group that melded together, and the tour guide encouraged that too. After the first week, we just go to know each other and traded stories about our lives and families and everything. Each reunion, we just take up where we left off!”
Jane Partington had booked a New Year’s Eve cruise around the Pacific Islands with her family when her mum fell ill, so her parents and siblings cancelled their trip. She was just about to call off hers when her 12-year-old daughter Alyssa pleaded with her to keep the tickets.
“I agreed finally but I was really dreading it,” says Jane. “I thought she’d go off to the kids’ club and I’d be left on my own all day.
“But then I thought, What’s the worst that could happen? I’ll read a couple of good books, have a couple of cocktails and sit in the sun … And we hadn’t had a break for ages.”
The second evening aboard Carnival Spirit, New Year’s Eve, Jane went to the ship’s night club to meet a woman she’d befriended. A man came over and the pair spent the evening chatting at the bar.
Apparently, he spent the whole of the next day looking for her, but didn’t find her again until the fourth day. “So we talked again and, from that time on, we were pretty inseparable for the rest of the cruise,” says Jane, now 41, a business development manager at an accounting firm.
“When we got off we exchanged details but I wondered if it was a holiday romance and I’d never hear from him again. But he called me straight away and asked me to come up to where he lived in Rockhampton for an Australia Day party. And then he came down four weeks later to me in Newcastle.”
IT support worker Damien Challen, 42, visited Jane and she visited him every two weeks for the next nine months and then he decided to move to Newcastle. Then, on another Carnival cruise this time to Moreton Island, he proposed on the Mexican fancy dress night, and they married in 2017 on a return cruise, with Alyssa, now 15, as a bridesmaid.
“I think when you’re on holiday you’re more relaxed, there’s no pressure and you have time to talk without thinking you’re on a date,” says Jane. “We were both so surprised!”
It was set to be a whirlwind trip through 22 European countries in 46 days but, on the first day, the driver stopped the bus for everyone to stretch their legs.
Melburnian Tim Frazer and his mate brought out a football to have a kick around, and Sydneysider Matt Richardson and his friend came over and asked if they could join in.
“They weren’t too great at kicking – not like us Victorians — but they were obviously keen on footy,” says Tim. “That was good enough for me, and me and Matt were friends from that moment on. I thought he seemed a really nice bloke.”
The clincher was when Tim learnt Matt’s name. “As soon as he heard I had the same name as Richmond Aussie Rules footballer Matthew ‘Richo’ Richardson, we were fine,” says Matt.
After that, the pair regularly shared a two-man tent on the Contiki trip and often ended up sight-seeing together as they were both determined to check out as much as they could. “You develop close friendships very quickly when you’re travelling like that,” says Tim, now 31 and in marketing at a tech company.
“You’re in each other’s pockets in the bus, on the campsite or in the pub, and I think you connect immediately.”
Matt, also 31 and a currency trader, agrees. “Those sort of trips attract similar types of people too, with an adventurous spirit, and ready to make friends.”
Tim stayed on in London after the trip while Matt continued travelling. Then Matt returned to London in 2012 and the pair flatted together for five months, and did a few more trips to Greece, Croatia and Scotland with each other.
Now both back in Australia, they fly between the two cities regularly to see each other at least once every six months, Tim was Matt’s best man at his 2014 wedding and phones on Skype to talk to his little daughter.
“Relationships develop a lot quicker when you travel than they would back at home,” says Tim. “I think the best part of travel is meeting people and making friends from all different backgrounds all over the world.”
THE WEDDING PLANNERS
Cruising felt so romantic, Trent Cooper proposed to Grace during a December 2013 cruise to New Zealand. “He got down on one knee,” she says, “and I snatched the ring out of his hand!”
It was such a beautiful scene on Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas, they then decided to marry on board another cruise, this time a three-day sailing out of the Sydney heads on Voyager of the Seas in January 2015, with 40 of their closest family and friends.
“It was just so easy to do,” says accountant Grace, now 32, who lives near Port Macquarie on the NSW north coast. “The company organised everything for us; we just had to get ourselves there.
“The only hiccup was that he didn’t fit into his suit so he had to rush to Lowes at the last minute – and the only thing in his size was a bright pink suit. It was a perfect fit!”
The whole experience was so enjoyable, she and Trent, 36, also an accountant, then went on a cruising honeymoon, this time from Venice around Italy, the Greek islands, Dubrovnik and Turkey for 14 days on Splendour of the Seas.
They then celebrated their first anniversary on a seven-night cruise around the South Pacific back on Voyager of the Seas, with Trent getting out his pink suit again, and Grace dying her wedding dress pink to match. Their second anniversary was a five-night cruise to Hobart on Ovation of the Seas, and then they conceived a child on their very next cruise – Vincent, who was born in November last year.
“I think we’ve done about 14 Royal Caribbean cruises and probably spent over 100 nights at sea,” says Grace. “We’ve got quite a few friends that we met on various ships and we love catching up with them. Some we’ve booked cruises with too.
“We both feel so relaxed and love doing it together.”
Their next cruise, however, might not be quite so laidback. They’re introducing their son to cruising with a trip to New Zealand in November.
FAMOUS FRIENDSHIPS FORGED THROUGH TRAVEL
- Scottish biographer James Boswell travelled widely with famed English writer and sage Samuel Johnson after meeting him in 1763 in London. His 1791 book, The Life of Samuel Johnson – a result of their close friendship – is considered one of the most important pieces of writing ever.
- New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay were thrown together on an Everest expedition and ended up, in 1953, the first people ever to summit the highest point on earth. That trip began a lifelong friendship.
- Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara, before he became involved in politics, crossed South America by motorcycle with Alberto Granado in the early 1950s. It was a journey of friendship and self-discovery, later made into the movie The Motorcycle Diaries.
- Travel writer Bill Bryson attempted various sections of the Appalachian Trail with an old friend he got to know again on the trip, Matt Angerer (called Stephen Katz in his 1998 book A Walk In The Woods), veering from calamity to disaster.
- Former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating had a memorable trip in 1972 when, on an Alitalia flight from Holland, the then MP met young Dutch flight attendant Annita Van Iersal. They were married for 23 years before breaking up in 1998.
MAKING ENEMIES WHILE TRAVELLING
- Captain James Cook, who led the first known European voyage to reach the east coast of Australia in 1770, was in search of the mythical Northwest Passage when he returned to Hawaii and failed to befriend the locals. After his troops fired canons at them, and shot a chief, they turned on him, stabbing him to death.
- William Bligh made a few friends on his travels, but was appreciably better at making enemies. On his HMS Bounty expedition to the West Indies, his crew mutinied and cast him off in a small open boat. Later, as the Governor of NSW, the officers of the NSW Corps rebelled against ‘the tyrant’ and sent him back to England.
- French film star Gerard Depardieu won some of the worst critiques of his career travelling from Paris to Dublin when he was caught short on a plane and peed on the floor. Angry fellow passengers’ flights were delayed while the carpet was cleaned.
- US actor Johnny Depp and his then-wife Amber Heard made enemies of then-deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce while filming Pirates of the Caribbean on the Gold Coast when they brought their two Yorkshire terriers Pistol and Boo into Australia without permits and quarantine.
- US President Donald Trump visited Canada for the G7 summit and then labelled his host, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, “very dishonest and weak”. That was followed up by his economic advisor Larry Kudlow accusing Mr Trudeau of having “stabbed us in the back”. It’s a lesson in how not to make friends and influence people when overseas.