In recognition of #InternationalDayofFriendship here are some of my tales of the kind friends to be found and made, all over the world
For as long as I've been going away from home, adventuring about the UK and the broader world, friendship has followed me. The kindness of strangers who become friends, and friends who'll be strange with you when the delirium of travelling sets in, is an absolute necessity to making the most of being away and getting to know the places you visit.
In childhood I remember making friends at whichever hotel my parents and I were staying at. It was great, because even though my dad was always brilliant at playing games with me, without a sibling, I appreciated getting to hang out with a kid my age. A couple of times we even attempted the pen pals thing, but it didn't last too long. Maybe it'd be different now that the internet and social media makes things like that so much easier.
As an older teenager, I started travelling abroad without my parents. Firstly, school trips that always felt a bit different to the weeks at Colomendy Activity Centre. Teachers would trust us, by age, to buy thinks for ourselves and order at meal times. When abroad, that was often encouraged to be in the native language of the country we were in - being misunderstood or saying something completely in appropriate (by accident) when you're a teen who just wants a cheese sandwich for lunch can be entertaining and definitely bonds you.
At 17, I was chosen, along with about 10 others from North West Girl Guiding, to go to Morocco. There, we trekked through the Atlas Mountains and spent ten days working with local communities around Imlil before being tourists for a couple of days in Marrakesh. Other than meeting at the selection weekend and a intro weekend once we'd all been chosen, I didn't know any of the girls I was away with. I'd also never been out of Europe, my feet blistered horrendously, and at some point, each of us had quite severe tourist tummy! It definitely made us all friends rather quickly. And without such a spirit of friendship and kindness shared between us, and the people we were working with, I don't think it would have been the incredible experience it was.
18 and 19 saw the classic girls holidays. You learn a LOT about people on trips like that, truly eye-opening, and within that, they're very much worth it. I say that with hindsight though, at the time it was brutal.
Since then, the past 7 years have seen all kinds of kindness and friendships. From people I met at university who aren't from or living in the UK, to experiencing the intensity of travelling to Australia with a friend, via visiting a friend who currently lives in Japan and having her neighbour show me great kindness even though he knew no word of English and I can only say 'konichiwa' and 'arigatou gozaimasu' in Japanese ('hi' and 'thank you') - also, her friend who came over early one day to dress me in a kimono! Amazing.
At work, we've laughed through conversations of how to pronounce certain words because at least 3 different nationalities and 6 different dialects are speaking together. Things like that stand out to me so positively.
Travelling alone has certainly brought the kindness of strangers to the fore of my experiences as well. The amount of times I've sat on a plane and the couple next to me have included me in their conversations because I'm just 'there'. A favourite was the husband of a woman chatting away to me, who didn't look up from the game he was playing until I mentioned enjoying Bill Bryson and then I couldn't shut him up.
Most recently, I did a cycling tour of Vietnam and Cambodia. I was the youngest person in the group by at least 10 years and everyone was very caring. One day, we cycled 72km in 36 degree heat. And even though I'd never known those people before the trip and we're not in touch now, there's no one else I'd rather have achieved such accomplishments with.
It astounds and disappoints me daily that the news is so full of stories of different cultures clashing, people not being understanding or being kind to each other around the world. I don't understand it.
I truly believe the whole world is there for each and everyone of us to meet, to befriend and be kind to. I think if we all approached differences from a place of fascination as opportunities for learning, by seeing the world, we could really start to save the world.
In the words of One Tree Hill, "it's just a dream, right?", "it's my dream".
In a world where you can be anything, be kind, be friends, be love, we're human beings after all.