“So how did you guys meet?” It’s a question I’ve always wanted to answer with a fun, exciting story: how we abseiled down a gorge in Zambia and bonded over the shared terror; how we paddled the rivers in the Amazon Rainforest and he looked hot in his life jacket (hmmm…); or even, how we trekked through the Zimbabwean bush in search of the magnificent white rhino and he promised to push me up the tree first! It’s an answer, that, while being elusive for me (the question begs some sort of partner first), is one that many of my colleagues and friends can answer with a broad smile, a casual shrug of their shoulders, and a “Well, it all began in Botswana, where we….”
Holiday friendships and romances are (usually) a bonus to anyone’s vacation, and always a wonderful source of gossip at the end! Everyone enjoys a love story, or a steamy flirtation at least. And everyone loves to make new friends, especially ones that span the globe. There are countless magazine articles and romantic novels about people who have met their dream man or woman while away, generally involving an intoxicating cocktail of sand, sea and hot sweaty..errm…moments! There are less graphic tales of friendship found abroad, but it’s no less special or happy.
Come the end of the holiday, many of these liaisons fizzle out; people return to their respective homes, possibly in different countries, and life goes on. But sometimes, these relationships, be it romantic or otherwise, last, and then love really does mean a happy ending. These are the relationships that I value: the ones that endure; the ones that begin on holiday, sometimes on a “trip of a lifetime”, and that render the trip, well, life-changing!
Overlanding strips away a lot of barriers, I believe. I guess travelling does in general; people let down their guard, they become more open to making friends and entertaining new experiences. There’s no one from home to remind you of your normal routine, or of what your character is, and you can be who you really want to be. Brought together by a love of travel, people join our trips solo or in pairs/couples, but often finish with a new family of friends and, occasionally, a new love.
The expeditions can be extremely challenging. You push your physical limits with simple but demanding activities like chopping wood or digging out the truck; you might push your hygiene limits by only being able to shower once in 4 days (although this does help you discover all manners of coping strategies; did you know how effective campfire smoke is at disguising smelly clothes?!); and you can also push your “personal space” boundaries, by constantly being together with fellow travellers in the small living space that is the truck. But for all of these semi-hardships, there comes something more fantastic: an incredible bond with people that no one else will understand.
It’s horrible being ill when you’re away, when all you want is your own bed and instead you have to make do with a lumpy roll mat and a sweatbox of a tent. But when you have new friends looking after you, running over with yet another loo roll, or forming a barrier where there’s no tree to hide behind and talking loudly to disguise any “noise”, it becomes a chapter in your travels; an event to laugh about together afterwards. No one at home will understand the magic of cuddling up around the campfire and gazing up at the stars, and then waking up all together sandy and dishevelled, ready to put the kettle on last nights embers and toast some bread. It’s hard to convey the real fear of watching rapids approach as your rafting guide screams at you to “Paddle!”, your silent scream as you propel overboard, and the sweet relief of being pulled back into the raft. It’s tougher still, to communicate the pure childish delight at seeing an elephant in real life, or the majestic giraffe – may be even one of the big cats patrolling the savannah. And it’s more impossible to relate all the shared jokes, the banter that flies back and forth between the group, the new snacks to discover and enjoy (or not!), and the sights to gaze and marvel at as the truck drives through new and wonderful countries.
You end up spending hours and hours with these new friends: playtimes, activity times, beer times and down times, where you really get to know one another. You share things about yourself that you wouldn’t dream of sharing with just anyone at home: ambitions, feelings, opinions, even emotions. They see you at your happiest, they might also see you at your worst – they almost definitely see you at your most “unwashed”! And these special connections are so incredibly good for your soul that it’s only natural when people find a kindred spirit amongst their group, someone to seek out and establish a deeper relationship with.
There have been a few Oasis weddings – some between crew, some between travellers, and some between crew and travellers. There are even now Oasis babies (though none have yet been named after a truck or even me – I live in hope!). But perhaps more special to me are all the interconnecting webs of friendship that spider across the world – strands linking the UK, Australia, Europe, Canada, New Zealand, Mexico, Japan…and that’s only a few of my passengers-come-friends home countries! These friendships are relived through photographs, through reunions, through Facebook reminders (!) and they are the sort of relationships that literally can change the way you live your life.
It’s a busy world we live in, one currently not seductive to establishing meaningful relationships from scratch. Sometimes we need to escape just to be the version of ourselves we want, away from all the craziness, the stress and pressure to conform. Sometimes we go away to find a totally new world, live a different life, and sometimes we simply just want a holiday. But when these breaks throw up new friendships, new experiences and new loves, well, then I reckon it’s worth jumping aboard that big yellow truck and seeing what it has in store for you!