How traveling changes my relationships

On my plane ride recently to Portugal, the server asked me if I wanted anything to drink. I replied no. He said in a Portuguese accent, “Just one cup! The air is really dry here,” and thrusted a cup of water in my hand. I’ve never had this experience on an American airline. I was touched by his rare sense of ownership to people around him.

Once I got to Portugal, I was there for an overnight layover, but I ended up having one of the best nights of my life. I met up with a mutual friend, and even though it was my first time meeting her, I felt like I was meeting up with a long lost friend in a new country. She was disappointed that she couldn’t meet me for dinner because she had work, but gave me an itinerary of all the things I should do that evening — which restaurant I should go to, what I should order, and the order of the sights I should see around the city. She told me she’d meet at 11pm, so after I enjoyed the steak at Carvoaria, the restaurant she recommended, I ordered an espresso. Drinking coffee sometimes feels like pushing a button where you suddenly have twice as much life to live.

We ended up going to a discotheque until 5am.

I don’t like clubbing in America. It feels transactional; a game where people try to hook up. Two men in the corner of the club were trying to do the same thing as they approached two Portuguese women. The women looked very uncomfortable and kept moving away as the men tried to moved closer and twirled them around. They were not having it. Later that night, two of the Portuguese men from our group of friends were talking to the same two women. They talked for several hours on end. It wasn’t until several hours later into the night at 4am that they started dancing. I like how people take their time with each other. The question of “Are you coming home with me tonight?” felt absent.

It was as if I had been thrust into a more evolved version of America, a world where machines have automated all jobs and people are instead on Earth to enjoy life, value their friendships, and cultivate meaningful, non-transactional relationships. My best friend told me that you can think of life as traveling on a bus. Most people, as they travel through life, simply collect other people onto their bus. The passengers are either heading in their direction or they’re no longer on the bus. He doesn’t like to live life like that — he’d prefer to bring someone onto his bus and together, decide where to go. I like this kind of friendship much more — and I realize I don’t have to live in Portugal to adopt these values. When I travel, I learn about how things we consider normal are completely weird in a different context. I can choose what I like from all these different ways of living, and piece it back into my own life.