Traveling together is an intense way to get to know each other, to say the least. We’ve made it work by learning each other’s strengths and anxieties.
Being the analytical people we are, we decided to organize our observations.
“Wow Sophie, slow down. It’s going to be okay,” I assured. “Yeah, yeah no. You’re right, you’re right” she replied sounding rather frantic. Her eyes darted side to side as we quickly walked down the street. It was 8:30pm. The sun was setting and the elderly population of Aggtelet, Hungary had long retired from their garden work. Right then, I felt calm and safe, but Sophie didn’t. I wasn’t sure how to help.
“Hey, what’s up? We’re okay here.” I said slowly, uncertain if this was the correct approach. “Yeah, I know. I just really want to get home before dark” Sophie agreed, but her stride was quick, her shoulders tight, and her face, expressive as always, was scrunched up in worry. I schooled my concern, looked at her and said, “okay.”
In the moment Sophie was anxious. Anxiety is quite the perplexing phenomenon; it’s the manifestation of a rational fear at an inappropriate time. Though we were safe, I couldn’t mitigate Sophie’s feelings of fear because they were very real to her. This idea has been a major aspect of our travels together. Throughout this month, we’ve learned to be supportive by recognizing and responding in a collected way to each other’s anxieties.
Thilini: Yeah, I heard you…
Sophie: then let me know! I need a sign of life! *exasperated huff*
Sophie: You’re staring off into space and I can’t tell if you’re hearing me or not!!! *flailing arms and imitating Thilini staring into space, smiling at nothing.*
Thilini, bless her heart, tried not to laugh at me since she couldn’t tell what was going on with my sudden outburst. I was actually frustrated at Thilini’s lack of responsiveness, which I had been trying to read all morning without any success. Was she mad? Was she tired? Was she upset? Was it my fault? Imitating her glassy-eyed stare and unconscious smile partnered with a wobbly Charlie Chaplain walk threw us into fits of laughter that attracted looks from across the square. Tensions relieved, I was able to ask what was going on. Thilini explained kindly, as she does so well, that she was just feeling socially exhausted because she hadn’t had time alone in a long time. That makes total sense, I thought, but I explained that I would appreciate her letting me know when she needs “Thilini time” since I have difficulty telling if she’s upset or just tired. With the air cleared, we continued on our way, Thilini lost in the clouds and me enjoying the view. We learned that Thilini is much more introverted than I am and how we can both communicate our needs better to preserve our own emotional stability.
Having decided to spend two extra nights in Berlin, we had to check out and check back in to our hostel twice. Twice, Thilini had left something in the room. Between retrieving lost items and checking into our new rooms, we had seen a lot of the blond-bearded receptionist. I filled out the check-in form again, having memorized the routine and handed the receptionist my credit card to pay for the next night at the hostel.
“Why do you always pay?” He asked. “Oh, because Thilini also lost her credit card so she gives me money and I pay.” We all laughed and Thilini laughed off her embarrassment. “If I wasn’t so brown, I’d blush” joked Thilini as we walked away.
As we schlepped our bags up the stairs, I started verbalizing various mental checklists while Thilini pretended to listen to me. Our different energy levels are rather characteristic of our relationship. I am a very high-energy person. When placed in situations with people less high-energy than me I have a tendency to take on a leadership role out of sheer restlessness. It has been interesting learning to navigate this dynamic in my relationship with Thilini. My tendency to assume responsibility when around more relaxed friends often earns me the title ‘mom of the friend group.’ This is not an entirely bad thing. When in this position, I am remarkably more able to keep track of things than I am when I am solely responsible for myself (probably because I’m lazy on my own). That said, I recognize that my tendency to ‘be mom’ can easily turn into my being patronizing or overbearing.
Thilini, being the soft person she is, kind and relaxed in a way that is against my nature, has been very patient with me. I won’t pretend to have changed or stopped ‘being mom,’ after all, I still pay for everything and therefore make almost all of the bookings. But I recognize my tendencies and am learning to check myself before I cross the line from responsible and high-energy to patronizing.
Thilini again: After a month of traveling with Sophie, I have reaffirmed one thing – that I want her in my life. One month we’ve spent, constantly together, navigating stressful situations successfully. We haven’t always been happy with each other. We haven’t always agreed with one another. We haven’t always been each other’s perfect travel companion, but, despite it all, we still enjoy each other’s company. The annoying quirks that both of us possess do not define our relationship because we’re able to openly discuss everything and grow from each other. She may be a total pain, but as I approach the end of my Gap Year and the beginning of my college education, I am glad to have Sophie as my fellow gapper, friend, and roommate.