a man gazing out over a city landscape at sunset
Spurred by the writing of my next book about my years on the road, I find myself wandering the halls of memory reminiscing about my last decade of travel.

I dig through old photos and journal entries. I search Facebook for people I met years ago. Stories and faces long forgotten zoom back into my mind as I wonder where they are and what they are doing.

Those whose lives briefly intersected with my own on the highway of life.

The five backpackers who inspired my original trip. The girl from that hostel in Prague who welcomed me into her friend group when I was too afraid to say hello. The Dutch guys I spent weeks traveling with in Australia. The motley crew I spent a month with in New Zealand. My friends from when I lived in Bangkok. The folks I picked up on my road trip across the states. My first Couchsurfing host. Or this group of crazy cats I spent a month in paradise with:

sharing a meal with new friends

As strangers in a distant land, we were each other’s support. We were the best of friends, partners in crime, and sometime lovers.

Yet, as we all wander further along life’s path and cast our head backwards, we notice each other’s light fading like a star being snuffed out, until one day, it’s gone and nothing but dust remains.

new friends

What happened to the folks I hitched with in Iceland?

Where are all these people now?

Where are the Spaniards from Valencia who I partied with in Florence?

What happened to Lennart, the guy I played poker with in Amsterdam?

Does Jen, a German girl and my first relationship on the road, still live in Australia?

Where is that American couple from Bocas del Toro whose information I forgot to write down?

Where are those people I met in Thailand that inspired me to quit my job?

Those folks I live with at that hostel in Taiwan with?

friends goofing off on a sand dune

I met these folks in Thailand and visited them in Bordeaux. I remember this perfect day – a journey to beach, sunset on this sand dune, and a wine and cheese dinner. But where are they now? I know not.

Where are the countless others I spent days, hours, and minutes with in hostels around the world? The ones who wandered unfamiliar streets, partied into the night, broke bread and laughed with me?

What are they doing? Do they still travel? Did they make it all the way around the world like they hoped? Are they happy? Married? Do they like their jobs? Are they healthy? Are they even alive?

And do they have similar thoughts?

Do they think about the people they met? Do they come across a photo on Facebook, sit back, and get lost in memory?

goofing off before rafting

These guys made me realize I worked too much when I traveled….and I don’t remember their names.

Is there someone out there right now telling that tale about a crazy night in Prague and including me in it?

Wandering your past is like wandering a minefield of emotion – joy, excitement, sadness, regret. There are so many people I miss and wonder about. I know it’s foolish to think that everyone will stay in your life forever. People come, people go. Growing apart is a fact of life. People, life, and situations change. This is true for any aspect of life.

matt with new friends

What happened to these cool dudes??

But that doesn’t make me wonder any less.

Our paths may not intersect again and the memory of them may fade (really, what was the name of that couple from Bocas?), but their effect on my life will remain with me forever. They taught me to let go, laugh, love, be more adventurous, push myself, and so much more. My life is better because they were in it.

One day, far from now, I’ll look back again and more lights will have faded. I’ll again wonder where they went. And, like a time traveler, I’ll zoom back to the moments we had, relive them in my mind, and imagine a happy future for my friend where all his or her dreams came as true as mine.

Maybe they too are staring out at the sky and thinking the same.

Maybe they’re telling their friend/loved one/kid, “There was this one time….”, remembering me, and saying “That was a cool guy. I hope life is treating him well.”

As we go our separate ways on this long twisting journey, maybe that’s as much as one can really hope for.

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