Friendship Without Borders: Making Friends on the Road

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Some people you’re destined to befriend; fate makes your meeting simply inevitable, wouldn’t have it any other way. For me, Ellen is that person. A chance seating assignment on an IcelandAir flight a couple years back resulted in five hours of ceaseless, chatty conversation. Ellen hadn’t even been vacationing in Reykjavik as I had; she was merely stopping over from her home in Oslo en route to New York, where she would be taking a couple week-long MBA course in hopes of getting into American business school. Seeing as she didn’t know anyone in such an overwhelming city, I invited her out a couple times—to the beer garden in Astoria, drinks with my friends in Sutton Place and lunch at Grand Central Station. Sure, by the end of her visit, we hardly new each other any better, but I could tell she was trustworthy and someone I wished to see more of.

Two years passed, and no sighting of Ellen. She was actually in San Francisco last spring, but I was playing tour guide to a Danish friend, and while we tried to make it happen, our paths unfortunately didn’t cross. Then, around the time I accepted the July assignment to Norway, she e-mailed me to say she got into an MBA program in LA and would be relocating at the end of the summer. “Also, did you ever make it to Norway?” Funny you should ask, I wrote her back, I’m coming next month! You see, I’d been trying to catch a glimpse of the famed Norwegian fjords for years, and my attempts were always thwarted. Until now.

As fate would have it, my trip also corresponded with Norwegian holidays; part of their annual five weeks off is a required three-week break in July (rough life, eh?). Immediately, Ellen wrote back and said I should extend my ticket and she’d show me more of Norway; as it turned out, my trip was focused on the northern island of Svalbard and I wouldn’t be seeing much of the mainland at all.Β  So I did as she said and tacked on five days in Oslo on the way back. I also have a good journalist friend in nearby Drammen I was hoping to see. I assumed I would find a cheap hotel, but Ellen wouldn’t have any of it: “You’ll stay with Andre [the boyfriend] and me! We have a cozy flat in downtown Oslo with a spare bedroom.” Pretty trusting of someone she’d met but three times. I was simply grateful to not have to pay for accommodation, as I’m not sure I could have afforded the extra time in the world’s most expensive country.

A couple weeks before my departure, Ellen wrote again saying her friend was having a party at a farm on one of the most famous fjords, Geirangerfjorden, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and that if I wanted we could go there for two days. Yes, please! As mentioned before, I’d been dying to visit the coast and couldn’t believe I’d be in Norway for two weeks without even glimpsing it. The time drew closer, and I grew more excited—and also nervous. I was worried about when Ellen picked me up at the airport and we had that initial seven-hour drive straight to the coast. We’d only ever hung out three times prior; what if we had absolutely nothing to say to one another? Not only that, but I’d lived in Scandinavia before; while Scandinavians aren’t necessarily a cold breed, they are guarded and will be the first to admit it takes a long time for them to consider anyone a “friend.” What if Ellen was the same? My worries were in vain, though, as I don’t think either of us stopped gabbing in the subsequent five days from the time she picked me up at the airport to dropped me off, except to sleep (and even then, both of us would awake at 3am in the cabin and strike up a conversation).

It turns out Ellen is the Norwegian me, only bilingual and with better gams and a disturbing fanaticism for Josh Groban. It would take all day to note the similarities we share. It was like catching up with a close friend, even though we were hardly that when I arrived (though I’d be confident in saying we definitely fit the category once I departed). Likenessed aside, she went above and beyond to plan the perfect trip (with a perfect stranger); her friend’s party was canceled last minute, so she went out of her way to land us this gorgeous cabin last minute with an amazing view of the fjord below (for just $92 a night!) anyway, drove me the seven hours there, and played chauffeur and tour guide in the following days, making sure I left Norway being able to truly say I saw the country.

Additionally, she came prepared: The trunk of her Audi was crammed with a picnic set, backpack, electric cooler, and hiking gear for the both of us, as we planned some serious trekking but she feared I wouldn’t have adequate gear. (Good thing, too, as it poured our first two days, and we needed all the waterproof protection we could find.) Her boyfriend, whom I’d never met until we returned to Oslo a few days later, organized most of it for us—all for a random girl he’d never met. Seriously, these Norwegians are just above and beyond wonderful. When Ellen dropped me off at the airport the final day, she parked and came in with me, standing at the security line and waving as my mom does until I was finally out of sight.

She wouldn’t let me pay for gas or most meals, much at my insistence, and I am surely indebted to her. (Having visitors is no cheap task, yo.) I am constantly amazed at how many good people like Ellen there are in the world and how frequent globetrotting exposes me to such generous, warm personalities. Now, I can’t wait until she arrives in LA and visits me in San Francisco, not only so I can repay the favor, but mostly spend even more time with my favorite Norwegian.

I often get asked if I ever get scared or lonely traveling alone. Absolutely not. Because I’ve found that, more often than not, there’s always an Ellen waiting for me on the other side (though likely not quite to her degree of awesomeness; surely, not many can compare). You just have to open yourself up to such chance meetings and occurrences, and I guarantee you they will happen.

  • August 12, 2009

    This was a lovely story! I feel so blessed with the friends I’ve made abroad in similar ways. And who knows, maybe tomorrow I’ll be couch surfing with them in Brazil or Sweden! The possibilities are endless when you open yourself up a bit. πŸ™‚

  • August 12, 2009

    Great story Kristin! The world would do so much better if a few more Ellens existed πŸ™‚

  • August 12, 2009

    I love that sentiment: “there’s always an Ellen.” Seriously nice life lesson there, Kristin. Great post!

  • August 12, 2009

    That sounds like an absolutely awesome trip. Your photos are just gorgeous!
    (It has not gone unnoticed that you’re about to have a friend in LA. Maybe that will help me lure you out here for a visit :))

  • August 12, 2009

    Again, ahhh, Norway!!

  • August 12, 2009

    My limited experience with the Norwegians (one week in Feb 2007) is that they are fabulous and warm hosts. Oslo was a great experience, even without an Ellen waiting at the airport.

  • August 12, 2009

    What a wonderful story of friendship! This just goes to show that there are so many good people to meet out in this big world if only we would open ourselves up a little bit.

  • August 12, 2009

    That is awesome – what a great experience to have in Norway!

    Speaking of which, when are you coming to SoCal for Holly’s wedding? We haven’t made any plans but I am thinking of taking off the week before Labor Day. Maybe we can meet in San Diego or the OC? Let me know.

  • August 12, 2009

    THANK YOU so much for your amazing post. I don’t have the words to thank you enough and to show you how touched I am (except that I shed several tears when I read it). Looking forward to see you soon, my dear friend.

  • August 12, 2009

    What a wonderful story of friendship – I was smiling as I was reading it! And what a beautiful country – those pictures are breath-taking!

  • August 12, 2009

    The beauty of the internet is that you can stay in touch with people worldwide!

  • August 12, 2009

    What a great story! How blessed you are to have such a special friendship….makes the world a little smaller! And happier! Love your pics, so majestic and serene.

  • August 12, 2009

    Thanks for sharing this lovely story. Sometimes, it gets me thinking why in this big world have we met the people we have.

  • August 12, 2009

    Lovely, lovely story! Hope this encourages others to travel solo. I’ve been saying for years that *this* is my fave part about traveling; the people you meet along the way. πŸ™‚

  • August 12, 2009

    Another great adventure. You lucked out and made a new friend too. Norway is gorgeous. It will be fun to show Ellen around SF.

  • August 13, 2009

    What a cool blog. beautiful photos.

    I’ve posted some updated information about the John Hughes giveaway.

  • August 13, 2009

    Great story! Sometimes the chance friends we meet are the ones we cherish the most.

  • August 13, 2009

    I love how you guys met, this was such a great post!

  • August 14, 2009

    Aw, what a sweet story. You are lucky to have found each other.

  • August 15, 2009

    ahhhh, precious. i met up with our other housholder cousins last night for the twins 30th birthday.

  • August 17, 2009

    What a lovely story! It goes to show that true friendship has no barrier.

  • September 2, 2009

    I absolutely loved this! It has continuously amazed me how much more we have in common with others around the world than differences. There are great people, and shy people, and adventurous people in every culture but two kind souls seem to find each other anywhere πŸ™‚

  • February 5, 2011

    I discovered this post on aol which I never use, while looking for some things completely different. That’s the end of my free time today, thanks.;)

  • June 27, 2011

    What a cool post!

  • July 4, 2011

    Great post – I just re-read it now that I’m back from a 5-month trip that took me through 15-countries and have so many stories like this. For all the crazy things I’ve seen, photographed, and done, it’s the people that make the most lasting impact.

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