If I didn’t have friends in Norway, I couldn’t have gone.
Traveling to Norway is expensive. Not only lodging, but food. Where a bottle of water is $3 and a beer is $9, you’ll find yourself nickled and dimed out of your trip savings. I brought around $3.5k of my own money but still spent around $1.8k of it – despite having free lodging, free taxi, boat rides, and some of my meals on the house. (Kristina and Martine, you’re the best!) I have a very similar experience in Japan (Thanks Momo, Alisa, and the Kobayashis). Other than the very fact I wouldn’t have been able to stay very long without them, here are some other reasons why having native friends is the best for enjoying traveling, and best for your wallet.
1. Language Help
Most Norwegians and Swedes I have met are very good English speakers, however the Japanese are not. It is probably one of the largest reasons for Japan’s recruitment of foreign English speakers. But regardless, there are situations in all three countries where having a native speaker with you is beneficial, especially if you don’t speak the language quite well yet.
As an example, at an ice cream stand in Norway’s Jomruland in Telemark, I had trouble understanding what the person at the register was saying, and she couldn’t figure out how to word it in English so she explained it to my friend. Apparently the register was out of coins and to receive my change for my bill purchase, I had to go inside of the actual restaurant pub area. It was the most awkward conversation I’ve ever listened to, as everyone at the bar were looking at us, and my friends were explaining that I needed 10 Norwegian krone (or ~$1.15 USD).
This has also happened countless of times in Japan, as shop workers use a form of 敬語 (keigo;honorific form) that many learn when they get the job, that is neither easy to understand or correct Japanese.
(But I’m not complaining.)
2. Travel Network
Even though I don’t see the people I’ve met traveling frequently, they know that if they are visiting Seattle, they can call me because they have my contact details. This also works the other way. Just like a business relationship, travel networking is huge and extremely valuable. Having interesting friends in interesting places is how you will travel. It’s a relationship, and it’s reciprocal.
3. Native Wisdom
There is no way I would enjoy traveling as much as I do if I didn’t make amazing friends along the way. These friends teach me about their culture, their language, their country, and themselves. From these stories and experiences I share with them, my world view has expanded like a watermelon being pumped with compressed air, and a little piece of that watermelon is colored in with black Sharpie. So that’s what they think about immigration, healthcare, wealth divide… I wonder how this other nation thinks about it.
It’s a very different level of engagement being in someone’s home and having a conversation about politics and serious issues, than say, talking about it on the internet. To take part in another society – unfamiliar to you – promotes better understanding and tolerance, even if you disagree.
Visiting a new foreign place without interacting with the people there is vacationing, but visiting and making local friends by sharing in their culture is traveling.