A Sisterhood Born Abroad

Lena and I became friends through Instagram, which is almost as embarrassingly millennial as meeting your significant other via Tinder.

We knew of each other—this time last year, our editor at Outpost realized she had two female writers in their late twenties moving to Vancouver, and remarked to each of us that we should be friends. But it wasn’t until I followed Lena on Instagram (without knowing she was that Lena Desmond) that we connected.

When we met in person, the “me too”s were like something out of a cheesy rom-com. Both Outpost journalists, we dreamed of one day writing fiction (yeah, right—might as well add “growing taller” to that fantastical wish list); we were both yoga practitioners who’d recently completed the teaching certification program in Central America, wistful nomads who’d met not one but two of the same backpackers on individual continents, and Toronto transplants new to the west coast.

So we decided to skip the shy, awkward stage of friendship (“Is it too soon to send no-reason texts?”) and act as though we’d been chums for years.

new friends in thailand

Sue and Lena chilling at the Mae Sa waterfalls near Chiang Mai. (Photo: Outpost/John Price)

But there are also sharp differences between us. Lena’s the gold-star-earning, Excel-spreadsheet-using overachiever who jogs before breakfast. I, on the other hand, don’t do anything before breakfast—in fact, I often miss it entirely and go straight to lunch.

Before we departed for Thailand, I worried we may not get along. Sure, her never-ending enthusiasm is a charming juxtaposition to my ’90s-style disenchantment during a two-hour meal, but how would we jive when stuck together 24/7 half a globe away?

Fortunately, we got along like Starbucks lovers from a misheard T-Swift song. Her bubbliness kept me energized when I was sleep-deprived, which was always, and my humour kept her laughing when she was stressed, which was also always.

She’s a fantastic conversationalist and we never ran out of topics to discuss (“How are you guys still talking?” wondered our videographer as we neared the end of our long-haul flight.)

travelling friends

Sipping tea in the sunshine. (Photo: Outpost/John Price)

As the perpetual keener, Lena managed the itinerary and budget—a responsibility the rest of us shirked because we were either too disorganized (the boys) or too crappy at math (me)—and so we started calling her “Mom.” She further embraced this maternal role when our photographer was whisked to the hospital following a centipede bite at the lantern festival, and she brazenly argued with our evasive truk-truk driver, demanding he fulfill his prior-made commitment and take us there at once!

What struck me most about Lena was how she makes me feel as though I’m never alone—and not just because she was always literally there. I can open up to her about any challenge, and suddenly she’s right with me, sharing the emotional weight so I don’t have to carry it by myself.

Yes, she was up at 6 a.m. every single morning. And yes, she employs her ridiculous “cute animal” voice every time she sees a street dog. But Lena is one of the most awesome travel companions I’ve ever had. We laughed together, cried together, sweated together, and… well, that’s as far as I can go without it getting gross.

In any case, I feel extremely lucky to have travelled with her and hope we do it again soon.

Though next time, I’m in charge of the alarm clock.