There’s something incredibly meaningful when your friends and family make a special effort to stay connected to you when you’re apart. This is true for relationships you leave behind back home and in the places you visit after you move on or return home.

I lost touch with many people after traveling or while traveling because I was traveling. But there are many individuals with whom I remain very closely bonded. How did those close bonds stay close? Reciprocal gestures of loyalty—large and small—sustained those relationships.

Drawing on an example from my recent trip to Nashville, this post explores when loyalty is revealed especially as a traveler and after travel.

The Surprise

I had kept it a secret for weeks.

Dasha had no idea her younger brother, Savva, and his girlfriend, Stef, were going to be joining us in Nashville. They said they couldn't make it—but that was a lie. They arrived in Nashville shortly after me and before Dasha and the rest of the group flew in.

Standing in our Airbnb before going out, Dasha has no idea about the surprise that awaited her!

Six of us, out of devotion to Dasha, had traveled from New York over 800 miles to celebrate together in this city of her choosing. Savva had the plan to make the trip even more special with his and Stef's unexpected appearance.

He just needed me to help them identify the right moment for the big reveal.

They met me at the Airbnb house where the rest of us would be staying all weekend. At first we considered this plan of action: Since everyone’s flights were going to be getting in late, we thought maybe Savva and Stef would hide in a closet in the house and then pop out suddenly after Dasha arrived.

That would have been hilarious!

But Savva wanted to surprise her while out somewhere so we could celebrate right away. So I planned to determine everyone's tiredness level, lightly encourage going out for our first night together, and then text Savva the plan to meet us.

The fail-safe was that we would do it at breakfast the next morning.

Everyone ended up being pretty tired throughout the entire trip--worth it!

Luckily, we were in East Nashville where there were lots of cool clubs and bars to go to only a few blocks away. So Dasha and the gang were up for getting a drink after I suggested it!

The Crying Wolf

The light inside The Crying Wolf was shadowed and the theme was taxidermy and dark woods with industrial, pipe work ceilings. They had cocktail specials like the "F-Word," a pop-up thrift store, and an entrance to a room where bands were playing.

We clearly had found the hipster area of Nashville.

Savva, Stef and I scoped the place out earlier in the night along with another place nearby called the Basement. The Basement was more of an actual music venue, though. We showed up on a night of free band performances because it was their 1 year anniversary of opening!

But that's for another post.

I found myself standing inside the Crying Wolf for a second time, unbeknownst to Dasha and the rest of the gang.  The bar's layout ended up creating the perfect setup for a masterful surprise that took an unexpected turn!

You're Not My Brother

Savva and Stef were on standby as I pretended like the Crying Wolf was completely new to my eyes. "Wow! Check out the wallpaper in here!"

We got drinks at the bar and, without even knowing it, our friend's James and Jess contributed to picking the most optimal booth for us to sit. It was perfectly around the corner from the entrance so that Savva and Stef could walk in without Dasha seeing and then pop out from around the corner.

Dasha loves taking photos like me, so her initial reaction was to take photos of her friends sitting in the booth before sitting down to drink. I encouraged her to get in the photo with them so that I could have her camera at the ready for the big surprise.

A quick text was sent "Ok now!" and then in they came.

Savva came around the corner and casually sat down right next to Dasha, but she didn't seem to react or care. Come to find out, she thought he was a random dude who was photobombing us! Her reaction was to go along with it which meant she didn't fully assess who it was.

At the time, I was thinking, "Oh no! She's not surprised! She doesn't care that her own brother and his girlfriend traveled all this way for her!"

Her brother had done this incredibly loving thing—this grand demonstration of his love and loyalty to her—but she was not reciprocating!

That is, until she did a double take.

Realizing it was her brother, she instantly flew her arms around his neck and burst into tears. The whole scene was such a beautiful example of brotherly-sisterly love and devotion. I think even Dasha was in shock from it for a while after.

Loyalty Gestures—Large and Small

Savva had actually tacked on Nashville to his travel itinerary with Stef for the purpose of surprising and spending time with Dasha for her birthday. Savva's surprise was a truly large demonstration of his loyalty to his sister. But gestures of loyalty need not be so grand.

Dasha's friends and family traveling to celebrate her birth was pretty huge in the way of eliciting how much we value Dasha as a friend. But let me tell you a little about someone who demonstrated loyalty to me in small ways throughout the entirety of my travels.

It was Dasha!

She, among a handful of others from home, regularly reached out to me during my 15 months of constant travel. Do take note, she is also my most consistent and frequent Disqus commenter—see the comments section at the end of each of my posts!

In my mind, these were all numerous, small gestures that made up one big one that says, "I VALUE YOU IN MY LIFE."

Those 6 simple words are—most of the time—all people want to know from others. And while it's good to go around saying it point-blank to those you care about, it's on another level to demonstrate it through action. It's reminiscent of the old, "Actions speak louder than words" saying.

Loyalty gestures both big and small, frequent and infrequent are the way to show your loyalty to and identify the loyalty of others.

It's no small wonder Dasha is the person I have seen the most since I've been back in the states. Loyalty gestures breed stronger friendships and more consistent contact from both sides!

Loyalty Revealed Through Travel

Jess and James lounging on the grass in Nashville

Travel has a funny way of revealing your loyal friends and your not-so-loyal friends.

You'll find out very quickly who truly values you and your bond together after you physically disappear from their routine lives. A perfect example was when I traveled to Australia in the middle of a blossoming relationship with a kiwi in New Zealand.

I admit, I ran away from him. But traveling independently for a few weeks revealed just how serious that relationship actually was—for both me and for him. His commitment to keeping in contact with me and my return to New Zealand to spend more time with him were both grand gestures of our loyalty to each other.

Steps to reach out or spend time together take on deeper value when they occur while traveling for the simple reason that communication is harder. Contact often takes extra steps or involves an unfamiliar method.

Big surprise—it takes effort to keep friends and keep relationships going. But if they're worth it—and if you're worth it to them—you'll do it anyway.

Every Gesture Has Its Expiration

Savva, Stef, and Dasha messing around at the capitol in Nashville

There does come a time when gestures lose their meaning—especially when they are so few and far between or without any real effort.

Or how about when a gesture is in response to a threat? Reactionary gestures of loyalty, like flowers after a bad argument, may still be appreciated, but they lose their value when a person didn't think of it until their sense of self, for example, was threatened.

Reactionary gestures are not the same as carefully planned or spontaneous gestures of loyalty because they suggest the person only values you when they feel comfortable—not when you feel comfortable.

Dasha comforting a very sleepy Savva

Now, I have to commend Dasha once again because she is one of those people who is so incredibly good at staying in touch with people. I probably heard from her at least once every other day while I traveled.  

I admit, I'm not as good at staying in touch. But when I do get in touch or reach out in some way, I make sure it is meaningful. I try to make it large enough or deep enough that I may have extended the loyalty expiration tenfold (I hope I have!).

For example, I committed to sending postcards to my closest friends and family for every new country I visited the entire time I traveled. I also sent holiday gifts home from Thailand to my closest friends and family.

Sending items through the mail was not easy in the midst of navigating a new location and trying to save money at every chance. But I did it anyway because these people were worth the extra effort.

In Conclusion—Travel is a Relationship Experiment

 Dasha and Savva love each other!

The truest relationships in our lives are the ones that demonstrate reciprocal or mutual loyalty.

While you travel, demonstrating loyalty to your friends back home can be very difficult—but not impossible. It's the same for your friends' efforts reaching out to you: Difficult but not impossible.

Whether it's flying halfway across the country to visit friends or sending a postcard home to them, your actions will speak loudly and they will either reveal loyalty or they won't. It's an experiment! Travel to see the results.