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Do you like to hang out with a friend? Hanging out with backpackers can be fun by appointment. You make friends backpacking which leads to a hang out. Go backpacking and start hanging out, homeboy.


Home / Lifestyle Experiments  /
Hanging Out By Appointment
hanging out

As you get older, hanging out isn't as spontaneous or as laid back as it used to be

Years and years ago, so far back that it feels like a dream now, I used to do something called hanging out.  There was no ultimate purpose to it.   I wasn't networking or cutting deals or paving the way for my future.   I'd go to such-and-such a place around such-and-such a time to meet someone. This could be a person I knew very superficially or barely at all.

Think back to your own past.  In high school, you'd go to the football game on Friday nights and just hang out.  No one really watched the game.  You'd drift around the bleachers, running into classmates, and exchange some banter.  An impromptu gathering at the ice cream parlor or arcade might end the evening. 

When I went away to university, there were more opportunities to hang out than ever before.  I no longer had the same people in most of my classes, and those in my dormitories were not the same people I saw in class.  I'd order pizzas off the cuff with dorm mates, arrange to meet for dinner with a classmate whose name I just learned, agree to go to a party because a friend of a friend of a friend told me about it. 

After I graduated college and moved overseas to Sweden for my first real brain-cell killing job, hanging out became slightly more regimented.  I had to work a normal workday, so I couldn't go out and about whenever I pleased.   Yet when I look over the old photographs, there was still plenty of hanging out going on with people I now hardly knew.  I visited a friend in the south of Sweden, and we drank aquavit with his buddies over parties which went long into the night.  On a trip to Finland over the Christmas season to visit another friend, it seemed with paltry effort that hanging out just came naturally. 

Move ahead a few years and I was backpacking around Asia and Africa where hanging out became almost mandatory, now with people I didn't know an iota.  There were group hangouts in the islands of Thailand and spontaneous group dinner hangouts in the India's north, with plenty of generic corny hangout photographs to go with them.   Travel friendships evolved on the quick.   A guy you met Monday at the bus station might wind up as your travel companion for the next two weeks. 

If I had to pinpoint a time when the hanging out turned into a drought I'd have to say it was around the time I moved to Los Angeles, shortly after coming back from my three year whirlwind trip.  I didn't know anyone in Los Angeles at the time.  It  wasn't very easy to meet people, and on top of that, I wasn't very much in a frame of mind for wanting to meet anyone to hang out with.  This newfound sense of self imposed isolation became the norm I've endured ever since.

It's easy and simplistic to conclude that the amount of hanging out you do is in proportion to the amount of real responsibilities you have.  In high school and college you have few real responsibilities.  In early adulthood, straight out of college, you're still relatively footloose and fancy free.  Backpacking around the world involves a different set of responsibilities, but not ones which impinge on hanging out.  By the time I got back from my trip and moved to Los Angeles, I was pushing 30.  By then, many in my age group were married or in serious relationships.  Some had kids.   Hanging out required time less people had. 

Those are all valid reasons to be sure but incomplete ones for the attrition of hang outs, as I soon realized when I left the United States later to travel around Australia by car.  Australia is billed as a backpackers' paradise or at least it still was when I arrived there at the end of 2005.   The country has very lenient working holiday visa regulations.  You can be mentally challenged and from the planet Mars and still be able to secure a working holiday visa for Australia as long as you are under 30.      

So how much hanging out did I do in backpacker-friendly Oz?  Hardly any! 

Why not, if hanging out is proportional to your responsibilities?  I had saved up a quite a bit of money and didn't need to work.  I could stop wherever I wanted whenever I wanted and do any activities I wanted.  Surrounded by backpackers, shouldn't hanging out have been as common as drinking a bottle of overhyped Australian lager? 

Backpackers in Australia tend to be on the younger side.  Though 30 is the ceiling for a working holiday visa, you actually meet very few 28, 29, and 30 year olds.  The masses of backpackers I kept running into were under 25 and probably away from home for the first time.  I was far better traveled and independent.  Some of the girls I encountered were cute, but they were too young and immature and had no interest in a man my age.  Early on, as this realization became crystal clear, I tried to shy away from accommodation I knew backpackers would frequent.  I stayed in private pub rooms or camped whenever possible, gladly avoiding group hangouts with the young foreign backpacker contingent.  But once I got to Western Australia, the stops became fewer and further, and visitors seemed to all decamp to the same destinations.   Running into the same folks again and again, you'd think this might build a camaraderie.   Well, it might've if I had been ten years younger.  But as I ruminate about it a bit more now, age wasn't the big deal breaker for me.  It was the times.  Had it still been 1996, I probably would've had more inclination to hang out with barely legal backpackers. 

There was a huge difference between traveling in 1996 and 2006. The 1996 traveler had no access to internet, iPods, mobile phones.   By virtue of the times, he would've had to be a more independent traveler and think on his feet because he couldn't rely on a quick search on the internet to save his behind.  At night, the 1996'er would've had fewer options to distract himself.  He couldn't retreat to his room to watch a video on his phone or iPod.  Naturally, such a person would've been more inclined to hang out.  Today's travelers have even less reason to hang out than the travelers of 2006.  With everyone armed with a smart phone and 24/7 internet access, I can imagine a dozen backpackers sitting around a table not communicating with one another, but with friends and contacts on their mobile devices.  Technology may be beneficial in being able to list more friends on your social networks.  As far as actually being in real communication mode with them, it's just a downer. 

But technology isn't the real reason the hang outs declined.  Technology just exacerbates the reality of how little you have in common with most people.  With tech distractions an arm's length away, it can be tempting to occupy your time reading an e-Book or watching a YouTube video than chatting away with two strangers at the opposite table who themselves are probably entranced by their own mobile devices.  There are too many instances to recount where I was having a conversation with someone, bored out my skull, thinking how much I'd prefer to be in my room watching the final few episodes of a mediocre sitcom than hanging out right there and then.  Modern technology makes it very, very easy to steer clear of dreary company.

You don't have to be backpacking among twentysomethings to come to this conclusion.  The backpacking backdrop just makes all this more apparent.  The older you get and the more experiences you have under your belt, the more difficult it is to be intrigued enough by new acquaintances to the point where you'll make the investment necessary to turn them into lasting friends.  You didn't have that problem as a teen or as a twentysomething.  Hanging out came naturally back then.  You developed a history without even trying.  Which is why it's so common to keep in touch with childhood friends you could have very little in common with today.  The shared history at a critical time in your life cements the bond.

The fact is as you get older you do have to be more selective with your time.  There is a very noticeable opportunity cost of each hour you spend doing something less than worthwhile, and that includes hanging out with people you're indifferent about.  My wife and I went to a mixer a year ago and met a Singaporean lady and her German husband.  They were 10-15 years older than we.  The Singaporean took an interest in my wife, exchanged cards, and initiated a hang out.  My wife became ill before the appointment and cancelled, and the two never met up after that.  Though I encouraged the get together, my wife made a very valid point.  She had very limited free time, and she'd prefer to spend that time hanging out with me and her son.   Unless the meetup could be conducted as two couples, she had no interest. 

I'm no different.  I have two old friends I've known since I moved to Thailand.  We all live in Bangkok, but I haven't seen them much since I've lived here.  We've probably made equal effort to get together.  When the hanging out does occur, it's when I initiate it, and that's because I choose the time, always a time my wife is unavailable.  When they offer up the invite, it's most often over the weekend, during my wife's and my more limited free time together.  The cost per hour goes up, and I opt out. 

This is how it always works.  We put some kind of price on our time and weigh whether one option (= hanging out) will yield the same value as another (= looking at the wall with a gin & tonic).   I was at my gym chatting with a Briton in his mid 40's I regularly see there.  He was telling me how he'd just moved onto a newer, younger, prettier, more promising girlfriend.  Only two months prior, he'd been raving about his then current live-in girlfriend.  You meet a dime a dozen guys like this here in Thailand.  My brain couldn't help assessing if he were someone I would care to devote additional energies meeting elsewhere.   Nearly all of the time nowadays, the answer is no. 

And it's a mutual no.  These same people are not dying to hang out with me either.  For the same reasons as I, they have better things to do with their time.  They put a higher premium hanging out with their own girlfriends, watching a senseless reality television show, or gaping over a porno spread than hanging out with me.

That's just the way it is. The older we get, the more regimented hanging out becomes.  We have other commitments and priorities.  We don't spontaneously go to a party thrown by a friend of a friend of a friend anymore.  We make arrangements days in advance.  As part of a couple, the biggest factor determining whether we'll go or stay could be if the company is another couple, too. 

There really is some truth to the adage you can't teach an old dog new tricks.  The dog could learn new tricks if he felt so motivated, but the new tricks he's being shown aren't too different from the ones he already knows.  Consider the dog has a beautiful companion waiting at home and a few bones to keep him busy, and no hangout stands a chance getting him out of the doghouse.  Hanging out, once so liberating and spur of the moment, becomes the activity you partake of when you've got nothing better to do. 


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