I traveled 35 hours and halfway across the world to meet an online friend. I'm so glad I did it.

  • I became a full-time writer during COVID-19 and spent hours connecting with other writers online.

  • Despite living on different sides of the world, I connected the most with Joe.

  • On the spur of the moment, I finally decided to visit him.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I decided to sell my travel business and become a full-time writer.

It was a massive change for me. I went from working in an office surrounded by colleagues to being home 24/7 and working alone. To overcome loneliness, I joined various writing platforms and discussion groups and met many other writers who felt the same way.

One person I connected with was Joe.

On paper, we were very different. Joe was in his early 30s, lived in El Salvador, and worked several jobs to support his family. I lived in Australia, was in my late 40s, and had just sold a successful business. Despite our different backgrounds, we hit it off and soon became great friends.

We would edit each other's work and assist with idea generation and feedback

Even though English is my first language, while Joe's is Spanish, he seemed to have a far better knowledge of grammar rules and would often correct my mistakes. I felt like I was back in school sometimes. We would chat every day, and over the two years I was in lockdown in Australia, I thought of Joe as my work colleague and a good friend.

As the world opened up at the end of 2021, we didn't communicate as much as we should have because we were busy with family, work, and other things.

Our messages dropped from daily to weekly, and soon, we only checked in on each other every other month. Despite this, when I began writing my second book in 2023, I asked Joe to help edit it. Once the book was released, I posted a signed copy to Joe.

Unfortunately, the book was lost somewhere in the United States.

I was tracking the book, but after five months, it had yet to reach El Salvador, and the USPS postal service had lost its location. I joked to Joe that he would only see my book if I hand-delivered it. Joe laughed and agreed.

Then, I made a spur-of-the-moment promise — life is short, so I committed to traveling around the world to give him a copy of my book personally. Joe didn't believe me, but I was determined.

I flew to meet him in person

Four weeks later, I stood tired and jetlagged in the humid Salvadoran weather, anxiously waiting for Joe to arrive at my hotel.

For some reason, I felt nervous, as if I was meeting a blind date. As soon as Joe stepped out of an Uber, he had a massive smile, and we approached each other. Soon, he was giving me a tour of San Salvador as we chatted away like old friends, which we were. He took me to his favorite pupuseria to try the iconic national dish — the pupusa. It felt surreal to be sitting and eating with Joe after all this time.

Friends eating pupusas
The author and his friend eating pupusas.Courtesy of the author

Over the next few days, we toured El Salvador, and I met his wife and daughter.

Although it took 35 hours to get from Melbourne to San Salvador, I was so glad I made the trip happen. Too often, we meet people online but only ever see them from behind a screen, so it felt great to turn a digital friend into a real-life friend. On the last day before I departed to make the long trek home, Joe made a promise to me. He is writing a fantasy book, and when it is finished, he will hand-deliver it to me in Melbourne.

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