Around six years and two months ago I came back home to Virginia after my first stint of long-term travel. Has it really been that long?
Fresh off the plane from a year in Spain and learning important lessons like fitting everything you need for a week of travel into a carry-on and how to order cocktails like a native in Spanish, my twenty year-old mind was ignited with an insatiable wanderlust.
From a small town girl, who if she was lucky got to visit Virginia Beach for a long weekend in the summer, to living and traveling around glamorous Europe for a year, understandably all I wanted to do was talk about my time abroad when I got back. Sadly, I soon figured out that pretty much everyone from my “life back home” didn’t really give a shit, and plenty of people who I thought were true friends, turned out to be the opposite.
That summer was a dark one, and perhaps one of the loneliest periods of my life.
Feeling like I just had the experience to end all experiences yet I had to keep it to myself because I had no one to talk to depressed the crap out of me. However, being a born introvert, I had no problem keeping myself busy with two summer jobs, a newfound interest in scrapbooking and the invention of Facebook chat, where I could easily waste away hours reminiscing and catching up with friends from all over the world who “got” me, whatever that means.
Little did I know that I was throwing down the proverbial gauntlet, and that year marked a choice I made to have a life filled with travel. In my mind, it shouldn’t have affected or changed anything, friendships included, but it did. Everything changed.
Choosing a life a travel can be alienating, to say the least.
Whether friends and family can’t (or won’t) relate to your experiences around the world or you feel like you have started wandering down such an intrinsically different path than most people you know, returning home from a big trip overseas pretty much guarantees you to be confronted with a broad range of complex and challenging emotions regarding friendships.
Now as pitiful as that all sounds now, every cloud has a silver lining and I learned many a valuable lesson that summer that have stuck with me through the years: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Here is my two cents about how to manage both long-term travel and maintain friendships around the world.
1. You learn who your real friends are, and you learn fast.
While I believe that travel has many life lessons to offer you if you open yourself up to it, I think perhaps the most valuable piece of advice you can takeaway from tramping around the globe is learning who your real friends are.
All the old cliches are true. Every word of them.
True friends stay with you no matter what decisions you make with your life and will support you through thick and thin. Even if they don’t own a passport and never take a vacation, they won’t judge your wandering lifestyle and discredit you. And those that do, aren’t friends at all.
While they may not be able to sympathize with your visa problems or even really understand how blogging could be a career, they are still supportive and don’t hold it over your head. They understand your passion for travel and will stick by you.
My closest friends, the ones who really matter, understand that I am physically (and mentally) all over the place, and they get it. Sometimes months will go by and we won’t talk, but then when we do, it’s just like old times and we pick up where we left off. Nowadays, I consider myself lucky if I get to see them once a year or so, but they understand. We all have our own lives to lead and friendships with too much pressure and demands will not work out in the end.
Surround yourself with good people who love you for you, no matter how much of a traveling trainwreck you are.
2. Be openminded and be relatable
Striking a balance between being true to yourself and maintaining friendships with people with entirely different lifestyles than yours is challenging, but not impossible.
This is a murky gray area of my personality that I have spent years working on and trying to improve. If you let it, travel WILL open and broaden your mind. But do not make the classic mistake of inflating self-importance just because you have managed to accomplish something “special” with world travel.
That lonely summer between sophomore and junior year of college ended up being an enlightening one. Because I felt that people disliked me for my love for travel and my passion for storytelling, I started to resent everyone right back. Even now I am ashamed of the things I thought and how much I judged others for choosing a different “boring and ordinary” path in life. How could anyone be satisfied without travel? My young mind couldn’t wrap itself around that thought.
We all have our own paths in life to follow, and you can’t look down, or judge or even compare your lot to somebody else’s.
Now just because no one could relate to me didn’t mean that I couldn’t relate to anybody else. While you might not have any control over how others respond and react to your lifestyle choices, you do have 100% say in how YOU behave towards others.
Step one: don’t be an asshole.
Don’t be that person that talks in a hoity-toity manner all the damn time about all the wonderful, unique, undiscovered, off-the-beaten-path destinations you get to visit. Make an effort to listen and to relate to people on a fundamental level; you both don’t have to be great travelers.
In fact, my closest friends never travel at all. Most of them are on career paths, are finishing graduate school, hell, even some of them are getting married and popping out babies now. You’d be hard-pressed to find a topic I could relate to less.
But you know what? It doesn’t matter and we all get along like family.
3. You can’t make everyone like you
While I count myself very lucky that travel blogging and living overseas has opened so many doors for me, it would insincere to forget that it has cost me several friendships with people I used to really care about.
At the risk of sounding like a pretentious twat, no matter how hard you try, not everyone is going to like you and want to be friends with you, whether you travel full time or not. This has been a bitter pill to swallow with both my personal and virtual lives. Whether I am getting hate comments on my blog to snide remarks from people who I once thought of as friends, there’s always gonna be a hater out there, no matter what you do or say.
Friend break-ups are the absolute WORST!
It always sucks to see that someone has defriended you, or you fall out of touch with someone you used to think you were close with, but ultimately there is only so much you can do. It’s a much better investment of your time and energy to focus on the friends that matter, than trying to convince the trolls.
My mom says it’s because they’re jealous (don’t all moms say this?) though I’m convinced it must be that I post too many annoying travel articles online and sometimes I point out people’s grammar errors publicly (I can’t help it!). Growing up with no self-esteem, I was always jealous of everyone else, from their new barbies to their late curfews, even now I get jealous of girls who have a thigh gap and people with stable incomes and who can actually buy furniture – at this very moment I’m sleeping in the same twin bed I’ve had since I was 10 at my mom’s house. To imagine anyone could be jealous of me seems absurd. I’m sure it’s the blog posts and my lack of a filter.
But I digress. If someone doesn’t like you, that’s their problem, not yours. End of story.
4. You will make new friends on the road
One of my all time favorite things about traveling is getting to meet new people and make new friends. Many times you get to share a special experience and can bond over a love of travel.
This is a post for another day, but I cannot express enough this is my main reason for traveling solo; you just don’t make friends and have the same adventures you do when traveling in groups like you do when you’re alone.
Now more often than not, you’ll probably never see these people again (super depressing thought) but you’ll add each other on Facebook and comment and like things from time to time, and maybe meet up somewhere around the world one day and reminisce about your adventures. Occasionally thought, you will find people who will be lifelong close friends.
For me, the people you meet on the road make all the difference.
Not to mention there is no surefire way to know if you’re friends with someone than if you can travel with them.
5. It’s important to make time for your friends
This one should be fairly easy but since I’ve started traveling more and more, especially this summer, I have come to realize I’ve gotten so wrapped up in my blog and my own problems that I’ve been a crappy friend.
No matter how busy you are, no matter where you are in the world, don’t forget your friends. They are everything.
In this day in age, with smartphones and tablets and wifi just about everywhere, it’s easy to stay in contact with people, timezones notwithstanding. Don’t hide behind the crappy excuse of “I’ve been too busy to talk.” Always make time to talk. Communication is everything.
I stay in contact with friends many different ways. Too many different ways if you ask me. The best two for me are Skype and WhatsApp. Also Facebook. Gchat. Twitter. Instagram. Snapchat. iMessage. But not email – my inbox terrifies me.
Even when I’m on the road and traveling all over the place and all I want to do is curl up in my own little twin size bunk bed, I make time to see my friends if possible. In fact, I’ve started to have an east coast ritual, where every summer when I’m home, I do a roadtrip from Virginia to Boston, visiting everyone I know in between.
Friendships are hard work and it’s important to pull your weight. Even if you don’t have time, make the time.
What do you think? Are you a traveler? How do you negotiate and balance friendship with a wandering lifestyle? Have any tips or advice to share? Spill!
**Many thanks to everyone who piped in on my Facebook page and helped me out with choosing this topic to write about