The 4 Reasons Other People Don’t Get Your Long-term Travel Plans

international travel

Take the leap!

If you live in the UK, Holland, or Australia and you tell people you’re going to go backpacking around the world for a year, you’ll get a lot of nods and slaps on the back. If you say you’re moving abroad somewhere, they’ll probably ask when they can come crash at your place. You probably won’t be looked at as a loony.

In much of the USA or even Canada, however, it’s still a different story. It’s more accepted than it was when I first took off in the mid-90s for a year and then did it twice more, but it’s still an oddity. The first step in making plans to make the leap is to understand that a lot of people just aren’t going to get it. Here are a few reasons why. Maybe if you understand these you’ll be able to just say, “Excuse me, there’s someone over there I need to talk to” when someone starts criticizing your plans instead of getting red in the face and telling them off.

1) They haven’t traveled much.

Most people who don’t understand why you would take off around the world for a year or move to another country haven’t spent much time outside their own country. (In many cases, that’s a good thing for the rest of the world.) You’ve probably seen a map at some point of which states have the most passport holders and which don’t. Here’s one drawn from 2013 figures. If you’ve seen a red state/blue state map, a diversity map, or  college education percentage map, it’ll look pretty familiar with just a few exceptions. As Richard Florida said on, “There are stark cultural differences between places where international travel is common and those where it’s not, and we can see them playing out in the cultural and political strife that has been riving the country over the past decades.”

passport holders by state

I’ll go out on a limb and say if your favorite TV news network tells you every day that America is the greatest country in the world and every other place out there is screwed up and scary, you’re liable to look at foreign lands in a more negative light than others.

Here are the extremes, by passport holder percentage. The highest are California, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Delaware, and oddly enough, Alaska. The lowest are Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, Kentucky, and West Virginia.

If you live in San Francisco or Seattle, making this big announcement will be no big thing. If you live in Natchez, MS, different story.

When I left on my first trip around the world, I think some of my relatives sincerely thought I’d come back in a body bag. Now that I live in Mexico, they’re waiting for the news that I’ve been beheaded.

2) They don’t believe you can do it on the cheap

You could buy some people The World’s Cheapest Destinations, send them blog posts with prices, and pull up hotel sites to show them rates in other countries and they still won’t believe you can travel for cheap. As I said in this post, to many Americans, travel means a trip to Disney World, Cancun, or London—or a Caribbean Cruise. They simply can’t fathom that you could eat a nutritious meal for $2, get an hour-long massage for $5, or find a decent double room anywhere for $12. To them, traveling to a foreign country and spending less than you would at home on bills each month just does…not…compute.

Kathmandu hotels

3) They’re envious because their own boring life is all mapped out.

“Going on an adventure” is a depressingly rare event for nearly all the adult population of my home country. Vacations are strictly planned, time off is a too-rare commodity that can’t be spent spontaneously. The race for more stuff and more money to pay a bloated health care and university system saps the life out of most people who have managed to land a good job and keep it. Ask them how their life will be different in five or ten years and they may not be able to think of anything. Or they’ll just say something weak about a hoped-for promotion, retirement, or their kids going to college.

They’ll say, “I wish I could do what you’re doing” and will have plenty of the usual excuses as to why they can’t. It’s all mapped out, pre-ordained, set in stone.

For a majority, the closest they’ll get to an adventure is having an illicit affair with a co-worker or staying up all night “getting crazy” at the next convention in Vegas. They are slaves to routines, commutes, the kids’ activity schedules, and the big-screen TV. You represent a threat because you’re showing them it doesn’t have to be that way. And that’s as scary as the revelation in The Matrix.

international travelers

Hmmm, that does look a little more interesting than Paducah…

4) If you’re leaving, that means this place is not perfect

If you’re in some kind of club and people start dropping out, that makes you wonder. If the star performers in your company start taking jobs elsewhere, you’re going to think that’s a bad sign. You feel like a sucker for still being there.

If someone tells you they’re moving away from where you live and that they think this whole lifestyle they’ve been living in your town is not the best they can do, how’s that going to make you feel? Some will just think you’re nuts (see #1). Some will feel envious and maybe a bit bitter (see #3). Others will start wondering if this club they thought was perfect may not be so great after all.

You don’t want to hear your mother say “You’re an idiot for doing this and you should feel guilty for leaving me.”

But then again, hearing “We’re so happy for you” while seeing a dark cloud pass over your friend’s face is not so great either.

Understand that your radical decision (in their eyes) can spur heavy emotions and soul-searching, no matter how much that person knows you’re going to have an amazing time.

But it’s your decision and it’s a good one, so lock the storage shed door and go!

  1. Stephen

    You know, I honestly wonder sometimes if #4 isn’t actually the strongest of them all. I’ve had family ask “why would you want to leave the US?”, and almost any explanation I can think of seems to cause offense. In the end, of course, you just do it any enjoy your life!

  2. Jimmy B.

    My midwestern family members and relatives reacted about like that family in the movie Nebraska would. (I’m from Missouri, but still.) Without a flicker of recognition that this was something any sensible human would undertake. Life is supposed to follow a certain path and this is not on that path. So I must be some kind of wierdo slacker. My friends were a little better, but still kind of dumbfounded. I never went back there after I returned. I obviously didn’t fit.

  3. Sam

    Here is a newer article on the subject from last week:


    • Tim Leffel

      Thanks for the update. I’ve just added it with a link since it seems to be drawn from 2013 data.

  4. Anthony

    This sort of thing is kicked up a notch in the Black/African-American community (if you wanna call it that). Some have used the phrase “crabs in a barrell” when it comes to African-American success or achievements as some don’t want to see you get off a defined path as it will call out their own bullsh*t excuses for not succeeding in life.

    There is also the uncurrent of personal security as viewed under the racial past and present of this country. In other words, many Blacks are fearful of people that don’t look like them. If they travel at all, the Caribbean is a popular destination, but Africa isn’t, hmmm.

    My mother believe this is the best place to be, while my father sympathizes and has no problems with me moving to another country.

    My challenge has been trying to accomplish this on an extreme budget. I am making headway but its not easy as my margin for error is quite narrow.

    Basically what people have to say pales to the financial struggle so I generally ignore it.

  5. Mr. Pennyworth

    Great article. I’m headed to Peru for five months and everyone thinks I’m crazy.

    Also, that map was really interesting. I never realized how few people actually had passports.

  6. Taylor

    Another reason is that people watch too much of the news channel! It’s very disheartening to have so many people tell me all of the time how unsafe the world is and how worried they are that I’ll be kidnapped, rapped, murdered or a combo of all of those. It doesn’t deter me from my travels but it does make me sad that so many people view these activities in such a negative light without first having experienced it themselves. They base their views off of what they are told by the news and others who have skewed viewpoints. They also seem to not enjoy the fact that I’m not living “The American Dream” with a well paying job, white picket fence and popping out some babies. I just tell them they can keep their opinions about my dreams to themselves and I’ll do the same with them.

  7. Loris Yamauchi

    At times I find that people always depend on their family or friends to work it out with them. But going in clusters often is not possible. Each one gives his or her own excuse and at the end of it, we ourselves as well cancel the plan as no one is coming along us. We feel what we would do alone, exploring an unknown territory?

  8. myname

    I am finding this myself lately – everyone here in the states is negative about my travel plans. Even saying that they would never ever take off work for three weeks, blasphemous! Well I am going (initially) for 6 weeks and it isn’t a vacation. It is me seeing the world and doing travel as a “thing” this period in my life. I hope to keep going if feasible and I can fund it. Thanks for the article!

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