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

international travel

Take the leap!

Have you excitedly announced you’re going to go travel around the world, but the response from your friends and relatives was kind of muted? Was their first reaction “Be safe!” “Be Careful!” or “Gosh, that must be nice to not have to work!”?

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 when you bring up long-term travel. 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.

Maybe if you put yourself in their shoes and really understand these motivations, you’ll be able to back off when someone starts criticizing your plans you put all that work into instead of getting red in the face. Instead 0f telling them off you can just say, “Excuse me, there’s someone over there I need to talk to now.”

Here’s why they’re not nearly as excited about this idea of long-term travel as you are.

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. The highest percentage of passport holders are the states of California, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Delaware, and oddly enough, Alaska. The lowest are Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, Kentucky, and West Virginia. The lineup has not budged for more than five years, even as we have climbed past the mark of 1/3 passport ownership nationwide.

Apart from Alaska, which is full of transplants, this coincides pretty directly with which states are Trump supporters and which states have the lowest education levels. If you’ve seen a red state/blue state map, a diversity map, or  college education percentage map, it’ll look pretty similar to the passport ownership map with just a few exceptions.

money passport time for international travel

The more people watch Fox News and Sinclair Media stations, the more likely they are to be afraid of the big scary world out there. 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.

If you live in San Francisco or Seattle, making this big announcement you are going to go traveling around the world will be no big thing. If you live in Mississippi or Kentucky, different story.

When I left on my first trip around the world, I think some of my relatives in rural Virginia and Texas sincerely thought I’d come back in a body bag. Now that I am living back in Mexico again, they’re probably 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 long-term for cheap. To many Americans, travel means a trip to Disney World or a Caribbean Cruise–maybe London or Cancun if they’re really going to get adventurous. 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: long-term travel can be cheaper than staying home

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 lamely say, “I wish I could travel more” but they don’t really mean it. Collecting more stuff and having a nicer car are both higher priorities. They have no intention of exercising their freedom of movement. Their life is all mapped out, pre-ordained, set in stone.

For a majority, the closest they’ll get to a real 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 people 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. That’s a little scary, a little hurtful, and a bit threatening.

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 mother’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. There may be some guilt infliction, some vocal questioning of your decision, and real fear that you’re leaving the known cocoon for the great unknown beyond.

This might be tough to bear. Conversations and goodbyes may be uncomfortable. But it’s your decision and it’s a good one, so lock the storage shed door and go!

Leigh Schrom

Monday 20th of April 2020

I’ve lived as an “expatriate” for 3 years now. People seem surprised when they find out that I went alone to another country and built a new life – in Bogotá, Colombia, South America, no less. In fact, when I first told people about my plans, the reactions I received were mostly

I totally agree with your article. Travel makes you a more rounded person. How can we understand other counties unless we know something about their culture, their history, and their trials and tribulations over centuries? That's what makes them who they are today.

When I decided to become an "expat" at 71 years old, I was amazed at the lack of encouragement I received. The idea of a single woman moving to Colombia (of all places) generated comments like "The ELN will get you", "There are drug gang shootouts on the streets", "You don't speak Spanish well enough" - (this was true), People had visions of my body being hacked to pieces with a machete and sent back to the US in pieces.

Now, I have built a very nice life for myself in Bogotá: I have a great apartment in a safe and upscale neighborhood. My living room has floor to ceiling windows with an unobstructed view of the top of the Andes Mountains at sunrise. I have made a number of Colombian friends who have helped with almost every difficulty I have run across.

I do not have any expat friends other than the woman who was my Airbnb host on my first trip. She has now built a spa in a small tourist town 80 miles away, so we do not see each other often. I manage on my own which give some adventure to my life with my "pidgen" Spanish

I still hear resentment in my friend's voices when I talk to them. Just last week, I had a friend imply that receiving my social security but living in another country somehow was wrong. This is actually someone who has traveled and, at one time, considered joining me in Bogotá.

I think this speaks to two things you mention: (1) living boring lives people don't have the courage to escape and (2) "home" not being perfect. I know my friend is envious that I was willing to uproot and fly solo.

I was born in California, but I lived in Germany as a toddler and spoke German before I learned English. I've been everywhere in the US and Europe. I guess you'd say "I always wanted to see what's on the other side of the Mountain". South America was a continent I had not visited. Now there are so many new places and cultures to see and things to learn. I'm energized by my new life. COVID-19, notwithstanding, this summer, I was planning to head for Greece.

Martin

Saturday 19th of October 2019

Hi, that's a great article.

I'm sitting here typing to you from London, UK. Let me tell you, it's mostly just the same here. A few people get it but mostly they don't. Even the few people that do get it, say "you're so lucky" and I have to patiently explain, again, that I am not lucky. You only have to choose. Everybody I know hates their job. So quit, I tell them to go travel and see the world. The excuses are varied but often the same.

I was very unhappy in my job which eventually shut down. Far from being an unwelcome event, it set me free. I went travelling for 3 months. When I got back, I found myself a little lost. What now? I took the trip of a lifetime and now it was over. Now I would have to go back to an ordinary life once more. Once more chain myself to a job that I'll come to hate and resent. Then. The epiphany. Why does it have to be a trip of a lifetime? Why can't I just do it again? Then after that do it again for as long as I can do it?

I now have another job but plan to quit and go travelling again for 6 months to a year. Travelling was one of, if not, the best thing that I have done. It grows the heart and expands the mind. I would urge everybody to do long term travel at least once.

Emily

Wednesday 27th of March 2019

Love this! I've never seen an article like this where I read it and went, "Oh my god, that was my life for six months!" Don't let the critics get you down. You see what we see and hear what we hear and I love that in this blog.

Liz

Thursday 27th of December 2018

OMG - when did you meet my parents?! They are typical small town middle America types and think we are going to either get maimed and killed in the scary world out there or go broke in a month because we won't have real jobs. Thanks for posting this!

Julia

Thursday 27th of December 2018

This is SO spot-on to what I experienced when I told my friends and parents I was going to go traveling around the world! Most of them have never been beyond America's borders unless it was on a cruise. They actually said I didn't know what I was talking about when I told them I could get private hotel rooms for $15 a night in Southeast Asia. Or that I could fly from one side of Europe to the other for $50. Plus I heard all those, "It must be nice" and "You're so lucky" comments from people who waste all their money on clothes and their new cars.