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!

Comments
  1. Peter Holland

    Thanks Tim for sharing these insights into the reactions of others. It really helps give clarity the reactions we’ve experienced to our goal that has taken three years to reach. Now at our point of departure, a mixture or joy and a bit of trepidation having this understanding of why others view the decision so differently is fascinating!
    Many Thanks
    Peter

  2. mathieu tallard

    I’ve traveled enough to know traveling is not vacation in a swinger resort in Jamaica.
    It’s rather 60% shit, 30% fine and 5-10% great or wow. Bad weather and boredom are needed to make be leave home. Unless you live in a shit hole with a miserable lifestyle, there’s nothing like home. Ain’t home sweet home for no reason……I ‘m headed to SE Asia soon. Shit will start with waking up in the middle of the night, if i even can sleep, for 22 hours on planes………….

  3. Talha

    That is the truth. Everybody is looking for stability and in my Country, most of the people don’t understand and think it is stupidity.

  4. Bob Weisenberg

    Hi, Tim. You know how much I like your writing. But I found this article to be disturbing. I would urge you not to sterotype everyone who chooses not to travel, as though those who do travel are in some way superior to those who do. My travel credentials are good (17 countries, 5 continents in the last four years), so I guess I’d be one of the “good guys” in your book. But until I was 65, I lived very conventionally and happily in Milwaukee, Wisconsin for 42 years, and did not correspond to any of the negative stereotypes in you article. Try to read your own article objectively and see how you’re coming across here. Perhaps it is unintentional.

    • Tim Leffel

      Sorry you didn’t like the article Bob, but I’ve gotten dozens of e-mails and tweets confirming that this is exactly the resistance most American long-term travelers face from friends and families. I’ve also gotten e-mails from people thanking me for explaining why this happens, saying, “I never thought about reasons why my family acted the way they did and now that I look back, I’m seeing where the resentment came from.” I faced all this myself and am speaking from experience, but it is also a story I have heard over and over again from others over 25 years of writing about long-term travel. It’s not a matter of superiority or inferiority. It’s usually a mix of ignorance, envy, regret, and incredulity that leads to the negativity and I’m trying to explain where that stems from. There’s a direct correlation between travel and open-mindedness that you can see documented in everything from education levels to voting patterns to religious fundamentalism. It’s only natural that people who are exposed to beliefs and cultures much different than their own are going to be less dogmatic than those who are around only their own kind for 30-60 years. It’s also only natural that regular travelers are going to have very different financial priorities than someone with a 3-car garage and $8K a month in bills they have chosen to take on. This post has gotten a lot of shares and has a higher time-on-page than usual, which tells me it is resonating a lot with readers. Feedback always appreciated though.

      • Bob Weisenberg

        Hi, Tim. I like the stories you told about common reactions people get. These are all true and very helpful. It’s what comes after that I was referring to–the gross stereotyping of entire groups of people, and the sense of superiority over those who choose not to travel. The stories themselves are good. I hope that clarifies my comment.

  5. Julia

    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.

  6. Liz

    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!

  7. Emily

    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.

  8. Martin

    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.

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